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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

'Poker Game' fails to cash in

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

The laughs and the romance start to develop halfway into Act 2 of Alan Sutterfield's "King Kalakaua's Poker Game."

'King Kalakaua's Poker Game'

• When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 15

• Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre

• Cost: $16-$5

• Information: 536-4441

After an evening of heavy drinking and incidental card-playing, an incensed Italian patriot can no longer bear the sarcastic insults of American actor Edwin Booth, and a comic duel ensues. Almost simultaneously, a young Hawaiian couple begins to act on a mutually sincere attraction after prolonged denial and role-playing.

The play concludes warmly and satisfyingly, but the talky and stiffly Victorian action that gets us to the middle of the second act is a challenge to audience patience.

Still, it's interesting for the company to stretch a bit with a new play that mixes history and fiction in drawing-room style.

The play is set in King David Kalakaua's boathouse in 1882, where he escapes for a relaxing game of cards. He has promised Queen Julia Kapi'olani that it will be a "men's only" event.

The love interest results from the queen's penchant for matchmaking. She has arranged the marriage of Alice Waikan, a hanai child of a good family, with Keoke Kapena, a friend of the king and a reputed ladies' man. Neither of the intended share her wishes. Keoke is trying to win enough gambling money to buy passage out of the Islands, and Alice pleads with Booth to use his influence with the king to break off the match. Instead, Booth disguises Alice as a young man and brings her to the table.

Unfortunately, most of Act One is spent in dealing out character cards. The cast doesn't start playing them until Act 2, and then — when the time comes to cash in the chips — there's a small reward, but not a huge jackpot.

Betty Burdick directs, perhaps a bit too carefully and with too much Victorian rectitude during the play's prolonged exposition, but manages the balance between its eventual farce and romance.

Moses Goods III and Moanililia Miller are too straight-laced to have much fun with the characters of Keoke and Alice. Ely Rapoza struggles with his Italian accent and mannered poses, and Tom Dwight's Booth is inflated and lacking in comic insight.

Will Kahele seems to find the right note in playing Kalakaua, and Charlotte Dias unwinds only during the final lines, when Queen Julia joins in the poker game. Norman Gibson and Blossom Lam work at their characters, but a German count and Chinese picture bride seem to be in this play only because Sutterfield needed someone to change the table settings.

James Davenport's boathouse set has more detail and visual impact than the typical bare bones at Kumu Kahua and delivers a strong punch in creating the right atmosphere.