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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

McCarthy tells America's story in a fun way


By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser

'STRIPES & STARS: A SURPRISING HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES'

Tenney Theatre, St. Andrew's Cathedral

1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14

$8 youth and seniors, $16 general

839-9885, www.htyweb.org

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Storyteller and musician James B. McCarthy takes the stage for Honolulu Theatre for Youth with "Stripes and Stars," a one-hour history of the United States in stories and songs.

That's a lot of material to cover, and McCarthy does it with long strides that step over lots of events and sometimes set foot in unusual places.

His "Ruination Day" number marks April 14 as the anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination, the Titanic's sinking, and the great storm that made a dust bowl of the American heartland.

His longest story is a set piece centering on a civil rights ghost story of a black mother and baby who died in a snowstorm after being ordered off a bus for lacking the fare.

There are also shorter references to immigration, the gold rush, blue jeans, cowboys and rounding Cape Horn during a 16-day hurricane.

The show follows a roughly chronological path, mainly held together by personality, as McCarthy rocks out on electric guitar, waxes folksy and western with an acoustic, strums a banjo, and plucks at a lute as Betsy Ross sews a five-pointed star onto the first American flag.

There are plenty of rear projections to add visual variety and some costume trickery as he changes into a series of roles representing women heroines of the revolutionary period.

All this doesn't necessarily make for remarkable theater or great literature, but the charm of a storyteller lies in his immediacy and accessibility. McCarthy gets his audience into the act by encouraging them to assume character parts in his stories and to clap and join in the songs.

His wrap-up includes Hawaii statehood and the election of a president with Hawaii roots featuring a sing-along of a modified version of the familiar Woody Guthrie chorus:

"This land is your land, this land is my land

From Honolulu, to the New York island"

The result is a blend of patriotic nostalgia and warm homespun memories that could launch a renewed interest in reviving the hootenanny.

Joseph T. Rozmiarek has been reviewing Hawaii theater since 1973.