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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quirky shorties a departure for Kumu Kahua

Special to The Advertiser


8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 14

Kumu Kahua Theatre




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There's a wonderful moment at the end of "House Lights" when the stage is littered with more bodies than the last scene of "Hamlet" and we expect them to disappear during a blackout. Instead, new characters we haven't seen begin to lug off the corpses and rearrange the furniture.

We're uncertain to risk getting up for intermission without becoming part of some continuing action. Then it hits that playwright Eric Yokomori and director Harry Wong III have been having a bit of fun with us.

Most of us go to the theater eager to accept its conventions and artifices. Scholars call it the "willing suspension of disbelief." But in the absurd world of Yokomori's "House Lights," we hold firm to our disbelief until the mayhem starts and expectations begin to crumble.

Rushing to its conclusion, the play startles and confuses us and for one brief incongruous instant, we can accept that the characters are so dead that the actors must be carried away.

It's best to go along with this play without trying too hard to unravel it, since its stated intent is to blur the line between reality and imagination like "The Twilight Zone," but in a playful way, despite the carnage.

The theatrical metaphor is especially strong because the central character is an actor, brought into a family by its mother with the vague intention to share something significant. The part goes to Jason Kanda, who gives it the same offhanded intensity that he brought to Yokomori's one-man "Daredevil Blues" in a previous production at Kumu Kahua.

The second half of the evening is made up of six unnamed short plays under the collective title of "Prolonged Sunlight" a safety disclaimer copied from a disposable lighter.

Each based on a single idea, these snippets have mixed success, but move quickly. In the best of them, K.C. Odell and John Wythe White demonstrate how to sustain tension in a scene, even when its outcome is obvious.

In another, Ryan Sutherlan and Danielle Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak effectively pantomime invisible magic rocks that store happiness until they become destructive.

The playfulness continues in the second half as costumed characters reappear as stage hands, including one whose pants are still tangled around his ankles from an earlier scene.

Set designer Amy Healey creates a breakaway living room focused on a large picture window that frames a bank of video screens, each filled with electronic snow.

The production is a departure from Kumu Kahua's normal fare of island-centric characters and dialogue, but is a fine showcase for Yokomori's quirky and emerging talent.