'Maui' could use stronger story line
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
Hawaiian legends abound about the demigod Maui — how he raised the islands out of the sea with a fish hook and how he slowed down the passage of the sun to give his mother more daylight to finish her chores.
Steven Goldsberry corralled many of them into a novel that Gary Balfantz adapted for narrative theater. That script was retooled by committee for a 1992 summer tour and is now in a revival directed by Wil Kahele at Kumu Kahua.
The production has a couple of good chanters in William Ha'o and Moses Goods III. As explained by Ha'o's character to a young student in the play, the chanting must "come from your gut."
Both men demonstrate excellent diaphragm control by pushing out and sustaining rich strong tones and modulating them to wring real emotion from the Hawaiian words.
There is also good vocal work by the men and women of the chorus as they speak and sing the narrative, often while executing Kahoa Malalis' choreography.
Still, story theater has inherent problems: an episodic structure built on a series of generally unrelated incidents, and the requirement that the cast speak narrative and play several parts.
Even the character of Maui himself, played by Hale Mawae, disappears in and out of the general chorus. That's certainly an egalitarian technique and a dramatic leveler, but it does not promote a strong story line or a compelling central character.
So the play moves on without clear shape or a definite dramatic arc, leaving us to sort out its most successful moments.
As in many folklore legends, some of the best episodes are coarse, lewd, and blatantly sexy.
Take the scene that ends Act One. Maui hides from a group of girls by lightly covering himself with sand, but inadvertently leaving his sexual organ exposed. The girls know immediately what it is, but play a long game at pretending that it's a tree root that they can't pull out of the ground.
There is less ribald comedy in the creation myth, in which stick people break their arms and legs to create flexible joints — and pathos in a scene in which a new mother drowns her weak and malformed baby.
Generally, however, the show moves slowly. It was plagued with distractions on its opening night. The prankster god was in full force, from the two dozen oversold seats to the fellow with restless leg syndrome that set an entire audience section vibrating.