A Nation Rises in Kennedy Theatre

'Au'a 'Ia at UHM Kennedy Theatre 3 (Captioned).jpg

E iho ana o luna
That which is above will come down

E piʻi ana o lalo
That which is below will rise up

E hui ana nā moku
The islands shall unite

E kū ana ka paia.
The walls shall stand firm.
(Adapted from the prophecy of Kapihe)

The nation of Hawaiʻi both outside and within the walls of Kennedy Theatre is rising. ʻAUʻA ‘IA (HOLDING ON) written and directed by Dr. Hailiʻōpua Baker, can be described as an ʻie toga (fine mat) or an intricately composed mele; both of which are gifts to anyone lucky enough to receive it. Abundant are the layers that weave throughout the entirety of this epic production. Each layer leaves the audience salivating in awe and wonder about the details of Hawaiʻi’s history.

Four University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students, Kaʻihi (Ākea Kahikina), Ala (Jorin Young), ʻĀina (Kaipulaumakaniolono Baker) and Ola (Dylan Chace Lee) take us on a journey as they prepare for a class presentation. Their research is much more than a history lesson. It becomes a personal journey about identity, place, and mana. An ʻoli chanted by ʻĀina transports the students to an ancient time and place. This time/place travel takes all of us on an epic and detailed ride through Hawaiʻi history.

While most history plays help one imagine what it must have been like during a certain period, Dr. Baker immerses the audience (and the company) deeply in her reimagining of key historical moments giving her audience a holistic experience of a Kānaka Maoli worldview. If this sounds transcending, IT IS. No kidding. There was a moment where I transcended to a higher place and it broke me. I, most of the audience, was in tears and this was only scene five of the first act!

Because a peoples history was being played out the company’s performance, both individual and as a collective, was genuine, believable and full of energy to say the least. The energy on that stage and in the house was surreal. The ancestors were out and it showed. It’s impossible for me to highlight one or two actors or favorite scene. What I can tell you, without giving the entire play away, is to look for a very subtle moment that takes place behind the backs of the Hawaiian people that triggers their outcry and causes the illegal occupiers to celebrate. It is a single gesture made by Lorrin Thurston played by Craig Howes that leads to the pinning of pieces of the Hae Hawaiʻi on the bosom of foreign occupiers. Yes, I just gave it away, but there is so much happening at that moment that this subtle action could easily go unappreciated and missed. If you don’t know what the moment signifies, research it.

ʻAUʻA ʻIA featured storytelling in every element whether it be sound, set, light or costume. What theatre can you go to that will give you an award-winning hula hālau? This one. Hula choreography is by Kumu Hula Keawe Lopes Jr. and Kumu Hula Tracie Lopes while music arrangement is also by Kumu Keawe Jr. and Kihei Nahale-a. The set designed by Michelle Bisbee is simple and dynamic highlighting literature all people, native especially, should have at least one of in their personal libraries. These set pieces featured stunning original artwork by ʻAhukini Kupihea. Each image was a story in itself.

Based on the context of our time, place and indigenous artistic achievement, ʻAUʻA ʻIA is the most important play of our time. Missing it would be a personal disservice.

Written by Kiki Rivera.

Hitting The Stage