Hats Off To 'Dis Production
During DA BEER CAN HAT’s kālā bowl speech, where a member of the cast politely asks the audience for kālā, or money, to help keep theatre at Kumu Kahua Theatre going, actor Brandon Hagio tells the audience while holding back tears, “There’s no place like Kumu. Kumu does stories for the invisible people.” The spirit of this statement rings true, as Kumu Kahua pledges to do work about Hawaii and by playwrights from Hawaii. This is in no way a knock to other theatres on the island- rather, he is acknowledging Kumu Kahua’s place within our theatrical community, a place that has been working for 48 seasons. Sure, there are other theatres where Darrell H.Y. Lum’s play could have had its world premiere, but it sits right at home in the midst of Chinatown as the final production of Kumu’s 2018-2019 season.
Lum’s DA BEER CAN HAT follows the story of mentally handicapped Bobo (Hagio) and his friend Junior (Ku'umakaonaona (Maka) Bailon), two youths that sell newspaper at a small mom and pop store, Ching Store. Owner Benson “Ah Hung” Ching (Daryl Bonilla) takes Bobo and Junior under his wing, allowing the boys to sell papers to his customers. As he tells the boys, before Bobo came along no one bought papers; now that Bobo is there, people are buying newspaper all the time, even if they don’t need it. We follow Bobo and Junior through the early 1970’s, where they encounter long-haired bullies like Joe-Boy (Paul Yau) and Cutshort (Eddy Gudoy), talk about detective Kojack and Hawaii State Wrestling with Mr. Ching, and play marbles, each trying to get more bumbucha kine shooters than the other. Lum’s play takes us into the homes of each boy, where we are shown the stark differences of their living environments. Ron Encarnacion and Maile Kapua'ala are Junior’s parents, who care for their son as well as Bobo, teaching Junior many valuable lessons about how things are not just black and white, and to not be afraid of the gray areas while standing up for what is ultimately right. Meanwhile, Sonny Lopez (Marcus Oshiro) is Bobo’s father, a single parent not trying so hard to make ends meet. Constantly drinking and chastising his son, he struggles to collect bottles to recycle in order to pay off a debt to Mr. Ching. Sonny is a jaded, cold parent, which unfortunately leads to a lot of mental and physical abuse for Bobo.
Majority of the cast rings true, bringing Lum’s characters to life. Oshiro (though his delivery plods at times), Yau, and Gudoy are fantastic as negative influences and forces in Bobo and Junior’s lives; with each scene they time and time again earn the ire their characters deserve. Bonilla, Encarnacion, Kapua'ala are warm and firm guiding hands that also know how to laugh at the world and themselves, creating a much needed atmosphere of safety. Strong and stoic (with a smile), Jason Lee Hoy as Tattoo (he also plays a customer in the show) provides a guardian angel type role to Bobo when he needs it most, and Maki'ilei Ishihara plays with her range as she commands authority as a social worker, runs around selling bread as a kid, and ultimately works with Hoy’s character at the carnival that Bobo and Junior attend. Bailon as Junior is earnest and flawed in the way all of us are growing up. He asks hard questions and is confronted with tough decisions, and Bailon navigates his character through these waters with aplomb. Undoubtedly, Hagio shines the brightest on the stage, telling Bobo’s story with every ounce of truth and vulnerability that he can muster, and then some. It’s easy to see the tragedy and heartbreak in Bobo’s story, and Hagio doesn’t shy away from these negative forces. What he does as well is relish in the joy and happiness that Bobo also feels, and digs deep in the confusion and puzzling situations Bobo comes across. Hagio wields exceptional skill and heart in this performance, and when the cast is rooting for him it’s difficult to not join in on the cheering with them.
This is a fantastic show, capturing both the fun of youth and the harshness of reality. Tonally, it never strays too far to either side, managing to keep the show in a place we can all reach without a stretch. A much-needed undercurrent of comedy runs through the veins of the production to keep that tone balanced, thanks to Lum’s words as well as the direction of the play. The wrestling scenes (which are a type of coping mechanism seen through Bobo’s eyes) were a wonderful device that certainly works on paper and are fantastic to watch when brought to life. Congratulations to first time directors Karen & Denny Hironaga for this undertaking as well as assembling a strong cast and production team. Together, they stage all the right pieces with all the right beats, which led to a very strong and emotional experience.
Yau, besides acting, also designed the set, making the Ching’s store, Bobo’s house, Junior’s house, and the carnival come to life, with great attention to detail and painting that makes the locales feel realistic. Kahana Ho’s lighting and Stu Hirayama’s sound design add the final icing on top of Yau’s scenic design, making the locations feel authentic. Karen and Denny are responsible for the props, which all looked appropriately period (to me), further selling the 1970’s in Hawaii aesthetic. Iris Kim’s costume design was clear, period appropriate, and also laden with small details that go hand in hand with the production. Finally, Friston Ho'okano’s hair and makeup design were great, most notably with Hagio and his wig (which fit him well on the night I caught the show) and his wound makeup.
Ultimately, the production is about compassion, friendship, and love for one another. Watching a production that speaks directly to the humanity in our hearts makes for a very strong and emotional experience. Don’t fret- laughs are doled out in all the right places, this isn’t a hum-drum drama. DA BEER CAN HAT is a story about Bobo, his friend Junior, and the fun and struggles they shared together. Be sure to catch Darrell H.Y. Lum’s DA BEER CAN HAT at Kumu Kahua Theatre through June 23. Tickets can be bought here.