KOA's Finale is a Sight to See

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Starting in September 2018, Kailua Onstage Arts ends its very first theatrical season with a production by Susan Soon He Stanton. WE, THE INVISIBLES is performing on the Hawaii Pacific University Kaneohe Campus, at the Paul and Vi Loo Theatre, through August 11.

WE, THE INVISIBLES is Stanton’s story, who herself said it’s her most biographical piece according to director Kevin Keaveney. Therese Olival portrays Susan in the production, and we follow her life as she moves away from Hawaii and works at The Luxe (sp?), an upscale hotel in New York that attracts a dazzling array of people from all over the world, and employs a work staff that is just as, if not more, diverse. We are taken to all corners and edges of the hotel to get to know the different people Susan works with, as she is working towards chronicling everyone’s stories there. However, she is also trying to get to the bottom of a sexual assault incident of one of the housekeepers there, Nafissatou Diallo (Allison Francis). Diallo was the unfortunate target of French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn/DSK (Garrett Hols), as he took advantage of the fact that she was the only housekeeper assigned to the floor DSK was on. Eventually, Diallo left The Luxe and Susan, tired of hearing DSK’s side and part in the story, wanted to let Diallo have a chance, a voice, a time to speak and share her story. However, there are twists and turns that keep Susan from finding out her story, and more and more people come and go under the employment of The Luxe. Nonetheless, Susan aims to write a play, and is ever vigilant in her journey to research and get all the details needed.

The play is fascinating and inventive. After watching the first act, I was confused about who this play was about. Was it about Susan, and this play she was writing? If so, why has she not undergone any sort of change or arc yet? Was this play about Susan’s co-workers (whom actually have said all the lines in the interviews she had conducted!), and if so, why are we just glossing over their names and not focusing on the meat of their stories? Why are we just introduced to one person after the next, not allowing the audience to connect to them properly? Was this play really about Diallo? If so, it really didn’t feel like it was because of all the other characters operating around The Luxe. Then, act two began.

Stanton crafted a classic unreliable narrator piece, and in that it had become a journey of discovery. The play becomes self-referential, as the audience realizes this is the play she is writing, and that some people weren’t characterized properly. Actually, the play was already self-referential, the writing just does a great job of not drawing too much attention to it during the first act. Susan acknowledges this beautifully in the climax, and thus the spine of the show readjusts into one of self-learning and self-realization. Is it so important to find someone who doesn’t want to be found, only to ask them about something they clearly do not want to talk about? What kind of insight can you gain when you hang back and become invisible yourself, watching the world interact around you? Why would you characterize a certain person a certain way- are you trying to fit the narrative you want your play to have, or are you trying to fit the narrative you want your memories to have? The play asks a lot of exciting questions of this nature, and what once appeared as surface-level takes a deep plunge into the depths of the mind.

Olival delivers as she engages the cast with fervor, curiosity, and drive. Francis’ portrayal as Diallo is powerful, chilling, and reserved, with the truth ringing from her voice when she is either delivering sobering testimony or going over the (light hearted and endearing) recipe of how to properly cover a bed. Next to them are the rest of the ensemble, and they are no slouches as they share a multitude of roles, changing in and out of a slew of characters (that come with costumes, voices, and the works). A bravo to Hols, Monica Bennett, Stacey Pulmano, Danielle Zalopany, Jason Lee Hoy, Pedro Armando Haro, and Noah Faumuina for their excellent commitment to keeping their characters distinct and dynamic and for having the bravery to attack many difficult accents throughout the entire evening.

I saw the production on opening night, so while Keaveney and Hols’ set design of The Luxe looked great (especially the marbling) and was functional (the panels revealed different closets, and a turntable piece of furniture further expanded the locations of the hotel), there were a few set mishaps. Charles Wade’s lighting seemed uncoordinated and unmotivated as well, and the night was rife was blackouts. However, I was assured things were fixed and that everything should be looking and working as intended by the time you read this review. Kimmerie Jones had the monumental task of costuming all of these characters and keeping them all distinct, and she succeeded. Key choices were made in how everyone was introduced, and thus her designs paired with the actors’ performances ensured you would not mistake one worker for another. Sara Ward and Tanyah Tavorn’s prop selections were detailed and well-selected, further bringing the audience into this world that Susan is surrounded by.

Indeed, Keaveney’s team is a strong one. One of my favorite moments of the play involves everyone involved- near the end of the play, Olival as Susan engages with an old friend of hers, played by Hols. However, through this dialogue we are once again thrust into the self-referential nature of the play, and in a delightful bit of mind-bending Hols delivers a monologue that is split through all the characters he played throughout the production, ending with DSK. Olival reacts with the appropriate (thogh non-vocal) reaction of “is this really happening right now?” The lights and costume work seamlessly to zero in on these two characters, and the cast (I’m guessing) assists with the various costume changes he had to make this scene a success. Nothing like good old stage magic to introduce to a relatively grounded play.

WE, THE INVISIBLES has three performances left. Playing this Friday-Sunday at the Paul and Vi Loo Theatre on the HPU Windward Campus, you can get your tickets at the link here.