Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Play puts new saint's acerbic side on display

By Pat Gee


The pious, compassionate side of St. Marianne Cope is well known with all the publicity surrounding her newly declared sainthood, but a play to be staged next month reveals her feisty side.

In "November's Song" the Franciscan nun is often portrayed as sarcastic, demanding and strong-willed when it came to fighting to improve conditions for Hawaii's outcast victims of leprosy, director Modesto Cordero said.

The play will be presented Nov. 16 and 17 at Sacred Hearts Academy in Kaimuki.


When: 8 p.m. Nov. 16, 3:30 and 8 p.m. Nov. 17

Where: Sacred Hearts Academy Auditorium

Tickets: $10 at

Information: 203-6767 or


"We wanted to portray all her faces as a woman. Yes, she's a saint, but we want people to see how she (really) was. The sisters have been advising us and really approving it," Cordero said Oct. 20 in an interview.

The play is named for the month in which many milestones occurred in Cope's life, including her entering a convent in 1862, arriving in Hawaii with six sisters in 1883 and sailing from Oahu to Kalaupapa in 1888.

In a monologue in the play, Cope says, "November's song … is always a joyful one, even when it brings death or loneliness or ordeals of the spirit. November's song is promise: the coming birth of Christ, and the new birth for all of us who labor in his name among the poor and the despairing, the sick, the dying."

The action is interspersed with live Hawaiian music, hula and chants that Cordero uses to enliven the production with more local flavor, he said.

Cordero — an actor, writer and director from Puerto Rico — is a deacon at St. John Apostle and Evangelist Church in Mililani, where he directs its "Spirit-led" Drama Club. The club is co-sponsoring the production with the Catholic Diocese of Hawaii as part of a celebration of Cope's canonization Oct. 21 in Rome.

The play was written in 1983 by George Herman to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of St. Francis, Cope's religious order, to Hawaii.

There are 20 members in the cast, with Eva Andrade in the lead role of Cope.

"This is one of the most exciting and humbling opportunities to portray such an awesome woman," Andrade said. As executive director of Hawaii Family Forum, and a diocese policy spokes­woman, she said she can identify with Cope in her "desire to help those who had no voice."

"She was a woman in charge in a time period when women were not accepted in places of leadership. She had to run a hospital and be a man, in a sense, in her strength, dedication and her authority," Andrade said.

Cordero added, "There are moments that she could also be sarcastic. She was a very strong leader, and if she had to say something, she would say it in order to get things done properly. In a scene she gets very upset and goes overboard. She starts fighting with the government and becomes demanding."

In the play, Cope says, "He (an official) was to be shocked later that we also had voices, and we used them to force from the government the promised convent and assistance. … We were women — capitalized and underscored — who had to be dealt with as promised."

Some people who saw a 10-minute preview at a fundraiser in August were surprised that Cope could be so outspoken, Cordero said, but the St. Francis sisters assured him that "yes, that's what we see her to be," he said.

Andrade said she was complimented when her former principal and some teachers at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, where she was a drama aficionado, told her, "You made me cry."

The play also reveals Cope's vulnerability to severe seasickness, coming by steamship to Hawaii and then by boat from Oahu to Molokai. And her honest first reaction to the exiled Kalaupapa leprosy settlement: "What a barren and desolate place, not a tree or shrub in the whole settlement. Poor little shanties, broken windows or missing steps, looking every bit as leprous as the unfortunate souls they shelter. I am dismayed and weary at the sight of it," Cope says.

But with all her responsibilities, Cope made sure the patients were clean and well dressed to give them a sense of dignity, Cordero said. Photos taken at the time showed that she and the sisters sewed fashionable dresses and matching hair ribbons for the girls and women, and "it's amazing, you can't even tell they're leprosy patients," he added.

The most difficult thing for Cordero and Andrade was to portray the historic details as accurately as possible, because this is "the first time we are bringing alive the life of a real person," and some of their audience will know Cope's story intimately, he said.

Some who saw the preview said they disliked hearing the word "leper" because the term is offensive to Hansen's disease patients. But after discussing it with the sisters, Cordero was told it was OK to use the word for the sake of accuracy, as it was common back when leprosy victims were ostracized. The only time "leper" will be replaced with "patients of leprosy" is when the play is performed in Kalaupapa on Jan. 12 for the patients, he said.

Abridged versions of the play will be shown on each of the neighbor islands.

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