Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Monday, July 22, 2024 78° Today's Paper

Lee Cataluna

Drama of the overthrow comes alive downtown

Last year, the performance was so popular, an extra fourth show was added on several nights. The additions were a huge endorsement for a walking history tour that took place in the steamy pau hana workday hours in downtown Honolulu. The experience transcended the traffic noise and the humidity. It became deeper than an intellectual history exercise. People were dabbing away tears.

"Mai Po’ina," written by Hawaii playwright and author Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, will open Sunday evening. The theatrical piece is based on Kneubuhl’s extensive research on events of the four pivotal days leading up to the Jan. 17, 1893, overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The scenes play out at six areas around Iolani Palace. Audience members are escorted to each staging site, where some of Hawaii’s finest stage actors portray Hawaii leaders and citizens from more than 100 years ago.

"One reaction last year was from teachers who wished that they had been able to tell their classes about the event," director Sammie Choy said in an e-mail interview. An estimated 700 people went on the walking tour last year. "We’ve already had some teachers calling in to reserve places for their classes."


Walking tours of the performance "Mai Po’ina" will be held Sunday through next Friday. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call 262-5900. Tours start at the State Library and will run each evening at 5, 5:20, 5:40 and 6 p.m.


Choy said many audience members last year weren’t aware of some of the factual details Kneubuhl included in the script.

"The chronology of the events of January 17th, 1893, the day of the overthrow, for example, are eye-opening — things happened so quickly," Choy said. "And since last year’s performances were scheduled to coincide with the 50th celebration of statehood, our audience was well aware of the reminder that Hawaii’s history didn’t start in 1959."

The actors work in open air without amplification, performing for large groups of people despite the myriad distractions of being outdoors in busy downtown Honolulu.

"We cast experienced actors who know how to use their voices effectively, and we rehearse them on location so they can learn to maintain the presentation of the world of 1893," Choy said.

Performers include Moses Goods, Charles Timtim, Nyla Fujii-Babb, Wil Kahele, Craig Howe and Kneubuhl. This year, Hawaiian scholars will be available after the tours to answer questions.

"I think every student in Hawaii should witness this, as should visitors to the islands because history books and tourist guides can only communicate so much," Choy said. "Being face-to-face with history can make the personal, human cost of the overthrow very, very real."

Lee Cataluna can be reached at lcataluna@staradvertiser.com.


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