Pleasant surprises are always welcome. Kumu Kahua’s world premiere production of Lee A. Tonouchi’s "Da Kine Space" is more than "pleasant" — "delightful" is a better fit, although the two-act, two-hour performance piece might prove too long and meandering for those desiring tight, logical storytelling.
"Da Kine Space"
» Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Marcus Lee stars as Cy Nigashi, 30-something owner of the Art Space gallery, who is pondering the future of his failing business after his girlfriend says she wants to "think about" his proposal of marriage. Nigashi’s confidant and interlocutor while he waits is a 20-something freelance know-it-all named Jader. A generation apart in age and outlook, the two discuss an almost endless list of topics that range from Nigashi’s sexual orientation to ways he could raise the money he needs to keep the gallery open, and to the nature and purpose of "art" itself.
Surprise 1: Although Tonouchi is universally known as "Da Pidgin Guerrilla," this is not conventional "pidgin theater." Pidgin is peripheral to the story, and most of the issues and situations are mainstream rather than insular. When characters speak local-style English, it isn’t stereotypical "stage pidgin" and they are not stock pidgin theater character types.
Surprise 2: The frequent transitions between "reality" and "fantasy" within the story and the periodic breaking of the "fourth wall" make this an unusually surrealistic production for Kumu Kahua.
"Cerebral pidgin comedy" might sound like an oxymoron, but that’s what Tonouchi and director Jason Kanda have created.
Lee follows two solid performances last year playing villains with impressive work as a lighter and more sympathetic character. Jabez Sky (Jader) is an expressive comic dynamo as the young — presumably gay — Millennial.
Around them swirls a kaleidoscopic cast. Nani Morita doubles as Nigashi’s girlfriend and a "kid" who wants to be an artist. Dawn Gohara is an audience favorite as Nigashi’s bizarre mother; Ryan Sutherlan has several good scenes as a "Reggae Man" for whom art is political; and Chevy Martinez doubles as Nigashi’s dominatrix ex-girlfriend and the "Hottie" who challenges him to define "the difference between porn and art."
Last, but far from least in terms of dramatic impact, Stephanie Keiko Kong (Kitty Hoth) is a show-stopper as a multimedia news personality who stops by to cover the demise of the gallery — or maybe help save it.
Tonouchi spices the action with memorable one-liners. For instance, someone says that a gold "statue man" nearby "probably was a state worker — they good at standing around!" There are similar apt references to Professor Fun, Diamond Head Video, "American Beauty," Megan Fox and Kim Taylor Reece.
Audience participation is another key part of the show. Have some dollar bills ready if you sit in the front row.
"Da Kine Space" is so imaginative and well played that it’s a shame Kumu Kahua still chooses not to participate in the Hawaii State Theatre Council Po’okela Awards adjudication. Tonouchi deserves a "Pokie" for best new script; Kanda’s imaginative direction is award-worthy as well.