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Message is lost in Kumu Kahua’s bombastic ‘Demigods’

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    Angry demigoddesses Noe Lahana (Maile Kapua‘ala), left, and Marcella Bundok (Kamalani Gapol) attack Michael Johnson (Max Kekai‘oli Malmud) as he lies sprawled on a heap of corpses in downtown Honolulu.

The first time high-intensity comedian Sam Kinison performed in Hawaii he used the “F-word” an average of once every 20 seconds for the entire show. Local playwright Noe Helela uses the all-purpose obscenity with similar frequency in “Demigods Anonymous,” the “absurd comedy” that opened Thursday at Kumu Kahua Theatre.

Almost all the other words we can’t print here get similar rapid-fire use along with racial slurs, gay male stereotypes, and a gratuitous reference to Jesus that Christians may find offensive. With one of the most frequently uttered lines being “What the (expletive deleted)?!,” this is not a show for children, or for anyone who finds the wholesale use of profanity objectionable, unimaginative or simply tiresome.

Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre

>> Where: 46 Merchant St.
>> When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 22 (no show April 1)
>> Cost: $25
>> Info: 536-4441 or
>> Note: A talk story session with the playwright, cast and director, facilitated by playwright, director and actor, Taurie Kinoshita will be held following the March 30 performance

The story takes place in a slightly alternative Hawaii. The year is 1999. The population includes a small number of shape-shifting demigods who struggle to control their ability to morph into their supernatural form — and with good reason. Demigods sometimes kill people while they are in their animal shape, and the Demigods Anonymous program is apparently an alternative to prison.

The story gradually becomes the experiences of a Native Hawaiian lesbian demigoddess named Noe Lahana (Maile Kapua‘ala), who can transform into a giant lizard; Noe’s demigoddess girlfriend, Marcella Bundok (Kamalani Gapol), who morphs into a mountain lion; Noe’s closest male friend, Elan Lanisburgh (Kirk A. Lapilio Jr.), whose demigod form is the Loch Ness monster; and Elan’s friends, Jameison Daniels (Max Holtz) and Rachel Marcus (Jamie Bradner), who are stereotypical rich, clueless “haoles.”

Their antagonist is Michael Johnston (Max Kekai‘ole Malmud), the moderator of their support group, who is half-Caucasian and half-Japanese, and who playwright Helela apparently intends to be taken as a comical gay male stereotype.

One of Helela’s entertaining ideas is having large darts on sticks manipulated by black-clad stagehands to show the slow-motion the trajectory of the tranquilizer darts used to subdue various characters. The stagehands help actors move in some scenes and play inanimate objects in others.

Helela slips in some clever one-liners amid all the yelling and screaming, obscenities and childish insults. There are also anachronistic references in a story that has no apparent reason to be set in 1999. (According to the playbill, all the songs heard before and after the show and at intermission were released in 1999.)

The cast works very hard, especially those who play a demigod in animal form without any change of costume. However, the story is presented as such bombastic, over-the-top farce there is little reason to invest emotionally in the outcome.

If Helela intends to share a message — about Hawaiian culture, lesbian relationships or something else — it’s been drowned out in the cacophony.

“Demigods Anonymous,” by Noa Helela; directed by Harry Wong III; sets by BullDog and Reb Beau Allen; costumes by Nara Malia Cardenas; lighting by Cora Yamagata; props design by John M. Cummings III; choreography by Harmony Turner. With Jaime Bradner (Rachel Marcus), Kamalani Gapol (Marcella Bundok), Max Holtz (Jamenson Daniels), Lelea‘e “Buffy” Kahalepuna-Wong (Angelica Bundok/Francis Lanisburgh), Maile Kapua‘ala (Noe Lahana), Kirk A. Lapilio Jr. (Elan Lanisburgh), Max Kekai‘oli Malmud (Michael Johnson), Spencer McCarrey (Jack), Spencer Moon (Dr. Malcolm), Nahiku Passi (Blaine Parez), Berkley Spivey (David) and Marty Wong (Lindsey Wrighthall/Francis Lanisburgh). Running time: 1:31 with intermission.

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