‘Wild Birds’ lands at McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC

(Above, from left) James Keawe Bright, Leleaa Buffy Kahalepuna-Wong and Anette Arinix star in “Wild Birds”. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets are $28 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org. • Photo coutesy Denise De Guzman

‘Wild Birds’ is a wonderful example of just how powerful and thought-provoking a piece of theater can be, according to Donna Blanchard, executive director of Kumu Kahua Theatre on Oahu. For 47 seasons, since the outset of the 1970’s Hawaiian cultural renaissance and well before the Maui Arts & Cultural Center existed, KKT has been presenting original Hawaiian plays starring Hawaii-based actors for Hawaiian audiences. Since then, the MACC has become a presenter and champion of KKT on Maui. Many KKT plays have graced MACC stages, and this weekend Eric Anderson’s “Wild Birds” lands on Maui.

Directed by KKT Artistic Director Harry Wong III, “Wild Birds” had its world premiere last fall on Oahu. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser praised “Wild Birds” as, “A stirring production that brings its real-life, 19th-century Hawaii characters to vibrant life.”

Set in Honolulu in 1839, the play focuses on Amos and Juliette Cooke, an American missionary couple selected to personally oversee the education of the children of the Hawaiian royal family. In Anderson’s narrative, two key questions are raised: How does one enforce rigorous discipline on a sacred alii child? And when is education a form of imperialism?

“History is history, drama is drama, and sometimes the twain shall meet,” said Anderson. “But it is always an uneasy alliance. ‘Wild Birds’ is not history. It is solidly based on fact, but the end result, the play you are going to see, belongs squarely and finally in the realm of theater. Among other things, the play raises troubling issues still relevant to the today of Hawaii,” added Anderson.

Wong first brought the idea of “Wild Birds” to Anderson.

“Wild Birds,” along with Max Holtz and Joanna Mills (second photo). • Photo coutesy Denise De Guzman

“I heard about the history when I was at UH-Manoa. To me, the education of the alii at the royal school marked one of the moments when we stopped being Hawaiian. ‘Hawaiian-ness’ stopped being something we are and started being something we need to recapture or rediscover. This was done through education — something we usually don’t connect to destruction,” said Wong.

“Several years ago, Harry Wong gave me the suggestion,” Anderson shared about the genesis of his play. “At first the idea seemed daunting — all those kids! But I did the research and began to get an inkling of how I wanted to write the show. Everything in the play is thoroughly based on fact, but, as with every drama based on history, there is a point at which the history takes a backseat to the drama. I believe I have stayed faithful to the spirit of the historical personages.”

I asked Anderson why local audiences should embrace Hawaiian theater.

“I think all people should embrace theater everywhere because of its promise of immediacy and vitality — real people on the stage telling real stories right in front of you “ he replied. “And it seems obvious that Hawaiian people, by that I mean all who live here, should know as much about their past and their culture.”

I asked Wong what was the message he hoped audiences would take away and ponder on the drive home from the MACC.

“Two things,” he replied. “Good acts are remembered as good, and evil acts are remembered as such. And black and white characterizations are false.”

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Rescheduled from its original October engagement at the MACC, New Zealand’s Okareka Dance Company presents “Mana Wahine.” Established to fuse contemporary dance with indigenous Maori themes, ODC has evolved into one of New Zealand’s most sought after and prolific dance companies.

Guided by Maori culture, ODC strives to produce evocative, beautiful dance works that tell bold, spiritual stories of New Zealand to audiences around the globe.

* Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 8 in the Castle Theater. General admission tickets range from $12 to $65 with 10 percent discounts for MACC members and half price for kids under 12 years of age (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.

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ProArts Playhouse in Kihei will be holding auditions for “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” by Clark Gesner on Feb. 11 at Kihei Charter Middle School on Lipoa Street. All roles are open, and actors should prepare the individual character songs and scenes provided at www.proartsmaui.com. Audition appointments, scheduled in ten minute increments starting at 6 p.m., are required. Group scene work will follow from 8:30 to 10 p.m. with all who audition. Performances of “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” directed by Ally Shore, will run weekends at the ProArts Playhouse. To schedule an appointment, call 463-0550.