Director Chris Kepler opened "Fighting For My Self" with an important speech. It's a message that King Kekaulike Dramatic Arts is committed to presenting dramas of social awareness.
"Any time you put high school students on stage swearing, talking about sex (and) simulating violence, you're asking for controversy, but I think the messages portrayed here are that important" said Kepler. Playwright Renee J. Clark offers the freedom to customize her script to better connect to each local community. The King Kekaulike students were encouraged by Kepler to create much of their own blocking and make their own character choices.
The 17 cast members play multiple roles, slipping in and out of the Greek chorus that frames the show and even jumping into tech duties when they're not onstage. It truly is an ensemble project.
Shawn Naone-Burger embraces Elizabeth Marian surrounded by the Greek chorus in King Kekaulike’s “Fighting For My Self.”
King Kekaulike High School Drama Department photo
The play opens with Kathy's (Aislinn Smith) dilemma. She's a straight-A student, and that's not cool. "Will they like me better if I flunk a test?" she wonders. The next vignette is Karen's (Noelle Barber) battle with bulimia. She scarfs down a McDonald's feast for two or three, then throws it up every afternoon. She is confronted by her mother (Cynthia Kealoha) after fainting in gym class.
Fiona Wais is quite convincing as Kim, an ex-meth addict who confronts her younger sister, Allison (Jaya Bauer), who just started using. The most effective of all the vignettes however is Becca's (Marissa Godinez) very frank discussion with her girlfriends about sex. Godinez offer the most impressive performance of the entire show in this role. She is so dialed in, I could have easily believed I was watching a professional production. Becca and friends Danita (Elizabeth Marian), Annie (Rachel Simmons) and Elena (Dara Reid) present an uncomfortably real conversation regarding the nature of girls keeping boyfriends happy and the pain of being tossed aside after the boys grow tired of them. Becca is proud of being a virgin and her friends regret choices they have made.
Student assistant director Josh Berman blocked a choral representation of societal pressures, and anchors the unsettling Greek chorus throughout the play. Shawn Naone-Burger offers tribal drumming as an accompaniment to the chorus.
Juxaposed to the previous frank sexual discussion is the pregnancy of Meg (Rachel Simmons). Friends Linda (Zoe Wender), Evanna (Levi English) and Patty (Megan Alexander) offer ideas and advice. Will Meg choose abortion, adoption or single motherhood? The power of Clark's script lies in the idea that there is never an obvious correct choice or a tidy happy ending. Scenes end unresolved, leaving the audience to decide what is right, what would I do?
"Boyfriend, boyfriend, gotta have a boyfriend, any kind of boyfriend" the chorus chants several times in the show, even if that boyfriend leaves, even if that boyfriend beats you up. Fiona Weis is very strong portraying Marcy, a girl beaten into unconsciousness by her boyfriend and left at the side of a road. When best friend Sylvia (Dara Reckard) visits at the hospital she can offer support and love, but no answers to Marcy's questions of why?
The most painful scenario to watch is what Kepler calls "the problem with no name." Liz (Elizabeth Marian) is confronted by her single father (Shawn Naone-Burger), who doesn't understand what is wrong with her. Neither does Liz. She doesn't want to get out of bed, she doesn't want to look at people, and she doesn't see what the point is to going to school. She is in pain, so a drink numbs that pain for a few hours, but she really just wishes to become part of the blackness and never wake up. The only thing dad can do is say he loves her, and they'll get some help.
King Kekaulike's counselors are available to help following each performance as well as the Peer Education program, distributing literature relating to all the problems explored and more. Planned Parenthood and Al-Anon also have booths onsite.
The additional Greek chorus and cast members are Carli Callender, Brenden White, Rosie Kulhauy-Sutherland and Feona Rehfuss. What Kepler and his team of talented teens bring to the Maui theater scene is raw, powerful and unique. I do not know if method acting or the Meisner approach is implemented in their classes or if the subject matter is the catalyst, but King Kekaulike's "dramaaticans," as they like to be called, offer a gritty, metropolitan alternative to a standard class production. Much of what I see is advanced enough to be considered a city acting class production, as opposed to a high school pageant, and the cast of "Fighting For Myself" should be very proud of their hard work.
* King Kekaulike Dramatic Arts Company presents "Fighting for My Self" by Renee J. Clark, a dramatic portrayal of female teen pressure, in the King Kekaulike student dining room. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 3 p.m. matinee closing the run on Sunday at King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani. Tickets are available at the door only, $8 for adults, $4 for students. The box office will open a half-hour prior to the performances. "Fighting for My Self" is not suitable for children younger than 12.