The sold-out premiere of Gary T. Kubota's "Legend of Ko'olau" on Saturday was certainly monumental, but as is the case with all debuts, a little tweaking might be in order.
I was mildly disappointed that the star of the one-man play, Ed Ka'ahea as Ko'olau, performed with script in hand, but pleased that he barely looked at it. Ka'ahea may be better-suited for a televised broadcast of "Ko'olau," but regardless his eyes were transfixed on the audience, and the audience was captivated by his portrayal.
There were three moments when Ka'ahea owned the role. The first was the fact that he never touched the script in the opening 15 minutes of the show. Early in, Kubota's story endears Ko'olau with humor and charm, both played with ease by Ka'ahea. The second was a truthfully tearful moment as Ko'olau conveyed the death of his son, Ka'leimanu, and the strain that placed on his marriage to Pi'ilani. Ka'ahea's finest moment, however, was when he dropped his script late in the show, passionately delivering the final 10 minutes of the play from his heart. I have no idea if the lines were accurate, but "Legend of Ko'olau" finally reached the next level, a powerful play worthy of touring.
What works superbly in "Ko'olau" is Kubota's script, which seamlessly shifts from tragedy to humor. In addition, Ka'ahea looks the part, and has a deep, rich and pleasant voice. Director Keo Woolford melds these two strengths, resulting in a spellbound audience that churns in their seats, fiercely supportive of this character and the plight of his family.
Kubota's telling is a bit heavy in exposition and facts; but the story is well-crafted, and the little-known facts are fascinating. With a few minor adjustments, perhaps a small set, additional sound design and a little more familiarity by Ka'ahea, "Legend of Ko'olau" will become must-see theater. Maybe its true destiny is a filmed PBS teleplay, followed or preceded by a documentary with historical details and 19th-century photography.
As "Ko'olau" journeys on to Hilo, Waimea and Honolulu, local audiences will certainly enjoy the production. And if it continues to improve, it seems certain the National Performance Network of New Orleans will aid in a tour of theaters around the U.S.