“The Trial of Lili‘uokalani”

By Kelly Moran

 “The Trial of Lili‘uokalani”

It’s 1895.  Hawaiian nationalists have tried – but failed – to restore the Queen and her government by force of arms.  Convicted of treason against the new Republic, they’ve been sentenced to death.  And now Lili‘uokalani  — the deposed Queen — faces an American military court, accused of knowing her people were going to rise up, and not stopping them.
This month, the Hilo Community Players present The Trial of Lili‘uokalani, a historical drama about these real events and historical figures, with some characters created by the playwright to personify loyalties in conflict.  In the throne room and the court room, we see the loss of her kingdom and her husband; the frustrations of her supporters; the defense of her reign against the men who ended it . . . and the political undertow of America’s westward “manifest destiny.”  Atop a stellar cast, as the Queen, is Jackie Pualani Johnson, celebrated local actor, and chair of UH-Hilo’s Performing Arts Dept.  Directing the play is Justina Taft  Mattos, PhD, director of “Much Ado About Nothing” for HCP’s Shakespeare in the Park; the Palace Theater musical “Once Upon One Noddah Time;” and UH-Hilo’s production of “Go Dog, Go.”

The Trial of Lili‘uokalani was written here in Hilo in 1973 by Maurice Zimring, a Hollywood screenwriter who’d retired to Keaukaha – a largely Hawaiian community — and was active in the Big Island Press Club.  Drawing on remembrances, books, archives and transcripts, Zimring combined historical figures and dramatic characters to create this drama of patriotism and passion.



[In The Trial of Lili‘uokalani, politics threatens the budding romance between Jenny Thornton (Nicole Cowan), daughter of the leading Annexationist, and Paki Kealoha (Ray Campainha), the firebrand Hawaiian nationalist.  Can the Queen (Jackie Pualini Johnson) bring them together?]


2013 is a significant year for this play.  It is the 120th anniversary of the Queen’s overthrow, the 50th anniversary of the creation of the play, and the 75th anniversary of the Hilo Community Players (HCP), the second-oldest theatrical organization in the Islands.  HCP’s mission is “to educate, enrich and entertain” through theater.  So the program for the show is also a study-guide that leads the playgoer to explore what Hawaii was like in the 1890s, and to understand the people who lived what the playwright and the players bring to the stage.



[In The Trial of Lili‘uokalani,  the fate of the Queen (Jackie Pualani Johnson) hangs in the balance, as Presiding Judge Whiting (Peter Veseskis, l.) and defense counsel Paul Neumann (Randal McEndree, r.) argue over her indictment for misprision of treason.]


The Trial of Lili‘uokalani will be performed upstairs at the East Hawaii Cultural Center (EHCC), 141 Kalakaua St. in downtown Hilo.  Friday and Saturday evening shows start at 7 p.m. on September 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21.  Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. on September 8, 15 and 22.  Individual tickets are $15 at the door; $10 in advance and for students with ID; $5 for keiki 12 and under.  Group discounts are available (by advance-sale only) at $9 each in blocks of ten or more; and at $8 each in blocks of twenty or more.

For tickets, please phone the box office at EHCC: 808-961-5711.  For more information about the production, or more background on the play, please contact my friend Hal Glatzer, who is Secretary of the Hilo Community Players.  Email hal@halglatzer.com or phone 808-895-4816.

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