HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
A Shakespearean Double Feature
You might not think of Hilo as a venue for Shakespeare. But every July, the Hilo Community Players presents one of the Bard’s plays – free of charge – right downtown in Kalakaua Park. And this year they’re doing not one but two. Well . . . almost. They’ll perform Antony and Cleopatra –Shakespeare’s historical drama of love and war in the Roman Empire. But they’ll also present a modern comedy, with a lot of youngsters in the cast, called This Is Hamlet.
The Hilo Community Players is the second-oldest theatrical organization in the Islands, having been formed in 1938; and it’s the only troupe in Hawaii that does Shakespeare every year. They’ve been doing it since 1978.
A chessboard for giants? No, it’s the stage set for the Hilo Community Players’ production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and for the comedy This is Hamlet, in downtown Hilo’s Kalakaua Park.
The park used to be the front lawn of King Kalakaua’s vacation-house; Kalakaua Street is the park’s southern border; and a statue of the king by local sculptor Hank Bianchini is in the center. Everyone knows he was an enthusiast for hula: Hilo’s huge “Merrie Monarch” festival and competition is named for him. But he loved stage plays, Shakespeare especially, and the Players have long felt that performances in “his” park similarly honor his legacy.
This year’s audiences will see an innovative Antony and Cleopatra. The script is all Shakespeare, of course, though carefully edited to run just about two hours, with one intermission. But the director, Jake McPherson, has chosen to take what he calls a “minimalist” approach to the play. It will be performed by only six actors, four of whom play multiple roles; even the actors playing Antony and Cleopatra will take on one extra role apiece. McPherson will also clothe his actors not in history-evoking togas and silks, but in monochromatic costumes with only an accessory or two to establish which character they’re portraying. McPherson is one of Hilo’s most experienced directors, and has taken a similar approach in other plays, because, he feels, it focuses the audience’s attention on the most important aspect of the theater-going experience: hearing the spoken word.
This is Hamlet is something completely different. It’s a lighthearted guided-tour through Bard’s most famous play, led by a couple of old biddies and a gaggle of kids, poking fun at the most serious parts, yet never losing touch with what makes Shakespeare great.
Families have always come to the Players’ productions; indeed many of the actors who are now in their twenties and thirties first came with their parents, or joined the Players after having been in Hilo High School’s famous Performing Arts Learning Center – a for-credit afterschool activity. But This is Hamlet is the start of what director Jackie Pualani Johnson sees as a new tradition for the Players, which she calls “Kid Shakes.” Johnson is the chair of UH-Hilo’s Performing Arts Dept., and is the city’s best known actor (she had the title role in the Players’ production of The Trial of Lili’uokalani last summer.) Her concept is that plays with young people in the cast will give not only children but grown-ups too an easy entry-point into the local theater community, and into the wider world of Shakespearean theater as well.
Antony and Cleopatra will be performed on at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from July 10-26; and at 2 p.m. on Sunday July 13 and 20.
This is Hamlet will be performed at 11 a.m. on Saturdays July 12, 19 and 26, and Sundays July 13 and 20.
Admission is free; seating is on bleachers or on the grass (bring your own lawn chair); and “the show must go on” – meaning performances will begin on schedule, rain or shine!
To learn more about the Hilo Community Players, access Cast Lists, audition, become a volunteer or see upcoming productions, click here.