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The Taste of Kona Coffee

The Taste of Kona Coffee (East West Players; 99 seats; $ 23 top) East West Players presents "The Taste of Kona Coffee," a play in two acts by Edward Sakamoto, directed by Mako. Scenic design, Lisa Hashimoto; costume design, Dori Quan; lighting design, Rae Creevey; sound design, Gerry Linsangan. Opened Jan. 30, 1997, reviewed Jan. 31; runs until March 9. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min. Cast: Dana Lee (Otosan), Shizuko Hoshi (Okasan), John Cho (Tosh), Jeret Ochi (Aki), Benjamin Lum (Shogo), Janice Terukina (Tomi), Katherine Keiko Nakano (Haruko), Shaun Shimoda (Jiro). Set in 1929, Hawaii-based playwright Edward Sakamoto's play chronicles the cathartic but often comical passing of a way of life for a family of coffee growers in Kona, Hawaii. There is much to enjoy in Sakamoto's leisurely tale, but the production suffers from the leaden pacing of director Mako and the often tentative performances of an uneven ensemble. Sakamoto has a distinct and imaginative feel for the colorful Hawaiian pidgin-English dialect of the times and has created a loving glimpse into the interaction of rural family life at a period when the Hawaiian Islands were barely creeping into the 20th century. He depicts a time when rural society is just beginning to give way to the siren call of the modern world, but is still strictly observant of ethnic class strata: The Japanese look down on the Filipinos, who look down on the native Hawaiians. And they all resent but are intimidated by the "haoles" (white people). The action centers on the stern, unyielding Japanese-born patriarch, Otosan (Dana Lee), who, though nearly crippled, rules over his meager coffee farm. His life is complicated by his younger son, Tosh (John Cho), desperate to leave the farm to join his older brother, Aki (Jeret Ochi), who years earlier had fled to the big-city life of Honolulu. The inevitable clash of wills between the old and the young occurs when the cocky, self-confident Aki returns to the farm determined to move the family to the city. The production doesn't quite serve the material. Mako never achieves a comfortable level of communication among family members and neighbors who supposedly have dealt with each other all their lives. There is often a halting, strained level to the ensemble interplay as if they are still more aware of line readings than of actually communicating with each other. What does work, though, is the wonderfully rustic environment created by set, lighting and costume designers Lisa Hashimoto, Rae Creevey and Dori Quan, respectively. The cast is a mixed blessing but the brothers are terrific. As the callow Tosh, Cho exudes hurt, intimidation and resentment in his every word and action towards his parents, yet displays a disarming intelligence and sense of humor when dealing with his brother and their farm worker Shogo (Benjamin Lum). Though not absolutely fluid with his lines, Ochi offers an exuberant, strutting bantam-cock presence as the city-tainted Aki. During the course of the play, he makes a dramatically believable transition from being intimidated by his father to forcefully taking command of the family. The parents do not come off as well. Lee is certainly gruff and stern enough as Otosan, but he is always out of sync with the rest of the ensemble. It is as if his thought process takes an extra beat to utilize the information. As his wife, Okasan, Shizuko Hoshi offers a wonderful earth mother persona but also is hesitant with her dialogue, missing the opportunity to take command of a scene when her lines clearly call for her to do so. Janice Terukina is a significant plus as Tomi, the sturdy, hard-working neighbor girl who helps Okasan and has a deep-seated affection for Aki. Terukina displays marvelous comedic timing with her no-nonsense pidgin- English put-downs of Aki's boastful ways. Lum's hapless farmworker is wonderfully believable as the lovable buffoon who desperately wants to be part of a family. Katherine Keiko Nakano is totally out of control as Haruko, Tomi's younger, overtly flirtatious 18-year-old sister. There is no aspect of her attempted seduction of Aki or over-the-top rantings at Tomi that is believable. Shaun Shimoda displays an embarrassing, caricaturized portrayal of Tosh's college-educated former boyhood friend, Jiro. --- Julio Martinez

With:
Cast: Dana Lee (Otosan), Shizuko Hoshi (Okasan), John Cho (Tosh), Jeret Ochi (Aki), Benjamin Lum (Shogo), Janice Terukina (Tomi), Katherine Keiko Nakano (Haruko), Shaun Shimoda (Jiro).

The Taste of Kona Coffee (East West Players; 99 seats; $ 23 top) East West Players presents “The Taste of Kona Coffee,” a play in two acts by Edward Sakamoto, directed by Mako. Scenic design, Lisa Hashimoto; costume design, Dori Quan; lighting design, Rae Creevey; sound design, Gerry Linsangan. Opened Jan. 30, 1997, reviewed Jan. 31; runs until March 9. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min. Cast: Dana Lee (Otosan), Shizuko Hoshi (Okasan), John Cho (Tosh), Jeret Ochi (Aki), Benjamin Lum (Shogo), Janice Terukina (Tomi), Katherine Keiko Nakano (Haruko), Shaun Shimoda (Jiro). Set in 1929, Hawaii-based playwright Edward Sakamoto’s play chronicles the cathartic but often comical passing of a way of life for a family of coffee growers in Kona, Hawaii. There is much to enjoy in Sakamoto’s leisurely tale, but the production suffers from the leaden pacing of director Mako and the often tentative performances of an uneven ensemble. Sakamoto has a distinct and imaginative feel for the colorful Hawaiian pidgin-English dialect of the times and has created a loving glimpse into the interaction of rural family life at a period when the Hawaiian Islands were barely creeping into the 20th century. He depicts a time when rural society is just beginning to give way to the siren call of the modern world, but is still strictly observant of ethnic class strata: The Japanese look down on the Filipinos, who look down on the native Hawaiians. And they all resent but are intimidated by the “haoles” (white people). The action centers on the stern, unyielding Japanese-born patriarch, Otosan (Dana Lee), who, though nearly crippled, rules over his meager coffee farm. His life is complicated by his younger son, Tosh (John Cho), desperate to leave the farm to join his older brother, Aki (Jeret Ochi), who years earlier had fled to the big-city life of Honolulu. The inevitable clash of wills between the old and the young occurs when the cocky, self-confident Aki returns to the farm determined to move the family to the city. The production doesn’t quite serve the material. Mako never achieves a comfortable level of communication among family members and neighbors who supposedly have dealt with each other all their lives. There is often a halting, strained level to the ensemble interplay as if they are still more aware of line readings than of actually communicating with each other. What does work, though, is the wonderfully rustic environment created by set, lighting and costume designers Lisa Hashimoto, Rae Creevey and Dori Quan, respectively. The cast is a mixed blessing but the brothers are terrific. As the callow Tosh, Cho exudes hurt, intimidation and resentment in his every word and action towards his parents, yet displays a disarming intelligence and sense of humor when dealing with his brother and their farm worker Shogo (Benjamin Lum). Though not absolutely fluid with his lines, Ochi offers an exuberant, strutting bantam-cock presence as the city-tainted Aki. During the course of the play, he makes a dramatically believable transition from being intimidated by his father to forcefully taking command of the family. The parents do not come off as well. Lee is certainly gruff and stern enough as Otosan, but he is always out of sync with the rest of the ensemble. It is as if his thought process takes an extra beat to utilize the information. As his wife, Okasan, Shizuko Hoshi offers a wonderful earth mother persona but also is hesitant with her dialogue, missing the opportunity to take command of a scene when her lines clearly call for her to do so. Janice Terukina is a significant plus as Tomi, the sturdy, hard-working neighbor girl who helps Okasan and has a deep-seated affection for Aki. Terukina displays marvelous comedic timing with her no-nonsense pidgin- English put-downs of Aki’s boastful ways. Lum’s hapless farmworker is wonderfully believable as the lovable buffoon who desperately wants to be part of a family. Katherine Keiko Nakano is totally out of control as Haruko, Tomi’s younger, overtly flirtatious 18-year-old sister. There is no aspect of her attempted seduction of Aki or over-the-top rantings at Tomi that is believable. Shaun Shimoda displays an embarrassing, caricaturized portrayal of Tosh’s college-educated former boyhood friend, Jiro. — Julio Martinez

The Taste of Kona Coffee

East West Players; 99 seats; $23 top; Opened Jan. 30, 1997

Production: East West Players presents "The Taste of Kona Coffee," a play in two acts by Edward Sakamoto, directed by Mako.

Cast: Cast: Dana Lee (Otosan), Shizuko Hoshi (Okasan), John Cho (Tosh), Jeret Ochi (Aki), Benjamin Lum (Shogo), Janice Terukina (Tomi), Katherine Keiko Nakano (Haruko), Shaun Shimoda (Jiro).Scenic design, Lisa Hashimoto; costume design, Dori Quan; lighting design, Rae Creevey; sound design, Gerry Linsangan. Opened Jan. 30, 1997, reviewed Jan. 31; runs until March 9. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min.

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