A national touring play about a legendary love will have its Los Angeles premiere on Saturday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Little Tokyo.
“The Legend of Ko’olau,” selected as a Creation Fund Project by the National Performance Network of New Orleans (NPNweb.org), is about a legendary cowboy and his love of family in Hawaii in 1893 – a period of turmoil that marked the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He resisted policies of the new rebel government that would break apart his family.
This historical drama is told from the point of view of the cowboy himself, Kaluaiko’olau, and includes a blend of history, culture and humor, along with native insights about living off the land and ocean.
Gary T. Kubota, a native of Oahu, is also an award-winning journalist who began researching the story about Kaluaiko’olau more than 30 years ago as a film project, fascinated by accounts he had read by novelist Jack London. He had translations done from Hawaiian to English and spent months going over archival documents.
“The historical story is quite different than London’s tale but no less fascinating,” he said. “Here was a man caught between the Western and native worlds, struggling for survival and his dignity at a time when his Polynesian race was facing decimation by foreign diseases.”
The project languished for decades until a friend suggested he try again. Kubota’s renewed efforts took an unexpected turn — a play was born.
Kubota told The Rafu he has many reasons to bring forth this tale.
“I think it’s an important story for a lot of minorities who have faced forced relocation,” he explained. “It touches on what happened to Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, even the Irish. It’s an issue that really resonates with me.”
Archival photographs, along with the sounds of the period, are integrated into this one-person play.
Los Angeles actor Moronai Kanekoa has been selected for the role.
Kubota said he conducted an extensive search for an actor for months, trying to find a person who could carry the role, receiving suggestions from friends and agents and sending queries to colleges with drama departments along the West Coast.
“I received an email from Moronai, who had just graduated with a master’s in drama from the University of Southern California, asking if he might audition for the part,” Kubota recalled. “It turned out he had grown up on Maui, about seven miles from where I live.”
He praised the actor’s ability to bring audiences to tears while simultaneously making them laugh.
Kubota is the author of “To Honor Mau: Voyage of the Hokule’a through Micronesia,” written in English, Hawaiian and Satawalese and selected to be in the Hawaiian language library Ulukau.org. He is the producer of two “Hawaii Specials” on prime time on Hawaii Public Television and former editor and business manager of the weekly Lahaina News, and has received several national writing awards.
Kanekoa has acted in numerous roles on stage and in the award-winning film “The Haumana.”
The director of the Los Angeles production is Monte Scott Perez, a former Los Angeles actor who once toured with the late Jack Klugman.
Keo Woolford, who directed “The Legend of Ko’olau” during its original production at the McCoy Theatre at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in November 2013, called the play “a form of skydiving.”
The play will also be performed on Nov. 21 at Pascual Hall at Kalaupapa, Molokai (invitation only) and Nov. 23 at the McCoy Theatre at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
At the L.A. premiere, a Kala baritone ukulele with carrying case will be given away. Audience members are automatically entered, or enter on Facebook by sharing the “Legend of Ko’olau” post.
For information and tickets, call (808) 875-0315 or go online to http://legendofkoolau.com or https://www.eventbrite.com/e/legend-of-koolau-general-seating-tickets-13358143567.