Theater Focus: Crazymaking

Crazymaking blew my mind. Sensory overload doesn’t even begin to describe it. For two hours, I was watching a guy do Tai Chi, listening to traditional Hawaiian drum and chant echo down from the balcony, absorbing a wild, fiery kaleidoscope of a screen projection, and, all the while, losing myself in the mystical world of C. Mamo Kim’s new play.

Director Joyce Lu, the current Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Pomona College, clearly drew inspiration from her personal relationship with the playwright. According to Lu, she looks to Kim as “an invaluable mentor and friend.” Her devotion to a friend’s work shone through in the wide cast of characters that she recruited in bringing life to Crazymaking. Kumu Hula Keoni Chang and Jaqueline Marie participated actively as non-student members of the cast. Moreover, during the rehearsal process, the Crazymakers met with other artists and speakers who acquainted them with Hawaiian mythology and culture.

Background in Hawaiian social customs helped the cast to underscore the play’s central conflict between heritage and oppression. Casana (Laura Benson SC ’10) expresses shame for her past, her spirituality, and her inability to conform to the expectations of Western society. Her journey of self-doubt and self-destruction represents the corruption of a Hawaiian identity by colonialist ideals.

Casana’s mistreatment is also manifested through her acceptance of gender stereotypes. She depends upon Sonny (Court Hoang PO ’10) for financial support and, in return, debases herself to him as means for sexual and emotional fulfillment. Late in the play, Casana is also plagued by Bathos (Marshall Anderson PI ’12), who aims to subordinate her to his will.

It is not until she takes ownership of her spiritual heritage that Casana is able to live happily and independently. Her enlightenment is slow-going, initially urged on by the Fantasic Morgana (Hannah Michahelles PI ’12), a surprisingly prophetic psychic. Casana searches for answers with Lynne (Ariel Gilman SC ’10), her profoundly useless therapist, but is disappointed. Ultimately, it takes an encounter with the Goddess Pele to shock Casana out of her cynical mindset. Once she permits herself to believe in the power of her ancestry, Casana can emerge into her role as a “prophet of the new way” and a healer.

Crazymaking connects cultural memory with individual psychology. The play illustrates the human need to transcend the boundaries of a single lifetime by adopting history, mythology, and a sense of community. Reality bends to accommodate a story that is too true for this world.

Creating an atmosphere of mythic tension and violence required an enormous amount of physical and emotional energy from the Crazymakers. Some members of the cast were on stage for the entire course of the production, constantly present and focused. Did I mention Tai Chi guy? The athletic feat of his performance deserves added recognition. When he started standing on one leg and kicking his hand with his other foot, I realized that, if called upon to play his part, I would collapse in a heap of sweaty agony halfway through the play.

Most of all, I think I enjoyed watching Crazymaking because the cast was having fun. There was a rare sense of play in their performance that is, all too often, lost in the rehearsal process. Despite the complex staging, I did not feel as though I was watching a carefully choreographed theatrical work. I was swept up in the excitement of people taking risks and embracing vulnerability on stage.

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