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Batu: The Wound That Won’t Heal




Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
(l-r) Danielle Zalopany (Honey Girl), Lelea’e “Buffy” Kahalepuna Wong (Ma) and Leilani Ramos (Sherrie) on the set of “Not One Batu”.

 2005 may have been the height of Hawai‘i’s ice “epidemic.”  That year, Hawai‘i police arrested  719 people on meth charges.  Though we haven’t heard a whole lot about it since, crystal methamphetamine hasn’t gone away, and some fear it has just become part of our social fabric.   HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports on a new production at Kumu Kahua that makes you wonder how prevalent this drug still is.

Kumu Kahua's “Not One Batu” is barely an hour of basically family interaction.  You see,  it’s nicer to buy drugs from a friend, or better yet, a family member.  This play reveals the life around the drug, in interactions that take place every day under our noses, unseen.  

The story revolves around Danielle Zalopany (Honey Girl) and Lelea’e “Buffy” Kahalepuna Wong (Ma) who gradually reveal the relationships that bind their family together.  Crystal meth is a family affair, they smoke together, rate the drugs, and wonder who scores from whom together.  Cameo characters are well portrayed by Leilani Ramos (Sherrie), William Ha’o (Uncle Makana), Max Holtz (Toully), Geph Albo, Jr.(Jason), Nahiku Passi (Max),  and Jeremy Reynon (Braddah).  They portray a world many of us do not see, and cannot imagine.

Kumu Kahua is presenting the world premiere of this play by Hannah Kaholopuaokalani Ii-Epstein, who was born and raised on the North Shore of O‘’ahu.  She was an avid menehune surfer and sets her play at Haleiwa Beach Park.

Hannah Ii-Epstein
Credit Hannah Ii-Epstein
Hannah Kaholopuaokalani Ii-Epstein, poet, playwright, filmmaker

Ii-Epstein says she started early with alcohol and marijuana.  By the time her teen years hit, she was in rebellion and moved on to cocaine and meth.  Meth, she says, made her feel things again, she wanted to “go and move and do things all night and not sleep.”

Danielle Zalopany (Honey Girl) says it’s almost as though crystal meth is the kind of drug that customizes itself to you.

Playing an ice dealer meant some eye opening research for Zalopany.  She asked a former batu user how to smoke and act.  His first question was “Has your character hit rock bottom yet?  Because if not, I know she’s going to use again before the play is over.”  Zalopany says her informant insisted, you have to hit rock bottom before you truly want to stop.

Ii-Epstein says for her, one day she looked in the mirror and didn’t see herself. 

“I had lost everything about my personality, about who I was, my values, all of the beliefs that I grew up with, it was just out the window and I was like, I can’t be this, I can’t be this ghost walking around.  I have these stories to tell and I have to tell them.”         

For the past decade, II-Epstein has been off meth, living in Chicago.  She’s working in theatre there and mustered her old ghosts to write this play.  It’s not about an epidemic, it’s not about a war, it’s about a family ---and the unsensationaleverydayness of this drug  hints at its power.   

Show dates at Kumu Kahua on Merchant Street:

Thursday, Friday & Saturday 8pm: 
February 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 2016

Sundays 2pm: 
February 7, 14, *21, 2016

Find out more about Hannah Ii-Epstein's work.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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