A lot of local threads run through Darrell Lum’s new play, Da Beer Can Hat, an adaptation of his iconic short story. Family dynamics, peer pressure, and simple pleasures add dimension to a story about friendship in rural Honolulu in the 1970’s.
Da Beer Can Hat continues through June 23rd at Kumu Kahua Theatre. Kumu’s annual Kālā-Bash fundraiser is set for June 27th, 2019.
Da Beer Can Hat, the short story, was so sly -- You never realized what it was about until it was over. But in 1980 when it came out, nobody needed an explanation of a beer can hat. The darn things. But writer Darrell Lum says he knew a time would come when those cultural markers would be a mystery.
Watching this play, which takes place in the 1970’s, one could wonder at how mystifying it might be today? Yes, kids really drew circles in the dirt and flicked little balls around in them. For hours. The two protagonists are newspaper boys. Seen one lately?
Junior and Bobo are friends. Bobo is a little “slow,” but not in any ways that matter to Junior. Bobo knows he’s not good at school, and his father tells him not to bother to go. The father wants Bobo to sell papers, or collect bottles for deposit money like he does. No need go school. In fact, the father like send Bobo to Lāna‘i to pick pineapple.
Solid ensemble performances flesh out the new material in this two-act play, adapted by the author. The range of pidgin and non-pidgin can be disconcerting at times, but the two leads do deliver a sense of this very special friendship.
Maka Bailon, a sophomore at Kaimukī High, plays Junior. He’s a product of the Kaimukī H.S. Theatre program, led by Michael Ng. (Little Shop of Horrors is their next show, coming up Spring 2020.)
Brandon Hagio plays Bobo, and he does it from the inside.
“His character frightens me. It’s the dark box that we hide and put in the corner because we don’t like going there.”
Hagio recounts being paralyzed when he was 12 .
“I went to rehab and I met all these special people who were going through the worst times in their lives. Paralyzed, broken neck, car accident. After that I went back to school, I had a brace, I had a cane, I was an invisible person. Part of my character is going back to that.”
Asked, do you know a friendship like the one in Beer Can Hat? Hagio replies. “The friends I have now are ride or die. They all showed up tonight. The guys in the cast are all my friends too.”
Da Beer Can Hat is all about friendship. One has to wonder if this particularly innocent, open-hearted kind of friendship is possible now.
Darrell Lum's short story, Da Beer Can Hat is the liquor of friendship distilled from all the influences of the '70's, the leftovers of the go-go 50's and '60's, plus quite a bit of plantation flavor. Da Beer Can Hat, da play, is more like a wine cooler, maybe sangria, the various flavors are more emphasized.