Chicago Reviews

“Not One Batu” highlights the darker side of Hawaii

 by Bradley Laas

★★★

Hawaii is a magical place to us midwesterners. It is that dream vacation that we scrimp and save for. With its tropical weather, Jimmy Buffet-themed resorts, and beautiful beaches, Hawaii is the enchanted island paradise we all dream of one day living on. And who can blame us? Drinks in coconuts, beautiful women dancing, and ‘exotic’ traditions create quite the lure.

The Islands, however, are home to real 21st century people. For these people, Hawaii is not a tropical vacation; it is real life. The hula dancers at the resorts do not actually live on the resorts. They go home to houses and families that they try to support on a dancer’s salary. Beneath the surfer vibe, easygoing resort image of Hawaii is a reality of drug addiction and poverty.

Not One Batu explores both sides of the Hawaiian experience. Act One is an experiment in interactive theater. A luau is in full swing once you enter the Berger Park Coach House. The actors party it up with you as you play cards, dance, or listen to the band play. It makes for a light-hearted social gathering reminiscent of Old Hollywood’s image of Hawaii.

The second act shatters this old Hollywood image as the play explores how meth addiction has become a powerful subculture on the Hawaiian Islands. Here, addiction is a family affair. Daughter Honey Girl (Marie Tredway) is freshly sober but sells meth on the beach as a side gig to subsidize her minimum wage job. Her number one client is her lifelong addicted mother, Ma (Lelea’e “Buffy” Kahalepuna-Wong). The second act follows an afternoon at the beach as Ma and Honey Girl reconnect. The issue of the meth epidemic is spotlighted as people from all walks of lives, a sailor (Tony Rossi), a college student (Gloria Alvarez), and a beach bum (Heather Jencks) interrupt the mother and daughter to score some meth.

The acting from the cast was astounding. The true talent was seen during Act One as the characters mingled with audience members in character. The immersion part has to be a marathon for the actors. There is no script. The actors just had conversations with theater patrons in full character. I enjoy the choice to have the audience participate in the Hawaiian facade, then crush it down in Act Two.  

However, the immersive first act felt unnecessary. I could have come in at the second act and left with the same message. I wish the immersion of the first act was continued throughout the play or dropped altogether. For me, it created a lot of confusion when my participation card was revoked with minimal warning. Nevertheless, the non-immersive second act could have been used to explain the concept of the show, implying that one can participate in the stereotypical aspects of Hawaii, but unable, and perhaps unwilling, to participate in the real, gritty life of Hawaiians.

Overall, the show makes for a fun night of theater. I was left in a state of emotional confusion remembering the joy of the party I walked in on but also recalling the second act. The show plays on both the tragedy and the joy of the human experience well. For that, it’s well worth a few hours of your time.

Not One Batu runs Wednesdays through Saturdays until July 21st. Tickets for Not One Batu can be found Here. You can also support the production company behind this play, Nothing Without a Company, by visiting their website.

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