Punctuated by the noble chants and dance-rituals of an ancient Polynesian heritage, "Kalo" brought to Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica the agonizing, bitter and also uproarious contradictions of contemporary Hawaii.
Curated by Leilani Chan for the annual "Treasure in the House" series, the Thursday performance often seemed over-scale for this intimate venue--each irony projected to a nonexistent second balcony. But the program of stories and character portraits also provided enough humor to keep its pervasive anger in perspective.
In the genre scenes of Makia Malo's "Hanabata Days," dreams and memories of his childhood fused in earthy bilingual descriptions of sledding down Suicide Hill atop sections of stolen picket fences. Like the brief dance interludes performed by Hula Halau Keali'i O Nalani, the vivid storytelling of Malo defined Hawaiian experience in primary colors.
Darker and more complex reminiscences informed "Anatomy of a Korean Moke (Part 1)" by Miki Kim, which began as personal family history and then expanded to define patterns of societal emasculation caused by war, racism and economic exploitation.
Kim used loss-of-manhood as the central theme in her articulate cultural analysis but often seemed to be expressing contempt for all males--not just accounting for those left powerless and full of rage in modern Hawaii. Ultimately, that attitude undercut her whole premise, for if manhood isn't to be valued, why should we care about its loss?
Moreover, Kim absolved Hawaiians from responsibility, while "He Hawai'i Au" by multidisciplinary artist Keo pointedly conveyed the pain some Hawaiians inflict on one another due to homophobia, or their obsession with "Hawaiian blood," or their rejection of ancient traditions and anyone who honors them.
Changing costumes and characters to illuminate a range of viewpoints, Keo ended with a forceful depiction of the brutish machismo that Kim had described earlier--but with some pithy truths to deliver through all that fury. He also sang and danced with authority and proved charismatic enough to make even an onstage memory lapse seem a pregnant pause in an evening full of discoveries.
* "Kalo" continues tonight at 8:30 (sold out) and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St. (near Olympic), Santa Monica. Tickets: $10. (213) 660-8587.