The playful baiting of Britni Keltz and Michelle Hunter
Image: Denise Rae De Guzman

Fishing For Wives is a trophy catch

Theater / Kumu Kahua Theatre has a major hit on its hands with the new Edward Sakamoto play, Fishing for Wives. If you haven’t reserved tickets yet, you’d better burn some incense and pray that the show adds some performances before its Dec. 9 closing date.

What makes Fishing so entertaining? Partly, it’s the Sakamoto touch–After all, this is his 19th play. With that many scripts under his belt, Sakamoto employs a sure touch with dialogue and plotting. Each scene clicks into place smoothly, advancing the story in a direction we can already divine, but leaving us chuckling with delight to watch it unfold.

Sakamoto sets Wives in 1913 on the Big Island. At opening, two Japanese fishermen drink beer, clown around and talk about marriage. Tsutomu Aoki (Justin Fragiao), the younger, more handsome of the two, is a confirmed bachelor. Takeo Nishi (Daniel A. Nishida), his less attractive friend, desires a wife–a picture bride–but Nishi’s looks can’t draw flies. Instead of his own photo, Nishi sends Aoki’s picture abroad. When his bride Shizuko (the marvelous Michelle Hunter) arrives and finds that her “husband” isn’t exactly her husband, she quickly decides that she might do better with the better-looking man–if she can just find a way to capture him. Complicating her schemes is the arrival of a sequence of picture brides (all played by the charming Britni “Lolli” Keltz), sent to Aoki by his meddlesome father in far-off Japan.

The direction by Harry Wong is crisp and clear, as is the setting: just a couple of chairs and a table. These are backdropped by a series of partitions, beautifully rendered with mountain and plantation scenes by scenic painter Ted Uratani. A quick reversal of a partition indicates a change of scene, although for me, it was never really clear where the action was taking place until the characters spoke. No matter. The fun was in the performances.

Sakamoto’s obvious love of traditional Japanese theater, especially comic Kabuki and Kyogen, was apparent and most enjoyable. The entire play struck me as one long Kyogen sketch, with Nishi and Aoki as Taro-kaja and Jiro-kaja, and Shizuko as a classic scolding wife. Director Wong adds in a Western theatrical touch with the help of costumer extraordinaire Friston Hookano. At times, Nishi and Aoki looked like Beckett’s Gogo and Didi, still waiting for Godot. In that respect, Wives also owes something to vaudeville, as well (one of Beckett’s loves).

After all, when a character shouts “Matemashita!” during the show (from Kabuki, meaning “I have waited for this!”) and we are also treated to some hot girl-on-girl action, that’s a sure sign that someone’s having some good old-fashioned Asian fusion fun.

Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant Street, until 12/9, Thu–Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2pm, $5–20, []