The feeling of anticipation, excitement and the aroma of savory food permeated the chilly evening as the premiere night of actor Keo Woolford's one-man show I Land drew near.
Hawaiian native and long-time friend Jean Yim and her wonderful family looked forward to seeing Woolford bring to the stage his story about growing up and away from Hawaii. Certain images come to mind at the mention of the lush island: Waikiki beach, luaus serving appetizing pork, the police drama Hawaii 5-0 and all those beautifully sculpted hula dancers swaying to the music. A paradisiacal escape the rat race elements of life. For Keo Woolford, his Hawaii is more than ubiquitous ABC stores found at every corner and considers legendary singer Don Ho as the island's representative. The late 20-something Hawaiian native puts together a tight and amusing memoir chronicling his misspent youth and arduous passage into manhood. It is a journey of self-discovery that could have easily ended in destruction.
Woolford morphs into many characters that helped to shape the man he is today. Among these characters is his demanding Hula God who taught him the origin and meaning behind traditional hula at age 14 and his cool friend Li'l Rock who showed him what having swagger can do for a man's reputation. My personal favorite was the I-don't-give-a-damn attitude of one mean dude named Bruddah who was the neighborhood rebel of the group. Woolford provides distinctive personality traits, body language and speech patterns to each individual. He imitates himself as a scared 14-year old trying unsuccessfully to hula and conveys all the insecurities a teenage boy goes through.
Dance was and still is the most significant aspect of Woolford's life. His roots in hula lead him into performing in pageant shows, and this later evolved into membership in the boy band Brownskin, Hawaii's version of ‘NSYNC. It is not all good times and laughs. He details his darkest times at their bleakest, but always manages to show the power to overcome these times and move forward. And it all happened with his first love, hula. Woolford details his coming-of-age story with humor and honesty. The youngest and most adorable audience member Makana provided sound effects with spurts of laughter in between pauses, which made it all the more enjoyable.
At the end, Woolford honors his culture and himself by performing the kahilani dance while wearing a lei po'o (a wreath around his head), kupe'e around his ankles and wrists and a grass skirt made of hau. It is the most awe-inspiring visual of interpreting history using sharp and precise movements.
I Landplays at David Henry Hwang Theater and is presented by East West Players. The show runs until April 8th.
- Mary E. Montoro, Contributing Writer