Find Your Heart at PlayBuilders’ Houseless in Paradise
|November 22, 2013||Posted by Community Reviewer under Community Reviews|
Lisa Barnes, Community Reviewer.
Memo to Tom Brower, Hawaii Representative famous for smashing grocery carts of the Homeless: Go see Houseless in Paradise, presented by PlayBuilders this weekend at McCoy Pavilion. You might find your heart.
This overwhelmingly moving play brings to light real stories of real homeless people on the streets of Hawaii. Hawaii Pacific University Professor of Playwriting, Mark Tjarks, interviewed 60 homeless people for this “verbatim” theatre experience. He edited the piece down to two hours of re-enactments portrayed by eight local community actors, one of whom was formerly homeless.
Skillfully directed by Artistic Director and Founder of PlayBuilders, Terri Madden, the piece takes us through an emotional ride of despair, humor, joy and resolution. These stories sympathetically verify some of our preconceived ideas about homeless people, but the play also shares how circumstances beyond anyone’s control can render a person “houseless” by one simple event.
There is a story about a couple that had both been employed their whole lives and eventually became disabled, jobless, and homeless, tenderly portrayed by J. Kamamo Bailon and Trissa DiBenedetto Walter.
Iris Wilhelm-Norseth movingly depicts a story of years of addiction and jail time. She takes us through the years of abuse, which caused the downward spiral in her life, only to have her end up sober and with a goal of counseling other women who have been abused. Kahana Ho plays multiple roles, including Jazmine, a teen who has been in foster care and is then released back to her birth mother. Her mother suddenly dies and leaves the teen with nowhere to go but the streets.
One of Robert Yokoyama’s touching portrayals is that of Banner, a disabled person who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His church denies his request for housing assistance even though he is disabled. His story incorporates coming to terms with the rejection and his willingness to understand his church and their actions. In the end, he blames the people, not God or his church.
At Waianae Boat Harbor there is a homeless village that is run like a tight ship. We are treated to that world, run by a woman (of course), and learn about the generosity of “Saimin Man,” who comes twice a week offering food. He hasn’t missed a day for 12 years.
Jeffrey Terry Sousa really drives it home with his own personal story. Diagnosed with AIDS in the 80’s, he saw it as a death sentence, which led him to drugs and then homelessness. His story is a tearjerker and yet one of success. “I realized the only person who could take care of me…is me.” He gets sober, moves into Gregory House and pursues his dream of acting and singing. He provides much of the soundtrack of the play, singing a capella, songs relevant to the plight of these people.
Dr. Tjarks also interviewed members of the community who care deeply about helping solve the homelessness issue. Norma Combs and November Curtis Morris portray Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland and Colin Kippen (Chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness), respectively, with perfect gravitas and empathy.
The show has played in multiple locations. It was important for PlayBuilders to give the homeless access to hearing stories they could relate to and with which they would hopefully find solace.
At the performance on November 16th at Catholic Charities, many of the interviewees showed up to hear their stories. Politicians and community members were also in attendance. They were all moved by the attention their stories received, and that was another wonderfully emotional aspect of this project.
Houseless in Paradise not only entertains but it also facilitates a conversation that so many would rather just smash with a sledgehammer or ignore. The stories are portrayed sympathetically and with humor, and they make one pay attention and see the humanity in so many of these disenfranchised people.