The first show I saw at the Humana Festival of New American Plays was Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls in 1999. It was the second Humana show from Naomi Iizuka, a playwright who made a big Humana splash two years earlier with Polaroid Stories, a riff on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Aloha was billed as one of the young, hip plays in an edition of the festival that was trying very hard to be youthful and edgy – this was also the year of the t-shirt plays and the car play.
So more than a decade later, when Transylvania University Theatre announced Aloha would be part of its season, I was eager to revisit the show and see how well it held up. The hazard with things that try really hard to seem young and of-the-moment is they can often get stuck in that moment, and a lot has happened since 1999, when dial-up Internet seemed really high tech and we used cell phones to make phonecalls.
A lot had happened with Iizuka too, who went on to pen scripts such as the Orson Welles bioplay War of the Worlds and the the site-specific play about Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood, At the Vanishing Point.
So this was an interesting chance to go back to go back and hear her voice when she was speaking on behalf of her generation.
A few things quickly emerged in Sullivan Canaday White’s rendition for Transy:
~ Iizuka was writing for a perpetual generation – young adults looking for their place in the world – not a specific time. We get hit with some almost painfully transparent metaphors such like airports as places where people get bumped on their ways to their destinations and the Hawaiian greeting of Aloha, which means hello and goodbye, symbolizing how people enter and exit one another’s lives. But time-specific references are not there, so there was no sensation of, “How ’90s.”
~ It is a show ideally suited to a collegiate theater as these kids are in the midst of the lives they are representing – well, not the specific lives, but this stage of life.
~ Director White and the Transy kids are getting really good at navigating these non-linear, somewhat avant garde scripts such as Aloha or last year’s Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. This was a cast that flowed through Iizuka’s manic moments but still told a moving story, particularly Annie Barbera as Vivian whose story and near-end of Act I monologue is the heart of the show. This is an exciting time for Transy theater, which it showed in play that remains exciting, 12 years after its debut.