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Interview with Playwright Lee Cataluna and Flowers of Hawaii

Charisma Industries

Interview with Playwright Lee Cataluna, by Daniel Akiyama


DA: Tell me a little about how Flowers of Hawai‘i came to be written.

LC: When I was in grad school, I ended up in a class with a professor who kept doing these “short play” exercises rather than let us just work on full-length pieces. It drove me nuts because I wanted to spend my time working on something more useful than class assignments. In order to keep myself from getting too frustrated, I told myself that I was going to do the assignments but somehow work all these individual pieces into a full-length play. (I threw out a few of the ones that just didn’t work.) The overall concept of a family, of inheritance and of a family dinner with those lovely dishes kind of came later, but I wanted to write things that would fulfill the class requirement, stand on their own as short plays but also build to a larger story.

The post script on the professor was that we got to be buddies and she was totally helpful. I learned a lot from her.

DA: It must have been a unique challenge to thread these individual scenes into a cohesive whole. What was the hardest part of this kind of playwriting, and were there any unexpected rewards or discoveries?

LC: I guess I tried to keep to a cohesive shape as I wrote the scenes: almost all are two people, 10 pages long, occur in contemporary time, and have no clear good guy/bad guy, so I think that helps keep it all together. I drew a family tree to keep track of all the various relations in the extended family. In term of how to string the scenes together, I realized how Mary V’s life was the throughline that connected all these other characters, so I followed that. She’s not the protagonist (I think the family is the protagonist) but she’s the organizing principle, at least for me.

DA: How did the references to the dishes, the “Flowers of Hawaii” patterns, work their way into the script? Where did that idea come from?

LC: The dishes were something I glommed on to when I was in California for grad school and homesick for Hawai‘i. They were made during the boom of California pottery makers in the 1940s. The company was Santa Anita Pottery and they made this collection of everyday dishware called “Flowers of Hawaii” in the nine patterns (hibiscus, bird of paradise, red ginger, etc...). I started seeing them here and there in little antique stores and they reminded me of my grandmother. (They remind most Hawai‘i people of their grandmothers -- these were very popular dishes in Hawai‘i back in the day!)  

I started collecting the dishes around the same time I started working on these scenes. The dishes made me quite nostalgic for home and family. It took me a while to realize that the things that I was missing weren’t things that really ever existed in my life, so I started playing with the idea of family expectations versus reality. I tried not to shoe-horn the flowers into the scenes; rather, I tried to be inspired by the flower and then see where it showed up in the scene.

DA: Do you think that writing your novel, Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa, informed the way you write plays? Obviously there are vast differences between a novel and a play, but did you find things that crossed over in both processes?

LC: I don’t really see any obvious connections in my head. Maybe there are some, but none that I can articulate. I worked on the manuscript for another novel in between the two projects, so there was a gap in time. I think the play is more closely related to the work I’ve done as a journalist. I’ve gone into people’s houses, asked questions, faithfully transcribed their answers, tried to describe scenes and relationships, listened to all the subtext that kind of COULDN’T go into a news story but works in a play script.

Opening Next Week:

Flowers of Hawai'i
by Lee Cataluna

We are very happy to welcome Lee Cataluna back to the Kumu Kahua Theatre stage with yet another world premiere of her work.  This heart-tugging drama weaves together familial tales as intricate, delicate and sharp as the lokelani.  

Lee Cataluna is known and loved for her plays The Great Kauai Train Robbery, Aloha Friday, Half Dozen Long Stem, Ulua and Da Mayah, and her book "Three Years on Doreen's Sofa" (Bamboo Ridge Press).

Our cast includes familiar KKT actors: Wil Kahele (One Comedy of Erras, Gone Feeshing, To the Last Hawaiian Soldier), Tiffany Rose Brown (Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up?), Danielle Zalopany (Wilcox's Shot, Maui the Demi God and One Comedy of Erras) and Karen Hironaga (Aloha Friday, Half Dozen Long Stem, Mahalo Las Vegas and Ulua).  See the full cast here.

Kati Kuroda and Jacob Song in Flowers of Hawai'i

November 7 - December 8, 2013 - Tickets On Sale Now

FYI: This show is selling VERY QUICKLY!

Forgive us, but...

We know it's not even Halloween yet, but we need to tell you now that we are bringing back our Three-Show Pass for holiday gift-giving this year.  No early-holiday pressure here - when you come for your tickets and/or to see the show, you can pick up this charming little gift to give those wonderful people you love to see smile!

The pass is for the last three shows of our season:

Moa a Mō'ī - January 23 - February 23, 2014
Cockadoodledoo - March 27 - April 27, 2014
Koi, Like the Fish - May 29 - June 29, 2014

This year, you can purchase the pass on its own, or opt for a cheery gift bag that includes the pass, a Kumu Kahua Theatre t-shirt and this awesome book by KKT Board Member, actor, playwright and skilled box office attendant, Neal Milner (it is a hilarious and thoughtful collection of connected stories of family, all that would separate us and why we remain together),

The awesome book you'll score with a gift-bag!

Here is an interview between KKT Managing Director and Neal Milner, discussing his book.

Three-Show Pass - $45
Save up to 33% of adult tickets
Three-Show Pass Gift Bag - $60

(That's the same as buying the tickets and getting the shirt and book free!)

p.s. The book is also available at Na Mea, Native Books in Ward Warehouse and online at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Call to Action

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Please tell your friends about us - We'll be happy to give you additional season brochures, or send them directly to your friends, family and co-workers for you.  Tell us how we can help you help Kumu Kahua Theatre

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Bring someone you like into our home - When you bring someone who hasn't been to a show at Kumu Kahua Theatre for at least five years, we'll give both of you a coupon for $2 worth of concessions.  Those coupons can be used towards snacks and beverages, t-shirts and scripts!


The Kumu Kahua Theatre Board of Directors would like to thank all the individuals and businesses who supported our annual fundraiser, Kālā-Bash.  Our event was a great success because of you! 

Special thanks to our food and beverage sponsors: