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
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