Last month, Palikū Theatre presented The Monkey King: Wreaking Havoc in the Dragon’s Palace. Loosely adapted from the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, the production was performed by WCC’s THEA 260 students (some performing for the first time) and accompanied by a live band of musicians.
Family-friendly and full of action-adventure and comedy, the play had hints of local pidgin that kept audiences entertained from start to finish.
The story followed The Monkey King or Sun Wukong, played by both Jahdi Sky Maunakea-Stamler and Brandon DiPaola, on his hilarious journey from birth to his eventual defeat of the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea.
The play began with his adopted monkey family, comprised of a convincing elderly grandpa played by Alaka’i Cunningham and brother-sister duo played by Cedric Jackson and Natalie Henderson.
The family witnesses Wukong falling from the sky and joining them at the water-curtain cave where they live. Seeming to have plateaued with his otherworldly powers, Wukong leaves the cave to explore life and reach his full potential.
The audience was also met early on by Sun Wukong’s soon-to-be master, The Great Sage Subodhi, played by student Jae An. She delivered a loud and impressive monologue in true Jingju nature, which is a complicated form of theatre that involves gymnastics, stylized movement, vocal work, elaborate makeup and a live percussion band.
This also introduced us to WCC theatre instructor Nicolas Logue, who played a cowbell in the band and also wrote, directed and adapted the play.
“It’s crazy to do a Jingju show with a bunch of student actors who have no prior Jingju training, but our students are always up to a challenge and are some of the hardest working and most wonderful students I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my over 12 years of experience in higher education,” Logue said.
In addition to his theatre experience, Logue has a bachelorʻs degree in Chinese studies, spent four years in Beijing studying traditional Chinese theatre and also served as an arts and culture liaison for the American Embassy there.
“I have always loved the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West–the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King–and I have adapted several portions of the novel for the stage over the years and worked on several Jingju productions of houxi (monkey plays),” Logue explained. “I decided to do a Monkey King play this year because we had a lot of actors who were interested in doing some of the martial arts and acrobatics required for this type of show.”
Among the cast of fun and crazy characters were Michaelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles played by Noah Schuetz and Sebastian from the Disney film The Little Mermaid.
For copyright infringement purposes, these characters were renamed Mikey the Tortoise and Zebastian the Crab, and this is where the story got outlandish but enjoyable for Logue and the audience.
“My favorite part of the show is the weird friendships between Mikey the Tortoise, Zebastian the Crab and the Monkey King in the second half of the show. It’s quirky and ridiculous, and those actors are really going some interesting places with those roles,” Logue said.
This kind of humourous, very loose adaptation and the skillful stage combat is what kept the audience on the edge of its seats for the latter half of the performance.
Once Wukong mastered techniques from Subodhi to save his cave, family and new friends, the play moved quickly. Time flew as Wukong entertained by using his martial arts, speed and mind tricks to defeat evil, reminiscent of a Star Wars jedi.
In the future, Logue said he will be working on The Monkey King’s next installment, Wreaking Havoc in Heaven. He says he has not worked with this story much, and it will be a fun challenge for all to enjoy at Palikū Theatre.
by Darryl Kaneyuki, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter