It is not without a sense of irony that the opening night of Cry For the Gods: The Last Queen of Hawai’i fell three days after the Fourth July, arguably our city’s, if not the nation’s, most observed holiday celebrating the glorified and noble history of the United States. Paul Handy’s concise drama wastes no time shattering that pristine illusion with cold, hard facts about the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century.
Actress Leolani Hill is inspiring as the Queen Lili‘uokalani. Her portrayal of Hawaii’s last sovereign leader is a tribute to the woman who personified the strength and culture of a people struggling to hold on to their independence.
Her nemesis is the arrogant J.L. Stevens, U.S. Minister to Hawai’i. Actor Howard Walhberg plays the arrogant politician hell bent on ensuring the progression of the American way of life. What follows is an emotionally charged confrontation between the leaders of two radically opposed causes.
Cry for the Gods accomplishes its mission to educate audiences about one of the most defining moments in the history of the Hawaiian Islands. The production’s location, The Mountain theatre in the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in D.C. and opening date serve the writer’s objective well. It was after all was in the heart of D.C. where the decision was made to manifest American destiny in Hawaii. Now, one-hundred and eighteen years later, audiences gathered to watch a play that questions our entire presence there.
The production’s strongest qualities outweigh the imperfections. The script is reflects extensive research on the director’s part to not only make it politically informative but also provide intimate details about the two characters.
One compelling detail is that the script makes the narrator the antagonist; the audience isn’t supposed to root for him, yet we are dependent on him to tell the story. This creates a very interesting relationship which further engages the audience. In addition, Handy includes a song in the program that calls for actor to audience interaction. Handy’s talents in these areas contribute greatly to the production.
However, the priority of presenting historical information at times takes precedence over the forward drive of the play and the objectives of the performers. While their overall objectives remained clear, the confrontation between Stevens and Queen Lili‘uokalani appeared to lose some urgency towards the middle.
That being said, the experience is still a credit to the creative team. The piece is recommended for conspiracy theorists, American history enthusiasts and anyone who can appreciate a good Hawaiian love song.
It is not recommended for those who don’t believe the government should ever be questioned or opposed.
Cry for the Gods… has 3 more performances at the Mountain at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, DC.