I fell in love with Hawaii in 1997 when my first wife and I took a vacation there. You might say my love of Hawaii outlasted my first marriage. But that’s another story.
In 1998, I bought a timeshare in Maui and went there every year for ten years. What I loved about the islands were that I felt closer to nature when I was there, and I also enjoyed the Polynesian spirit and way of life, which I found superior to the American ways. At the same time, I recognized the fragility of the native ways of life with the development going on.
In 2002, as we were leaving Hawaii, I bought a book called, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, which Queen Lili’uokalani wrote in 1898 when she was trying to keep America from annexing Hawaii. This was five years after the American minister sent in the Marines to aid the overthrow of her government. I was in awe of this woman who was so astute and perceptive, and who in addition to being the head of her government was a prolific songwriter. Her song, Aloha Oe, is one of the iconic songs in Hawaiian history. She wrote it while serving prison time at Iolani Palace for « misprision of treason » against the government that overthrew her.
I had to write a play about Lili’uokalani. This was an amazing woman who struggled with the destruction of her people, her house and her way of life, and came up with a plan that nearly worked – her protest to the U.S. Government to undo the overthrow, as her friend Grover Cleveland came back to power.
One of the things that struck me about this story was that, although usually the victors write the history, in Hawaii the losers did. Even today Lili’uokalani is a revered figure in Hawaii, the Moi Wahine, the revered woman. To the extent John L. Stevens is remembered at all, he is vilified for ordering the overthrow of the Queen against the wishes of the majority population.
But being a Caucasian American, I realized I could not write from the point of view of a Hawaiian woman of 1893. Instead I wrote from Stevens’s point of view, as a ghost seeking validation for his role in the matter which he saw as a great act in support of manifest destiny.
The play, Cry for the Gods, had a lucky horseshoe. In 2004, we presented it at the Sandy Spring Theatre Group and then the play represented SSTG in the Maryland Community Theatre Festival. In the Festival, the play won four awards including Runner Up Best Production. Then I revived Cry for the Gods for the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival, where Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii saw the show. He then got the Hawaiian delegation to Congress to sponsor a showing at Congress to support a bill to benefit native Hawaiians. This was a great honor to me, and I appreciated that the Hawaiian delegation found enough merit in the play to use it to help native Hawaiians. Sadly, Senator Akaka died this April at the age of 93.
Then for years, I thought about writing a play to be a companion piece to Cry for the Gods. The story I focused on was the odd and amazing encounter between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and Princess Kaiulani in 1889, four years before the overthrow. What we know about their relationship is this: RLS came to Hawaii as part of his Pacific journeys, along with his wife Fannie and their entourage. RLS suffered from a lung ailment and knew his time was limited but the South Pacific gave him balm. We know that he became enamored of Princess Kaiulani and spent every afternoon with her. We also know he wrote a poem in Kaiulani’s autograph book, called The Island Rose when Kaiulani was scheduled to leave Hawaii for her education and safety.
I decided to write the story of RLS and Kaiulani, filling in the blanks. One of the things that struck me was their connection through their Scottish heritage. Kaiulani was half Scottish on her father’s side and related to RLS’s book Kidnapped. RLS’s story about a lad in Scotland who loses his inheritance. All Scotland recognized this book as a call to arms against England’s destruction of Scotland. Kaiulani related Kidnapped to her anguish over what was happening to her Hawaii at the hands of the Americans and British.
The result is my play, The Highest Point of Heaven, the first play in this evening of two one-acts. The Highest Point of Heaven is the English translation of Kaiulani’s name.
These stories are about Hawaii, but they are about what is happening throughout the world, as native peoples struggle against foreign domination.
Collectively, I call this evening, Hawaii Nei, my Hawaiian homeland that I love.
Please join us, as Director Clare Shaffer, Actors Stefany Pesta, Daniel Larkin, Rocelyn Halili, and Tom Kearney brilliantly bring to life these stories of love, passion, patriotism, heartbreak, and perseverance.
Paul Handy has written 18 plays that have been publicly performed and several others that have not. Favorite scripts include Satellite Parking, Suffering Fools, Let Freedom Ring, and Full Truth. Paul has been involved in theatre for over 40 years as a director, writer, actor, stage manager, and coffee pourer. Happily in his second marriage to Frances Recio, they have six-year-old twins, Marisa and Daniel. In his day job, Paul is an administrative law judge with the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. He is a Hawaiian at heart