Monday, March 28, 2011

Trial By Fire

There's an old saying that "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." But what do we consider as "tough" these days?  Being deprived of a luxury? Or having the wind knocked out of our sails?
  • Missing a train or bus by a matter of seconds is nothing compared to standing on a hillside in Japan and watching your town get washed away by a tsunami.
  • Being stuck in rush-hour traffic is nowhere as unpleasant as being homeless.
  • Discovering a pimple on your face hardly compares to coping with debilitating levels of pain from cancer.
Surprising as it may seem, changing course can sometimes yield astonishing results. Whether one joins a 12-step support group or decides that certain friends are not worth having any longer, people constantly make changes in their lives. Adaptability, after all, is the key to survival.

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One of the more surprising delights at the 10th anniversary Bay One Acts Festival was Test Preparation.  In this brief but intensely challenging drama by M.R. Fall, the playwright asks the audience to decide whether "standardized testing is Hell or Hell is standardized testing."

Produced by No Nude Men Productions and directed by Julia Heitner, Test Preparation starred Nick Dickson as Mister Francis, a frustrated teacher trying to get his hapless pupils up to par for the SAT test. It's a situation the playwright knows all too well.
"We’re all trapped in the same system until these various arbitrary totems -- the SAT score, the high school diploma, the eternal GPA, the bachelor’s degree -- have been collected, and then, suddenly, the system has no use for us anymore. The SAT might get you into college, but it’s not going to tell you what to do once you get out. Test Preparation wasn’t planned or premeditated; it just came out. Like most plays that arrive in such a fashion, it didn’t take me very long to write -- probably about two days altogether." 
Hoenig (Nick Trengove), Mister Francis (Nick Dickson),
Wondercrock (Megan Cohen) and Spotsalot (Leigh Shaw)
in Test Preparation (Photo by: Clay Robeson)

Although there would seem to be little hope for Hoenig (Nick Trengove), Wondercrock (Megan Cohen) or Spotsalot (Leigh Shaw), M.R. Fall's script boasts the kind of delicious surprise ending that would be tickle  readers of O. Henry's short stories. Test Preparation was anchored by Nick Dickson's memorable performance as Mister Francis (in addition to his training at the Clown Conservatory at the San Francisco Circus Center, it seems that Dickson has some pretty solid acting chops).

Nick Dickson as Mister Francis (Photo by: Clay Robeson)

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Reality bites down hard in the first few moments of One Kine Day as a teenage girl leans over in bed and informs her 19-year-old slacker boyfriend that she's pregnant. Written and directed by Chuck Mitsui, the film focuses on life outside of Hawaii's tourist industry (the movie was made by "Haolewood Productions" and "cre808film").

Mitsui's characters live on "the other side" of the island, which might as well be the other side of the world from Waikiki. Ralsto (Ryan Greer) is still living with his mother (Julia Nickson), trying to hold down a job in a skateboard shop, and hanging out in skateboarding parks with his friends. His girlfriend, Alea (Christa B. Allen) has already had one abortion and is living with Ralsto because her mother (Jolene Blalock) is a lying, drunken tramp whose early partying days made her a teenage mother.

Christa B. Allen as Alea

Soon after discovering that he might become a father, Ralsto (who seems allergic to responsibility) loses his job and finds his life heading straight for the crapper.  Although Sam and Barry (his older, somewhat dimwitted party friends) try to  look out for him, their primary skills revolve around getting stoned and repairing cars.

Meanwhile, Nalu (Nalu Boersma) -- a fast-talking friend who knows his way around the local drug dealers and cockfight promoters -- gets Ralsto into trouble with a shady character nicknamed Vegas Mike (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) after they steal some marijuana from Mike's house. At a party that night, Mike tries to put the make on Alea, whose friend Leilani (Janel Parrish) keeps telling her that it's all right to drink and do drugs when you're pregnant.

Ryan Greer as Ralsto

Although handsomely filmed, One Kine Day isn't particularly interesting. There are two parallel plot lines that do a lot to explain why children shouldn't have children.
  • Alea discovers she's knocked up, agonizes over her future, spends time visiting her friend Leilani (whose child is primarily being cared for by its grandmother), and ends up having a miscarriage while on the toilet at her mother's house after a night of partying. 
  • Ralsto begins his day refusing his worried mother's pleas to apply for a job at the post office where she works and, after a rough day spent at the school of hard knocks, ends up filling out the job application form.
A former skate shop entrepreneur, Mitsui has tried to show what he knows as "the real Hawaii" (as seen from a local's perspective) in his film. In addition to placing his story in a multi-ethnic working class community, he's given One Kine Day  (which was recently screened at the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival) a "Jawaiian" soundtrack that Mitsui describes as "a blend of Jamaican reggae by way of Hawaiian hip-hop that's everywhere on the island but rarely head outside of it." Here's the trailer:

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