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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bard would be cool with 'MacB'

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Richard Loncraine once transposed "Richard III" to 1930s Europe, complete with Nazi-Lite imagery. In 2000, Michael Almereyda set his hyperactive, headache-inducing version of "Hamlet" in modern-day New York.

Not the types to be outdone, the students of Phil Higa's British authors course at Damien Memorial School have now reimagined another Shakespeare classic, the daunting "MacBeth," as a hip-hop driven gangster saga set in Kalihi.

"MacB," a class project by Damien students Nick Sakamoto, Nephi Tuitele, Pono Ornellas, Jeremy Torcuato, Kevin Aganos and John Medeiros, takes the primary elements of the original ambition, murder, betrayal and translates it for the local Facebook generation.

For Higa, the assignment was a way to help students get past the seemingly impenetrable language of the original and find connections in their daily lives or at least their imaginations.

"The language was inaccessible for them, but the themes are universal," said Higa, a Damien alumnus who majored in English literature at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. "A lot of them already had experience making football highlight tapes for each other, so the medium wasn't anything new for them."

Tuitele, who played the title character, said he wasn't quite sure what language he was reading when he started reading the play, but it didn't seem like the English he knew.

Still, he said, the process of adapting the work for his group's video project forced him to pay attention to the underlying story and gave him a new appreciation for Shakespeare's work.

"I'm not really into this kind of reading but I got into it," he said. "I wanted to know what happened next and I liked the suspense."

The production is decidedly low frill, but the actors clearly had fun with it.

Acknowledging both the early days of Western theater when female roles were played by male actors and the fact that Damien is an all-boys school, Ornellas stepped up to play the ruthless "Lady MacB."

"A lot of guys try to get the voice, but he made sure he got all the right mannerisms down, too," Higa said.

Ornellas said he and his fellow students practiced hard for their performances, an effort frequently interrupted by bouts of spontaneous laughter.

And while Shakespeare may have taken issue with his three witches being reinvented as the Three Hoes, even he might have found it hard not to chuckle at lines like, "OMG! I worry whether he had what it takes to be king. He's too much of a pansy to strike first. He wants to be a player but he doesn't have any game."

"The whole thing was pretty cool," Ornellas said. "It made me appreciate the book more. We tried to stick to the script at the beginning but toward the end we just winged it."