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Duke Kahanamoku vs the Surfnappers play premieres

Duke portrayed as Hero to the Kids

What if the surf disappeared from around the islands of Hawaii? A catastrophe like that might be enough to bring a statue of the late, great Duke Kahanamoku back to life. And, with a little help from his friends, the Duke might be able to solve the mystery of where the surf has gone.

That´s the premise of "Duke Kahanamoku vs. the Surfnappers," presented through May 26 by the Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences.

"Duke Kahanamoku," the first children´s play by playwright Eric Overmyer, was commissioned in 1993 by the Honolulu Children´s Theatre Company and is enjoying its Chicago premiere here at DePaul University´s Merle Reskin Theatre.

It is a contemporary, laid-back story with a fairly silly plot involving a megalomaniacal villain named Mr. Double Bogey (Aaron Abrams).

"Duke Kahanamoku" may be a little dippy, but it is educational and fun to watch. It gives a "Whoa, dude!" perspective on the sheer natural wonder of this state in the South Pacific, and its energy kept the attention of the middle school audience I saw it with.

A few swatches of blue fabric on the floor in the background place us on the beach, where Duke enlists the help of some passing surfers.

When the scene changes, Duke (Brad Stevens) and his assistant sleuths (Katie Powers, Nicholas Cimino) literally boogie on until the fabric, now lifted into peaks, tells us we are in the mountains.

Eventually, mauve and reddish fabric signify the great Kilauea volcano, where we encounter the hip-talking Princess Pele, daughter of the Hawaiian goddess Pele, who will help solve the mystery of the missing surf.

Along the way, we learn a great deal about Hawaii, and about Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), who was the father of modern surfing, winner of the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the 1912 and 1920 Olympics, actor, sheriff of Honolulu and, as a tireless promoter of his homeland, the man who put Hawaii on the map.

"Duke Kahanamoku" lasts about an hour. It is suitable for children ages 6 and up but will probably be most appreciated by middle-schoolers.

Delia O Hara - Suntimes / Press - Surfersvillage.


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