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Piñatas, komodo dragons, a dog that turns into a human: These wacky sights, among others, will take the stage at Farkas Hall this weekend during Harvard’s production of Naomi Iizuka’s 1999 comedy “Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls.” The production—the Theater, Dance, and Media senior thesis project of director Matthew H. Munroe ’17—[hopes][AIMS] to both entertain and inspire college audiences.
The play follows ten 20-somethings on a journey to such varied settings as Alaska, Hawaii, New York City, and Inner Borneo to find their identities and discover love. Characters like ambitious young writer Derek, hopeful divorcée Vivian, and aforementioned dog-turned-human Martin all come together in this ensemble comedy to try and find with whom they belong—and in the process, themselves.
Munroe has a long and rather personal history with the play: “I first read it two-and-a-half years ago for a summer program I did, and I thought it was a really bizarre play. But then I came back to it in my junior tutorial, and I began to understand that it was about finding identity and belonging in a world of constant change,” he says. “That’s a theme that really resonated with me personally, because I’ve been struggling with identity and questions about that throughout my college career, and I think that’s the way a lot of college students are: independent, away from home.”
“Aloha,” according to Munroe, is important for exactly that reason. “I thought this would be a great show to do at Harvard because it is so relevant and relatable to a college community, and I thought it was great for my thesis because every time I read the show, I discovered something new,” he says. “So I knew there was a lot of depth to the show that I could delve into and explore as part of my thesis.”
For[ stage manager Emily Oliveira ’18, that depth is ingrained in the play: “The only punctuation, for example, in all of the lines are the commas written between fragments…. The letter ‘I’ is never capitalized; proper nouns are never capitalized. It’s just sort of that mental jumble that has now been translated onto paper.” For Oliveira, these quirks only add to the fun of the play. “I think the play is attractive in that respect, just as something can be very real without being polished in the way you’d think a full-length production might have to be,” she says.
Michael T. Shirek ’20, who plays Derek, says he drew on his own experiences to surmount the unique challenges of the production. “It’s a lot of drawing off of experiences you’ve had where you weren’t sure what you wanted, whether it’s not knowing which concentration you want to pursue [or] maybe not even knowing what school you’re going to go to,” he says.
Actor Geoffrey G. Binney ’17 faced a unique challenge in portraying another species. “Part of playing a dog has been trying to find the entertaining moments of situations that I wouldn’t have thought of as being entertaining,” he says. “There’s definitely a benefit to looking at things from a different perspective.”
Of course, any play with a barking dog as a primary character might be expected to contain copious amounts of humor, and according to Shirek, “Aloha” is a production anyone can relate to. “Maybe you just want to come and have a good laugh on a Friday night, or maybe you want to find comfort in knowing that everyone faces the struggles you do,” he says. “Everyone can find something in the play.”
“It’s definitely a comedy and there’s a lot of bizarre, zany things that happen that are just really fun,” Munroe concludes. “And also I hope that many college students will be able to relate to it rather than just being entertained…. This play will be a reminder that you can find the right path eventually, but it’s often about the journey you take to get there.”
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