'Shipment Day' highlights dark chapter in Hawaii history
Manoa Valley Theatre presents "Shipment Day" a story about a local woman whose life is turned upside down when she is diagnosed with Hansen's Disease and sent to live in Kalaupapa on Molokai. The play premieres Thursday, and runs five days a week through November. Tickets and more information at Manoa Valley Theatre online and at the box office.
Olivia wrote a memoir and you've now written this play. Why do you feel this story was such an important one to tell?
(Destefano) Having known Olivia for 17 years and learned so much from her about strength and survival of the individual in the face of institutional oppression, it seemed a natural step to share her story in a theatrical context. We are experiencing similar profiling going on now with issues surrounding minorities, the disabled, different sexual orientations, immigrants. It seems a good time to remind people, as Olivia did, that we are dealing with individual human beings here, not faceless masses. As Olivia often said. "I am not my condition. Call me by my name. Call me Olivia."
What do you think people would be most surprised to learn about the lives of the Hansen's patients on Molokai?
(Destefano) People would be surprised to learn, as I did, that these are not "afflicted" people. These are everyday citizens whose rights have been taken away by the forces of fear and ignorance. The people I met and grew to love and admire in Kalaupapa each had their own distinct personalities, just like people in any neighborhood. Some were more friendly than others. Some more open to talk about their lives. Others more protective. What they all seem to have shared, even at times of disunity, is their special connection to this place where their lives intersected and where part of Hawaii's history was formed and still plays out to this day.
You're a working actor from Hawaii now living in LA. How has it felt to be able to return to the islands to work on such a uniquely Hawaiian story?
(Ku'ulei) Working on such a meaningful project at home is a dream come true. As an actor playing a role like Olivia, who is real and has such depth, is a rare opportunity that I knew I had to jump at.
What is one of the key messages you hope audiences will take away from this story and do you think it is relevant to our lives today?
(Ku'ulei) I believe this story is relevant to our lives today because it's a clear example of how humans react and treat each other when in a state of fear. For almost 100 years, the individuals who were diagnosed with Hanson's disease were treated as if they were less than human and had all of their basic human rights taken away. Today there are other groups who's rights are being challenged. I hope people leave the play thinking about how they treat those who are different from them and those that might instill fear based on what we hear through the grape vine. We can all be kinder, turn into someone's advocate when they don't have a voice, and be grateful for what we have.