Letao to take stage in Hawaii

Daniel Kelin, II, (third from left) with a group of young people from the organizations Youth to Youth in Health and Jo Jikum — including Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (right), Milañ Loeak (fifth from right) and Selina Leem (fifth from left) — during a drama workshop in Majuro in 2016. Kelin has written a play about Marshall Islanders in Hawaii that will premiere in 2021. Photo: Isaac Marty.


The infamous Marshallese trickster Letao is scheduled to take center-stage in Honolulu next year. 

He will make a world premiere at Kumu Kahua Theater as a central character in a new play, “[x]other: a micro story,” written by Daniel Kelin, II. [x]other: a micro story will be featured at the Hawaii theater for a month from March 18, 2021.

Told backward in time during the 2000s, featuring the traditional trickster Letao,[x]other: a micro story illustrates the challenge of fitting into a new world faced by the Marshallese in Hawaii, who arrived dreaming of a future for their families.  

In the play, notorious trickster Letao shepherds both audience and actors alike through this backward theatrical journey of Abija and Hirlynn, two Marshall Islands youth, who set off for America and face challenges fitting into a frustratingly abstruse world. 

As the young islanders discover unexpected truths about their island home and encounter cultural misconceptions, Letao dispenses occasional — and occasionally uninvited — insights and interruptions in his enthusiastic craving to showcase the contradictions of humans and humanity.

Playwright Kelin is no stranger to the Marshall Islands and Letao.

He is the drama education director for Honolulu Theater for Youth, a playwright and an actor. He first began an association with the Marshall Islands in 1991, engaging with Youth to Youth in Health in developing drama around health and social issues that the local NGO used in its outreach education program.

In 1996, he wrote the play “…And the People Spoke Music” that was staged in Hawaii, Majuro and Namdrik — the latter the home of the two Marshallese storytellers, Jia Hisaiah and Iban Edwin, who helped him develop the tale. 

…And the People Spoke Music featured an ailing Letao, who had returned to the Marshall Islands from America because he was losing his magical power as a result of Marshallese forgetting their culture. The play features Letao attempting to trick the Marshallese into practicing their culture so he can restore his power.

In 2003, Kelin published Marshall Islands Legends and Stories, a compilation of Marshallese stories from about a dozen local storytellers, who are featured in the book.

His new play is certain to capture attention in Hawaii as it directly targets attitudes by and about Marshallese with humor and acerbic comment.


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