IS THE HOKEY POKEY WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT?
Gavin Kayner, the playwright & director of this new play, “Hokey Pokey,” wondered about that question after seeing it on a bumper sticker and wrote this play about four men in a mental institution somewhere in America. He defines hokey pokey as a noun (in the program) meaning “1) trickery; deception; hocus pocus; 2) a cheap kind of ice cream sold by street vendors; and 3) a childhood song performed as dance using movements suggested by the lyrics.”
Most of you remember that song from Kindergarten, about putting your right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, head, entire body, etc. into the circle, and then turning yourself around. That was “what it was all about.” Kayner’s play does turn you around in your thinking about mental illness and what’s real in your own world, your circle of reality.
It’s a powerful play with lots of raw emotion and wounded characters who have ended up in an institution. But it’s also a very clever, witty play about human suffering, death, suicide, racism, capitalism, isolation, bullying, and much more. And it certainly is not hokey.
All four male actors portray their characters well: Nick Salyer as Roget (French name, not Roger, a would-be-writer), Jacob Brown as Otto (“the King of Clowns”), Victor Bowleg as Harrison (a magician), and Jared Strokes as Ponzi, a true capitalist schemer selling elixir to cure all ills, mental or physical. I personally know Victor from his work with the League of Women Voters of Greater Tucson, but have never seen him act before.
The play takes place on a Monday in the “common room” at the mental hospital as the four men interact and challenge each others’ pasts, career choices, and failures. Some of them know each other too well and begin to interact like dysfunctional family members. Then add onto that their mental illnesses and weaknesses, and confrontation ensues. At one point Roget humorously says that “only madmen tolerate their own company.”
Human frailty is brought up in this play, especially the “masks” that people wear to meet & greet each other. Two of the characters do wear painted face masks throughout the play. And each character exhibits their survival coping mechanisms acquired at home or in the streets–as a person leaves Kindergarten to grow up into adulthood and face Life’s disappointments & often despair. Sometimes that despair is too much to handle.
The play’s dialogue between the characters is fast & furious, almost too fast, as sometimes the audience can miss the punch line or the witty remarks. The racism suffered by black magician Harrison is poignantly portrayed by Black-American Victor who rants about the negativity of “black magic, black arts, being blackballed, blackmailed, the black market, black eyes, blackheads.” As an Asian-American I know the racism that can be targeted at a person only too well (yellow peril, yellow fever, etc.) But to white people the strong racial remarks may be somewhat disturbing.
“Hokey Pokey” does end on a positive note about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, becoming “free at last.” “Then what? So what?” asks Ponzi. And that’s what the audience has to figure out for themselves, as they encounter their own lives and value systems.
“Hokey Pokey” plays for two more weekends at the Cabaret Theater at the Temple of Music & Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. at 7:30 p.m. October 19, 20, 27, and 2 p.m. on Oct. 21 and 28. Tickets are $20, call 520-297-3317 to reserve your tickets. Click here to see my previous post announcing this clever play, produced by Piquant Plays Productions and the Old Pueblo Playwrights.