Kennedy Theatre's "Handler" addresses questions of faith and devotion

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Matthew Kelty, (808) 956-2598
Director of Publicity, Kennedy Theatre
Kennedy Theatre Box Office, (808) 956-7655
Kennedy Theatre
Posted: Nov 26, 2012

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre and Dance is proud to present the Hawai‘i première of Robert Schenkkan’s “Handler” as the second production of its 2012-2013 Prime Time season.  The play, written by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of “The Kentucky Cycle,” will come to Kennedy’s Earle Ernst Lab Theatre Nov. 28 through Dec. 1 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.  A post-show discussion will be held after the performance on Friday, Nov. 30.
“Handler” portrays a small evangelical religious community in the rural South.  Members of the Holiness Way church believe that the Bible is, as Brother Bob (Matthew Kelty) says, “God’s word delivered whole and direct to man.”  They take literally the Bible verses about speaking in tongues and casting out devils; they “lay hands” on sick congregants and handle poisonous snakes during services as a way of proving their faith.  The play presents one of these services on-stage, revealing the depth of devotion these characters have to their beliefs.  The scenes require a lot from the actors; according to Lavour Addison, who portrays Brother Samuel in the play, “It’s definitely a challenge, but we all support each other and feed off each other’s energy to get where we need to go.”
While the service scenes are exciting, the heart of the play is about a couple in the church: Terri (Brittni Shambaugh, who directed “Sonnets for an Old Century” at UH earlier this season) and Geordi (Isaac Ligsay, last seen on the UH mainstage in “The Giver”).  Geordi has just gotten out of prison, and he and Terri are trying to save their marriage as they deal with unemployment, Geordi’s alcoholism, and the recent death of their young child.  Terri turns to the church as her source of strength, but Geordi is more skeptical.  A terrible tragedy rocks the community, followed by a seemingly-miraculous event that challenges everyone’s faith.  As events unfold, the play explores questions about devotion, forgiveness, and love — and what it means to be “re-born.”
Tyler Nichols, an MFA student and the director of “Handler,” chose the play for its combination of gritty realism and big ideas.  “I liked that the emotions and the relationships were real, but that the events in this world were hard to believe and almost impossible,” said Nichols.  But Nichols was also inspired by the Theatre Department at UH Manoa, which features productions in both Asian and Western styles.  “I had taken part in the (Japanese) kabuki a couple of years ago, and seen all the hard work that went into the (Indonesian) randai,” he said.  “I saw it as an effort by the department to take something authentically Asian, and recreate it here — like they had taken a part of Indonesia and set it down in Kennedy Theatre.”  Nichols, who grew up in a small town in Georgia, wanted to do the same with his own history and culture: “I wanted it to seem like a tornado had scooped up a town in rural Georgia and dropped it here in Hawai‘i.”
Tickets for “Handler” are available online at, by phone at (808) 944-2697, at participating outlets, and at the Kennedy Theatre box office; the box office is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, with extended hours on performance dates.  Prices are $16 general admission; $15 seniors / military / UH faculty and staff; $13 students and UHAA members; and $5 UHM students with validated Fall 2012 UHM photo ID.  Ticket prices include all service fees.  Discount rates are available for groups of 10 or more.  For more information, please visit or call the theatre at (808) 956-7655.  For disability access, please call the theatre.



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