Bringing the dead to life: Hawaii actors perform at Oahu gravesite

Bringing the dead to life: Hawaii actors perform at Oahu gravesite
Curtis Piehu laukea is played by Albert Ueligitone in the Cemetery Pupu Theatre. (Image: Hawaiian Mission Houses)
Curtis Piehu laukea is played by Albert Ueligitone in the Cemetery Pupu Theatre. (Image: Hawaiian Mission Houses)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group of Hawaii actors is performing among the dead to bring the histories of several Hawaii figures to life.

Dressed in Victorian-era costumes, members of the Cemetery Pupu theatre are acting out the lives the life of five people buried at the Oahu Cemetery and Crematory.

The performances are put on by the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives. All of the performances are on cemetery grounds, with most taking place at each historical figures' final resting place.

"It's real history, it's not a ghost story," said Mike Smola, curator of public programs at Hawaiian Mission Houses. "It's real research, real history."

Guests are treated to appetizers, or pupus, before the show, and as the sun sets — those six feet under come to life.

Smola has seen the performances through its seven years of production, and says that each season's characters are different than the last. This year, Smola says he was particularly inspired by his research on Mabel Leilani Smyth, the first Native Hawaiian public health nurse.

"Her story is mostly untold," Smola said.

Scott Power, president and trustee of the Oahu Cemetery and Crematory, said that people are consistently drawn to the unusual theatre.

"It's very warmly received because of the research and the detail," Power said. "It also has a unique setting, the cemetery is approaching 175 years."

Power says he's seen the performances grow stronger every year, but what really makes audience members come back each year is the history brought to life in the same place its makers were laid to rest.

"It's characters that have created an impact on Hawaii." Power said.

Others figures featured for the year include Alexander J. Cartwright, who was an early figure in modern baseball and a Honolulu Fire Chief, Lucy Kaopaululu Peabody, a lady in waiting to Queen Emma who also re-charted the Queen Ka'ahumanu Society, and William Cooper Parke, who was appointed as the marshal for the Kingdom of Hawaii.

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