Scene: Ulua Theatre
Jason Scott Lee's New Artistic Venture.
“A lot of times, theater is a feel-good thing,” says Jason Scott Lee, who ought to know, having played the male lead on the London stage in The King and I.
But Lee, a former Pearl City boy and international film actor (Map of the Human Heart, Dragon, Jungle Book, Rapa Nui, Lilo and Stitch), was not after “feel-good” for the premiere production at his new theater in Volcano Village on the Big Island. He directed and starred in the explosive Burn This, by American playwright Lanford Wilson.
Photo: Bill Harby
Such searing drama is not the kind of material you expect to find in little Volcano Village, where a lively community-theater scene usually leans more toward Gilbert and Sullivan. So why did Lee choose this rural location to build a theater for serious drama?
“The forest,” he says.
Lee didn’t come to Volcano thinking of theater. He came to find a home.
Lee owns 25 acres on the edge of the village, with a small house, koa saplings and dry-land taro.
But the most visible man-made feature on the property is Ulua Theatre-a dark-brown, two-story wood structure. The small “stage” is no stage at all, but simply the middle of the room defined by a red Persian carpet. For Burn This, the 43 seats were configured in three rows against one wall. People sitting in the front row were sometimes just inches from the actors. It’s a wonderful venue for intimate theatre.
Lee and a buddy built the theater, hammers in hand, almost by themselves over a couple of years. The theater is supported in the middle by two great ‘ohi’a trunks harvested from the property.
Lee got the idea for a little country theater when traveling in Czechoslovakia and England. “There were these little hamlets and villages with these theaters, just lodges with candlelight and kerosene light,” he recalls. “That was my idea, to bring it back to that sort of storytelling.”
Lee, an avid fisherman, chose the name Ulua Theatre in honor of a fish he caught off Ka Lae, the wild, southern-most point of the Big Island. A huge stuffed ulua over the portico honors the theatre’s namesake.