Pakalolo Sweet has a mellow vibe, but the narrative goes up in smoke | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Pakalolo Sweet has a mellow vibe, but the narrative goes up in smoke

Hannah Ii-Epstein's second play in a trilogy about the Hawaiian drug trade dances around the issue of mental illness.

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Staged in the coach house of a Chicago Park District facility on the shore of Lake Michigan in the Edgewater neighborhood, Hannah li-Epstein's comedy-drama about a family of Hawaiian marijuana growers labors mightily to be an investigation of mental illness masquerading as a mellow good time. Whether one buys what she's selling depends a lot on one's attitude toward weed and the lifestyle connected to it.

Before the actual play begins, the audience is asked to participate in a karaoke session with the cast. Perhaps, with a group of stoned friends, this might be a good time and a fine way to set the mood, but if one expects to be presented with theater rather than a team-building exercise, this is a tedious bit of throat clearing. The hour or so devoted to the narrative feels fragmentary, though it does contain a couple of powerful moments.

The semilegal pursuit of growing pot, with its structural flaw of employees abusing the product, is convincingly evoked. But the oblique references to mental illness aren't developed fully enough to warrant the play's jarringly abrupt conclusion. This piece is the second part of a trilogy but doesn't feel complete enough to stand on its own. I wished afterward that li-Epstein had canned the karaoke party and used that half hour to answer the many questions posed by what could one day be a compelling piece of theater.  v

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