‘Not One Batu’ brings Hawaiian culture to mainland America


Source: Matthew Gregory Hollis

The cast of “Not One Batu” rehearses outside the Berger Park Cultural Center Coach House in Chicago. Northwestern alumna Hannah Ii-Epstein wrote the play, which originally ran in her native Hawaii and made it’s mainland U.S. debut on June 27.

Ruiqi Chen, Reporter

The beaches along Lake Michigan might not be the sandy shores of Hawaii, but for Northwestern alumna Hannah Ii-Epstein (SPS ’18) it’s a close enough substitute.

Ii-Epstein’s play, “Not One Batu” takes place on the northern coast of Hawaii and tells the story of Honey Girl, a former methamphetamine addict turned expert drug dealer, according to the play’s synopsis. Over the course of the story, the audience sees Honey Girl meet with customers and friends, rival dealers, and her addict mother. Audiences also get to experience Pidgin, a distinctive Hawaiian dialect in which the play is written — “batu” is the Pidgin word for meth.

Ii-Epstein, a native Hawaiian, said she wrote “Not One Batu” in 2014 after being in recovery from her own meth addiction for close to ten years.

“Instead of hitting the pipe, I wrote,” she said in her playwright’s note. “I wrote for every addict out there, every person that has used batu, and every person that has known someone that has used batu.”

Through writing, Ii-Epstein found a positive channel for her addiction. The play won multiple local awards after it was first performed in Hawaii, where it hit home with those who had experienced the rise of meth that began when the drug was introduced to the islands in the 1980s, Ii-Epstein told The Daily.

“One of our actors. . . had told me recently that her favorite comment was where an audience member came up to her after the show (in Hawaii) and said, ‘You know what, I’m a meth addict, but after seeing this play I’m not going to do meth tonight,’” Ii-Epstein said. “That was so intense.”

But “Not One Batu” isn’t just about the meth epidemic itself. Production manager Ray Goldberg said it’s also about “how it affects the people in Hawaii, both the people who are dealing and using meth and the people around them.”

“While it sounds very heavy-handed, there’s a lot of heart and a lot of comedy in it,” Goldberg said.

The play, which features a predominantly Asian American Pacific Islander cast, made its mainland, or continental United States, debut on June 27 outside the Berger Park Cultural Center Coach House. The performance space is right next to Lake Michigan in order to more accurately convey the story’s seaside location — just one of the methods that Ii-Epstein and her crew are using to help set the scene for “Not One Batu.”

The mainland American version of the play is split into two acts, the first of which was added specifically for non-Hawaiian audiences.

“The first act is kind of an immersive, almost luau environment to bring you into the world … where you get to interact with everybody before the play actually starts,” said Marie Tredway, who plays Honey Girl.

During the first hour, the characters mingle with the audience, speaking Pidgin to familiarize them with the dialect, and teach them traditional Filipino games. The Aloha Center, the only AAPI cultural center in the Midwest, will also host a short set showcasing traditional Hawaiian music and dance. With any luck, the audience will leave the play with both Honey Girl’s story and a new understanding of Hawaiian culture.

“Hawaii isn’t just the postcard,” said Ii-Epstein. “It’s been really cool to educate people on Hawaii because if they ever do go there, they’re learning to be a visitor, not a tourist.”

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