Moses Goods’ play DUKE on Off-Broadway starting Monday

Moses Goods
Moses Goods posed with Duke Kahanamoku's surfboard at Bishop Museum last March

What was supposed to be an Off-Bernice Street production at Bishop Museum last year opens its latest run Off-Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop on Monday (Jan. 25).

Award-winning actor, writer and storyteller Moses Goods will have his one-person show “DUKE” playing virtually at the NYTW as part of the “Reflections of Native Voices Festival.” The show about the life and times of Hawaii’s first and greatest Olympian Duke Kahanamoku had its Castle Memorial Building shows postponed indefinitely last March due to COVID restrictions.

The show must go on … even if it’s done virtually some 4,900 miles away.

The former University of Hawai’i volleyball player (1997) has been bringing Kahanamoku’s story to life since 2015 when it first premiered at the Honolulu Theater for Youth, reaching over 10,000 audience during its five-week run. Goods, admitting he’s not an avid surfer, literally emersed himself in the ocean in order to connect with Kahanamoku, known as the “Father of Modern Surfing” and a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming.

Moses Goods
Moses Goods posed with Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard at Bishop Museum last March

“I went to the beach at Kalia where he was born with his story in mind,” Goods said of the former Kahanamoku home where the Hilton Hawaiian now stands. “I also visited Australia where he introduced surfing at Freshwater Beach. He said that it was his favorite place outside of Hawaii and they have a statue dedicated to him.

“He introduced surfing to the world and working on his story changed my life.”

It’s a one-man show but Goods plays about 11 characters. Many are the men from the 40-foot-yacht “Thelma” that capsized off Corona Del Mar on June 14, 1925.

Kahanamoku, then 34, was with other surfers who watched the yacht struggle to come into the harbor in waters that “only a porpoise or sea lion had the right to be out there,” he later said.

Twelve of the 17 fishermen were rescued. Kahanamoku is credited with saving eight, making several trips on his surfboard to bring them to the beach. It was the forerunner of the rescue techniques used by ocean safety personnel to this day.

“I’m telling the story from his point of view but, more importantly, those stories from the other’s perspectives,” Goods said. “He spoke so little about himself, about the rescue. He tried to say that all the other guys saved these lives but he was the one that went 3-4 times, saving lives.

“He went back for the bodies even though he knew they were dead. He did it so the families could have their loved ones to bury.”

One of the characters is a man who didn’t survive. Goods tells his story.

“The waves are ridiculous and he’s watching Duke brave the waves,” Goods said. “Duke is bringing 2-3 guys back at a time. Then he goes back again, his body pushed to the limit but he goes back another time and another time. Until he comes to the one who didn’t make it …

“This is what you look for in telling a story, these things that are so human. You can’t help but feel a connection. He is a kupuna (elder) in my life He’s not just a figure in books. Now I connect with him in a human way.

“Growing up, you hear the stories. He’s a superman. He’s a hero. That drew me to his story. I want to understand who he is. I want to put myself on his surfboard and try to understand why he chose to do the things he did, what he thought was the most valuable in his life and in the lives of others.”

When told how much he resembles Kahanamoku, Goods embraces Kahanamoku’s humility.

“I think he’s much more handsome,” Goods said. “I’m glad I look enough like him to help the audience suspend the disbelief.”

Goods, born on Feb. 14, 1977 in Washington, D.C., lived most of his early life on Maui. He first dabbled in acting as a junior at Maui High because “I had a crush on a girl who was taking a class in theater and I enrolled,” he said. “She dropped the class but I stayed. It gave me a chance to break out of my shell. I was very introverted and shy … I still am … but theater helped me overcome that. I was able to open up on stage because it felt safe to do it.”

Goods followed his older sister Cia to the Manoa campus where both played volleyball. (Cia Goods Fernandez, all-conference player and the 1997 Western Athletic Conference Pacific Division Player of the Year as senior, died in 2018 after a long battle with lung cancer).

Moses redshirted in 1996, played sparingly in 1997, then decided to pursue acting.

“I didn’t get my degree,” he said. “But I learned a lot at UH, I got a good foundation, so that when it was time for me to step out, I could do so.”

Goods is half-Hawaiian (mother’s side) and half-Black (father’s side). He’s proud to represent both cultures and has become an activist for both.

“I stood on the mauna,” he said of the the 30-meter telescope (TMT) protesters at Mauna Kea. “It felt so necessary and so right.

“I also stand for Black Lives Matter. I’m of both worlds.

“It’s a privilege that native Hawaiians have, that we could stand on our mauna, stand on the land of our kupuna. There are iwi (bones) in the land that we can go back to. You can name the kapuna who are there. That’s something that Black people cannot do.”

The reality of both words hit Goods hard during a trip to Connecticut in 2019. He had visited the state a few years earlier when researching his role for “My Name is Opukaha’ia” a play about Henry Opukaha’ia, one of the first native Hawaiians to convert to Christianity. Opukahai’a died in Cornwall, Conn., in 1818.

Good’s 30-minute one-man show commemorating Opukaha’ia premiered on Feb. 17, 2018, the 200th anniversary of his death.

In September of 2019, Goods said he “stepped foot in a slave graveyard.”

“The stones were crude rocks,” he said. “There were nameless graves overgrown with weeds. To even have a stone marker was a luxury because there were so many unmarked graves.

“I spoke to the nameless people there. I honor them. Lately I’m finding myself more in that world. I received some grant money to delve into my Black heritage.

“For the most part, my creative work has been Native Hawaiian. I’m proud to be a person of color doing this kind of work.”

Goods said his Hawaiian is improving. It was his mother’s first language but her parents forbade her to speak it.

“Things like that find their way into my work,” he said. “It’s important for people to know what happened in our history.

“All of my sisters had Hawaii middle names but I had my father’s name (Goods is Moses III). But in Hawaiian culture, you can be given a name at any part of your life. I was gifted the name ‘Kinolau.’ It translates to ‘body’ — kino — and lau can mean ‘many.’  A kinolau can take on many forms, like a coconut is the kinolau of the god Ku. Animals can be kinolau, elements can be kinolau. They are representations of something else.”

It is the perfect name for Goods, who represents many different things in his roles.

The play runs through Feb. 7. It was filmed and digitally formatted several years ago.

Tickets to view available at the link posted at top of page.