Review: Maui OnStage’s ‘Hollywood Arms’ is a bittersweet slice of life

Just like the twin masks of comedy and tragedy, there is often a fine line between hilarity and heartbreak in the world of theater.

The artful juxtaposition of humor and woe is at the heart of the Maui OnStage production of “Hollywood Arms,” a semi-autobiographical play based on Carol Burnett’s best-selling memoir, “One More Time.”

Co-written by the comedienne and her late daughter, Carrie Hamilton, and directed by Michael Pulliam, “Hollywood Arms” is a coming-of-age, rags-to-riches story that will leave audience members roaring with laughter one minute-and wiping away tears the next.

Spanning a 10-year period from 1941 to 1951, this slice-of-life “dramedy” is a poignant yet humorous portrayal of three generations of women chasing their dreams in a dilapidated apartment house called the Hollywood Arms.

The pseudonymous character of Helen is portrayed both as a 12-year-old girl (Marley Mehring) and as a 22-year-old young woman on the cusp of stardom (Julianna Scharnhorst).

Mehring is perfectly cast as the plucky young Helen who, in an effort to escape the chaos brewing below, creates an imaginary world on the rooftop of her apartment building.

As the older Helen, Scharnhorst is a blazing talent. It’s hard to believe this is her first foray into the realm of community theater, and hopefully we will see her in more comedic roles. She is as funny and fearless as Burnett herself.

Cat Haynes gives a knockout performance as Helen’s endearingly eccentric grandmother and surrogate parent, Nanny (Cat Hayes). Haynes is plain hilarious, supplying no shortage of laugh-out-loud moments and delivering snappy one-liners with panache.

Kristin Jones is convincing in her role as the disillusioned Louise, Helen’s alcoholic mother. Louise is by far the most complex character in “Hollywood Arms,” and Jones rises to the challenge with an achingly poignant and chillingly realistic performance.

Rick Scheideman also delivers a tour de force performance as the plaintive Jody, Louise’s ex-husband and Helen’s tubercular, alcoholic father. Scheideman masterfully captures the vicissitudes of this sympathetic and well-intentioned character.

In the other principal male role, Dean Watt shines as Bill, Louise’s second husband. As the lovestruck suitor seemingly immune to the pain of unrequited love, Watt is pitch perfect.

As the youngest member of this quintessential dysfunctional family, Brianna Kenar is Alice, Helen’s illegitimate half-sister. Kenar plays the role with a wide-eyed sweetness that manages to persevere against all odds.

Kisha Milling and Alioune Fall round out the cast, each giving highly impressive performances as the loyal Dixie and precocious Malcolm, respectively. Additional cast members include Jim Oxborrow and Kevin Lawrence.

The set design goes for realism, with authentic nuances such as a Murphy Bed in the cramped living room, and vintage Corn Flakes and Coca-Cola bottles in the efficiency kitchen. Created by Chicago designer Jim Fitzgerald, the set is both functional and fashionable, capped off by a striking “Hollywoodland” sign handcrafted by local artist Jaisy Hanlon.

Prepare yourself for equal parts laughter and tears. “Hollywood Arms” is a bittersweet slice of life that proves love will always prevail in the end.

* “Hollywood Arms” will continue through Sunday; at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater. Reserved seating tickets range from $17 to $28. To order tickets or for more information, call 242-6969 or visit