Although the story may be repeated again and again in Hawaii, it will never lose its importance. In many corners of the globe, Molokai is known because of its world famous saints, Damien and Marianne.
Maui actor Vinnie Linares has been playing the former Father Damien since October 2000. Now close to 13 years later, he will bring this moving drama to Kalaupapa for the first time, where he will perform on the same hallowed ground where two saints walked in life. Linares was invited by the National Parks Service to perform for the residents of Kalaupapa, so this will be a private performance closed to the public.
The play highlights the significant moments in the life of Saint Damien, the leper priest of Molokai, so named for his pioneering work with the patients on Molokai. By the time of his death on April 15, 1889, he had an international reputation paralleling that of Mother Theresa’s work in India in the 20th century.
“This is quite an honor to do so, and I do not think I could have done this earlier given the emotional weight of the role,” said Linares. “It is a full circle since I first did the play in Haiku at St. Rita’s Church 12 years ago.”
Linares has since performed as St. Damien in Rome, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and on Maui and Oahu.
The Maui News described the performance as such in 2000: “Aldyth Morris’ ‘Damien’ is a one-man play requiring a performer to hold an audience using little but words and the ability to tell a story. Vinnie Linares turns in his best ever performance as the ‘leper priest.’ His bravura performance reveals its subject as both man and saint. Linares’ Damien is an emotional powder keg full of energy only slightly tempered when he is being his most introspective. Damien performed by Linares is more than theater. It is an affirmation of how powerful devotion can be.”
The play finds Damien, awakened from his deathly slumber, taking a journey through his turbulent and compelling life while answering his detractors and critics, a journey that eventually takes him home to Belgium again. Linares was originally moved to take on the monumental role after seeing it performed for several years by University of Hawaii at Manoa Emeritus Professor, Terence Knapp. In 1976, Knapp directed himself in “Damien,” which was eventually broadcast nationally on PBS and won the George Peabody Award for both Knapp and Morris. Knapp continues to work as a mentor and occasionally performs on stage, screen and television in Honolulu.
In addition to his Kalaupapa performance on Monday, “Damien” will also be presented in the Damien Center at the St. Damien Church and Parish in Kaunakakai on Sunday, at the Kaunoa Senior Center in Paia on May 29, and at St. John’s Church in Kula on June 1. Admission is free for the Kaunakakai performance, but seating is limited on a first-come, first-served basis. The Kaunoa Senior Center performance is sold out.
For the residents of Kalaupapa, he will be performing in the newly restored historic social hall, constructed in 1916. In addition to its stage, it was at one time a movie theater. A resident described the heyday of the 1940s to a Maui News journalist in 1986: “Everybody looked forward to the movies. There was nothing else to do on Monday and Friday except go to the movies, unless there was a baseball game, then maybe they would go to the game and then come to the movie.”
In the Christmas week of 1948, the bill included, “Man in the Iron Mask” on Dec. 20 starring Joan Bennett; “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” on Dec. 25 starring Danny Kaye; and “Tobacco Road” on Dec. 27 with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. The Social Hall has a space of 35 feet by 40 feet for entertainment, and a stage of 12 feet by 20 feet with a movie screen and curtain. The original seating capacity was 350. The hall served as the primary entertainment center for Kalaupapa, offering silent movies, variety shows, and starting in October 1931, talkies, just one year after Maui’s Historic Iao Theater was equipped for talking pictures.
An angel to providing entertainment to the people of Kalaupapa was Manuel G. Paschoal, the Wailuku legislator who also co-founded the Iao Theater. Paschoal served in the Territorial Assembly from 1916 to 1954, twice serving as its interim Speaker. In 1958, the hall was renamed Paschoal Hall.
Over the past three years, the National Parks Service has stabilized and restored Paschoal Hall, the largest historic building on the settlement. Senator Daniel Inouye acquired much of the funding for the project. The extensive restoration ranges from the original wooden seats to the historic colors, which were lovingly recreated through paint chip examination. Monday night’s performance of “Damien” will be the first performance event with the brand new interior and exterior restoration, reclaiming its rightful place as a source of community pride.
With beatification and canonization comes the placement on the church’s liturgical calendar for a feast day, such as St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day. Said feast days generally fall on the anniversary of death. In the case of St. Damien, that is April 15, however, since the day often falls during Lent, an alternate date was chosen to accommodate joyous celebration. May 10 was picked because it marks a significant event in the life of St. Damien de Veuster, the day that he first stepped onto the island of Molokai. Ironically, or perhaps not, the same day I interviewed Linares and began writing this column. Destiny brought Father Damien by boat past the leprosy settlement from Maui in 1873, while Bishop Louis Maigret and the priests of Hawaii visited Wailuku for the dedication of the new St. Anthony Church.
It was at the Historic Iao Theater where Linares was first approached by employees of the Kalaupapa National Park to bring the production to Molokai.
“When I performed for “ONO!” in 2011, I was asked to bring the show there,” said Linares. “It took two and a half years to restore the theater. When originally asked, I wasn’t sure I was ready, but now I am. This role affects me emotionally, so I went to visit in January to make sure I could do it. It may only be for 25 to 50 people, I have no idea. This time I’m paying for all of the costs out of my own pocket, and I’m getting nervous, but as I said before, it’s come full circle for me and I’m ready now.”
Patrons to Linares’ performances of “Damien” over the years have included Carolyn Schaefer Gray and Gage Shubert, who helped him to perform the role at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and in Rome for the canonization in October 2009.
The 2000 Maui production was originally produced by the Maui Academy of Performing Arts and directed by David C. Johnson. Original music was added to Linares’ production composed by Rick Case. Although the “Damien” chapter of his life is coming to a close, Linares, who also serves as board president for the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, won’t be wasting any time in taking on future projects. In July, he will present an ONO! performance at the Historic Iao Theater of “Sister Ignatius Explains it All,” starring Jennifer Rose; and in August, he will be playing Cheswick in a Maui OnStage ONO! presentation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
* Oh Boy Productions presents Aldyth Morris’ one-man show, “Damien.” Vinnie Linares will be giving his final performance as St. Damien at St. John’s Church in Kula at 6 p.m. on Saturday June 1. Tickets for the Kula performance are $10 and available through St. John’s Church office or at the door. For more information, call 878-1485.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts concludes its season with the 18th annual “Side Shows,” a festival of 10-minute one-act plays. This year’s crop of plays includes pieces by Seabury student playwrights Ryan Noufer and Jasmine Patel. In addition, adult directors Roberta Hodara, Tina Kailiponi, Marsha Kelly, Kay McLeod, Ryan Walsh and Scott Winham are joined by student directors Celina Bekins, Ashley Chen, Kaimana Neil, Ryan Noufer and Taka Tsutsui.
“The one-act festival has proven to be an ideal experience for students and audiences!” says Van Amburgh. “The show is fast and fun, a roller-coaster ride for the audience. Students get lead parts and because the plays are all about 10 minutes, they don’t have the taxing rehearsal schedule they get for longer shows. Veterans end their high-school careers with this show while others are discovered here.”
* Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall Campus in Makawao. Admission is free; donations are encouraged. For information and reservations, visit www.seaburyhall.org or call 573-1257.
Catch it while you can! Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” wraps up its run with its final shows this week at ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
* Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday (kamaaina night discount applies), Friday and Saturday; and 3 p.m. Sunday. Reserved seats are $20. For tickets, call ProArts at 463-6550.