The Prisoner of Second Avenue
We all have pet peeves. What makes them fall into that category is that nine out of every 10 people will say, “that’s not a big deal, get over it.”
Mel Edison, also known as “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” has several peeves. One of them is that he can hear his neighbor playing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” at 2:30 in the morning. His wife, Edna Edison, can’t hear it unless she presses her ear against the wall, “Now I hear it,” she admits when asked.
The latest offering from Kihei’s ProArts, Neil Simon’s play, “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” is a wonderful comedy. The opening night crowd packed the house and laughed non-stop throughout the show.
Its cast is immensely experienced and it is a sharp, polished production that anyone more than the ages of 18 to 20 should find to be hilarious.
That said, I have a pet peeve, and I’m pretty sure 90 percent of the Maui play-going public will say, “That’s nothing, get over it.” In general, it is my belief that Maui actors struggle with playing New Yorkers. The same can also be said in tackling British accents and mannerisms.
Regardless of that, “Prisoner” is still very entertaining, but there are times when I long to see stereotypical yelling, passive aggressive, New York Jewish mannerisms on stage if one chooses to take on a Neil Simon comedy.
Jennifer Rose is a magnificent exception as Edna Edison. Rose accurately portrays Edna in the style that Anne Bancroft and Lee Grant would. Call it mimicry if you wish, but she honors the role in such a way that I could easily see her landing the same part in any major city on the Mainland.
John Peterson as Mel is an immensely talented actor and he has a natural chemistry opposite Rose. His Mel is sincere and believable, but I would have preferred if he had played Mel’s nervous breakdown as a loud, yelling, ranting New Yorker as opposed to his subdued choice, which plays as mentally ill.
To his credit, I have seen several actors play Mel over the years and Peterson brings something to the role that I have never seen. It is a completely original and unique choice. Where Peterson and Rose match perfectly, (and in my mind the show’s high point) is role reversal. On several occasions it is Edna who becomes irrational, leaving Mel to be the voice of reason. It is in those moments that “Prisoner” is at it’s funniest.
The most side-splitting scene of “Prisoner” happens mid second act, when Mel’s so-called, ‘well-intentioned’ siblings arrive. Simon’s word play in this scene is perfection. The evolving family squabble begins over how to help save baby brother Mel, but turns to an argument over money and family history. Lee Garrow as older brother Harry gets some of the best one-liners of the night – and he delivers them with impeccable timing.
Beth Garrow shines as well in the role of Pearl. Her natural sense of comic timing is always noticeable in every role she plays regardless of size. Marilynn Hirashima’s Pauline may not have too many of the laugh lines, but she importantly plays the petulant sister to precision.
Barbara Sedano, as Jesse, has a true New York attitude and accent. Jesse, armed with guilt trips, has little to offer in regards to Mel’s plight. All four actors are very funny and the sceneworks, but it is Sedano who truly nails the stereotypical New York kvetching, waste of time, busy-body family member.
With excellence can come greater scrutiny. ProArts has presented quite an impressive season of quality productions, filled with some of the finest performances of the season. Persnickety commentary aside, director Kristi Scott has fashioned a near flawless comedy. I have no doubt “Prisoner” will continue fill the ProArts Playhouse with hundreds of laughing patrons for weeks to come and may need to be held over.
Also this week
Baldwin High International Thespian Troupe #3135 and the Baldwin Theatre Guild present “Baldwin’s Got the Beat,” directed by Linda Carnevale.
Baldwin High School closes its 49th season with the sixth annual variety-show extravaganza Friday through Sunday at the Loudon Mini-Theatre in back of the high school campus. This completely original variety show is created by the exceptional Baldwin theatre students, from sets to costumes to dances and skits. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the door only. The box office opens 45 minutes before showtime.
Maui OnStage continues its free theater series, ONO! on Monday with David Mamet’s powerful “Oleanna,” a play described by The New York Times as “likely to provoke arguments.”
A female college student drops by her professor’s office in an effort to gain his help in class. It seems on the surface that a bond has been made. When they next meet, a report has been filed that the professor sexually harassed her at the first meeting. Has the first meeting been twisted into something else? Mamet dissects the possibilities of misconception, leaving its audience with more questions than answers. A third meeting escalates to a more dangerous level with both parties left physically and emotionally devastated. “Oleanna” stars Alexis Dascoulias and Don Carlson. The free ONO! performances are 6:30 p.m. every second Monday of the month at the Historic Iao Theater.
‘Ulalena at Maui Theatre in Lahaina announces the exciting addition of a powerhouse couple to the show’s team.
Sebastien and Sujana Laurendeau have both worked on multiple “Cirque du Soleil” shows in Las Vegas, including the acclaimed “O.”
Sujana will make a limited special guest appearance in ‘Ulalena as lead vocalist through June 14 and Sebastien will stay onboard with the Maui production permanently as music director.
“We are thrilled to have such talented artists join our ohana. We highly encourage everyone to come see the show, even for a second or third time, to see Sujana perform before she returns to Las Vegas,” said Maui Theatre’s General Manager Dennis Preussler.
“Of all the wonderful productions I’ve been a part of, ‘Ulalena is truly special in that each cast member holds the story so close to their heart and instinctively adopts a responsibility to share it. You can feel the genuine love that everyone has for the story and the culture of Hawaii. I am so happy to be back, even if just for this short while,” said Sujana, who was raised in a bi-cultural home of Indian and modern traditions and can relate to the importance of culture in Hawaii.
‘Ulalena” is an unparalleled Hawaiian theatrical production that has shared the rich cultural history of Maui and its people for almost 14 years. It is a quintessential cultural experience for visitors, and a touching homage to Hawaiian people that Hawaii residents can truly take pride in.
For more information or tickets, call 856-7900 or visit www.mauitheatre.com.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts will conclude its season with its 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. This year, 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,” Van Amburgh says. “The show is fast and fun, a rollercoaster 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, May 17 and 18, in the A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Admission is free, donations are encouraged. For more details or reservations, visit www.seaburyhall.org or call 573-1257.
Vinnie Linares will give his final performances as “Damien” at Kalaupapa on Molokai, Sunday, May 19, by special invitation of the National Park Service, and at St. John’s Church in Kula at 6 p.m. on Saturday June 1.
“This is quite an honor, 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 11 years ago.”
Tickets are $10 at St. John’s Church office or at the door. For more details, call 878-1485.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue
After a week of directing, it’s a bit of a relief to be back in the audience again, and a big mahalo to Sarah Ruppenthal for her coverage of “Hollywood Arms.”
This week, Maui theatergoers will have quite the trio of rich and profoundly funny productions to choose from, and it is conceivably possible to see all three this weekend before they close.
The latest offering from ProArts, and opening this weekend, is Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” Although a little lesser known than Simon’s other works, “Prisoner” is one of his most critically acclaimed plays. Originally produced in 1971, the play began Simon’s great run of hit dramedies like “The Heartbreak Kid,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and his monumental “Brighton Beach” trilogy. In 1971, The New York Times described Simon’s growth with “Prisoner” as “a magnificent effort to part company with the mechanical, and his overall success stands as handsome proof that humor and honesty can be got into bed together.”
The story of Mel Edison is certainly honest and easily relatable to everyone. Mel has a bad day, which turns into a series of misfortunes that drives him to the brink of insanity. He loses his job, his house is robbed (including the good whiskey), the sanitation workers are on strike filling the city of New York with mountains of garbage, there’s a heat wave, an ongoing feud with a nasty neighbor, and his psychiatrist dies, owing Mel $23,000.
“Prisoner” has some of the finest monologues ever written by Simon, ripe with multiple hysterical neurotic rants for strong, middle-aged actors to shine. A favorite of mine relates to Mel’s feud with the neighbor.
“I’m waiting for him. I’m just waiting for him. He’s up there now, but one day he’s gonna be down there, and I’m gonna be up here, and then we’ll see. One cold, snowy day some son of a b—- in this building is gonna be buried under three feet of snow. They won’t find him until the spring! They can get your clothes, Edna. They can get your clothes, your Valium, your television, your Red Label Whisky, your job, they can get everything. But they can’t get your brains. That’s my secret weapon – that and the snow.”
The midlife crisis tale originally starred Peter Falk as Mel and Lee Grant as Mel’s wife, the incredibly tolerant Edna. The success of the Broadway production resulted in a film version in 1975, starring Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft (plus a tiny cameo by Sylvester Stallone as a mugger).
At first, Mel (played by John Peterson in the ProArts production) attempts to keep his unemployment a secret from Edna (played by Jennifer Rose). Edna is happy to support and comfort Mel, but in time she can no longer put up with his ranting and begins to break down herself. In desperation, she enlists the aid of his siblings for an intervention.
The second act of “Prisoner” is what Simon does best – surround an “every man” with slightly crazy family members that inevitably make things worse. The characters of older brother Harry (Lee Garrow) and sisters Pauline (Marilyn Hirashima), Pearl (Beth Garrow) and Jesse (Barbara Sedano) should deliver some of the biggest laughs of the night, especially Harry’s disinterest in a cup of coffee. In true Simon fashion, there is a realistic reconciliation. Mel calms down, and life will likely be better for him and Edna as a result of it all.
This Maui trio of plays about families that yell at each other all share one thing in common: the families never stop loving each other and they stick together. As long as you can laugh at familiar misfortune and meddling loved ones, you can’t miss in finding a wonderful show featuring Maui’s finest actors this weekend.
* ProArts presents Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” Friday through May 19 at ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Cost is $20 per person. ProArts offers kamaaina night discounts this Saturday, plus May 9 and 16; cost is $17.50 per person for Hawaii residents. The show is directed by Kristi Scott. For tickets or more information, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartspacific.com.
By popular demand, Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ hit comedy “Fresher Ahi,” by Francis Tau’a and Derek Nakagawa, directed by David C. Johnston, and starring Kathy Collins, Nakagawa and Tau’a, will continue through Saturday. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 seniors and $12 students (18 and younger). Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.mauiacademy.org, by calling MAPA at 244-8760 or by visiting the customer service kiosk at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
Also this week
Catch Filipino-American comedian Rex Navarrete Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Navarrete combines keen observational humor with a dead-on Filipino accent to create bits that leave locals laughing in the aisles – “If there is room,” says Rex, who has sold out his last 14 appearances in Hawaii.
His comedy recordings “Badly Browned” and “Husky Boy” were best sellers on the Classified Records label and has just released a third record “Bastos.” Navarrete will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the MACC’s Castle Theater.
Tickets are $20, $30, $40 (plus applicable fees). For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
Maui Academy of Performing Arts presents three dance performances for the entire family. The weekend opens with MAPA’s annual dance recital at 2 p.m. Saturday, featuring dancers of all ages strutting their stuff in jazz, tap and hip-hop. At 1 p.m. Sunday, “The Little Mermaid Ballet” showcases more than 200 MAPA ballerinas in the famous Hans Christian Andersen story of a young mermaid and her handsome prince. That same evening at 7:30, “Moves” will feature MAPA’s advanced dance students in an exciting dance showcase highlighting a variety of styles including jazz, hip hop and contemporary. In addition, this year’s finale will feature guest artists Ampersand Dance Company. All performances are at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.
General seating tickets are $15 (plus applicable fees). For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.