You think you can handle the truth?
Maui OnStage premieres ‘A?Few Good Men’
Back stories are, in many cases, just as riveting as the final product. Once upon a time there was a young man from Scarsdale, N.Y., who loved theater. His sister Deborah, upon graduating from law school, signed up for a three-year stint with the U.S. Navy JAG corps. Her younger brother was an average student who was denied admission into Syracuse University’s drama department due to poor grades. Determined to make it on Broadway he got as close as he could — working as a bartender at the Palace Theater in New York City.
A phone conversation with Deborah gave him an idea for a play. She shared some details of a case she was defending that involved a group of U.S. Marines stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on trial for excessively hazing a fellow Marine. Each night at the Palace, after the audience took their seats, the bartender scribbled notes on cocktail napkins. Upon returning home every night that bartender, Aaron Sorkin, would empty pockets full of napkins and type what became the story known as “A Few Good Men.”
Sorkin would go on to sell the film rights before the play had even been produced. “A Few Good Men” ran for nearly 500 performances in 1989, the famous film version opened in 1992, and the mediocre student and thirtysomething bartender lived happily ever after.
In the story, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Ricky Jones) is a military lawyer defending two Marines (Reuben Carrion and David Tuttle) charged with killing Pvt. William Santiago (Tully O’Reilly) at Guantanamo Bay. Although Kaffee is known for seeking plea bargains, a fellow lawyer, Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Megan Caccamo), convinces him that the accused were most likely carrying out an order from a commanding officer. In a valiant effort to defend his clients, Kaffee decides to put military mentality and the Marine code of honor on trial. He then takes a huge risk by calling Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Robert E. Wills) to the stand in an effort to uncover a conspiracy.
I asked director Rick Scheideman what drew him to the script.
“The choice to direct or act in a script involves passion,” he explained. “The term passion is overworked, but I believe, in this case, it is altogether fitting. The time and energy to bring a play to fruition is an act of commitment born of desire.
“The contrasting characters, the humorous banter, and both the pathos and ethos are compelling to me. It is a profound script by a highly skilled playwright. I am always drawn to great plays that admit fresh application by our community of exceptional artists.”
For the film, director Rob Reiner asked Sorkin to make a few changes. The line “You can’t handle the truth” did not appear in the stage version, nor did the two Air Force crewmen waiting to testify following Col. Jessep’s testimony. Because both Reiner and Sorkin felt the screenplay was superior, Sorkin rewrote his play incorporating changes made for the film.
This weekend’s Maui OnStage production will be that updated script and will feature a unique staging with its cast present on stage for the entire performance. Additionally, this production uses a minimalist set.
I asked Scheideman to discuss the uncommon staging.
“Several opportunities in the past have allowed me to favor designs that engage the audience in ways that are unusual, perhaps challenging their expectations. The hope is to draw them into a world where the reality lies in action as well as character and narrative. I desired that the action be uninterrupted by set changes and other theatrical aspects that create breaks in the action,” he said. “Sorkin has crafted a script that moves quickly with energy. The intent is that the set facilitates that energy.”
On the subject of taking on an extremely well-known story, I inquired if that makes directing more or less challenging.
“Many challenges must be faced with a theater production known so well on film. The movie’s cast featured defining performances,” he said. “I believe our creative actors and technical designers have met the challenge and then some. They offer creative performances that challenge the films iconic performances. The staging and other theatrical choices will, hopefully, gift the audience with a theatrical production that is fresh.”
Although I don’t adore “Disney High School Musical,” I do appreciate its youthful performers who electrify the stage with an energy infrequently seen on Maui. There are several enjoyable scenes in the current King Kekaulike production. Multiple highlights of note are the strong comedic, vocal and dance performances of Madison Stephens-McGuire as Sharpay Evans, and Noah Clayton as her twin brother, Ryan Evans. Author David Simpatico’s book is filled with several scathing, sarcastic one-liners and Stephens-Maguire is especially gifted at delivering those laughs adeptly throughout the show.
Strong harmony vocals between the leads, Vince Sotoza as Troy Bolton and Puakenikeni Kepler as Gabriella Montez, on “What I’ve Been Looking For (Reprise),” were equally entertaining, as were the featured actor performances of Jessie Thomas, Maile Kepler and Dane Osako, whose spot-on school announcements kept “High School Musical” on track. Nash Ventura, so impressive in January’s “Pillow Talk,” gives another college-worthy performance as drama instructor Ms. Darbus.
The never ending “We’re All In This Together” finale in “HSM” is the most impressive offering and the song that will be stuck in your head all weekend. Fluff or not, this extensive exclamation point of a number upon an already high energy would exhaust any adult musical theater performer.
* The King Kekaulike Dramaaticans conclude “Disney High School Musical,” by David Simpatico, directed by Chris Kepler, with orchestra direction by Casey Nagata, vocal direction by Bill Kepler and choreography by Dejah Padon. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the cafetorium at the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students and are available at the door 30 minutes before the show.
This past weekend Seabury Hall showcased all levels of its dance department in a recital of the work these talented students have been perfecting all year. The 28th annual Dance Showcase presented 18 pieces including Andre Morissette’s tap heavy “Metropolis,” performed by the Seabury Hall Dance Ensemble, comprised of Alex Abraham, Nichole Bland, Tahiti Cabrinha, Anna Chasen, Kaya Dugan, Lona Girdin, Ella Markham, Kailani Phillips, Jenna Quinocho, Sierra Schonberg and Amelie Werthheim. This award-winning up-tempo piece featuring the music of Duke Ellington was reminiscent of 1930s Busby Berkeley choreography. “Golden Light,” choreographed by David Ward, was a soothing, ethereal piece set to a Jennifer Hudson recording of “Golden Slumbers and Carry That Weight,” performed by Level B dancers Sharon Balberdi, Maia Brown, Grace Deveane, Emalia Drood, Meeya Dugied, Noa Greenwell, Rina Hata, Malia Jalbert, Daisy Kopyienshi, Ava Notarangelo, Sophia Preiser, Jasmine Trautman and Penelope Woodward.
A crowd favorite was “Banging the Beat,” by guest choreographers Tito and Meghan Reyes, an athletic hip-hop piece performed by Level C dancers Gabby Alford, Rachel Bergson, Caitlyn Campbell, Miranda Gundred, Ohia Hall, Gabriella Kanoa, Sasha Kovacic, Skyler Masuda, Lucy McLeod, Jena Mukai, Jessica Nelson, Chiara Pogacic, Sophia Preiser, Hannah Rosenthal, Haley Shapiro and Taylor Takatani.
My personal favorite piece, which closed the performance, was Ward’s “Yes, We Can-Can,” also performed by the Seabury Hall Dance Ensemble. The fast-paced “Moulin Rouge”-esque work required great agility, speed and strength, bringing the engaging evening of dance to a crescendo.
Also this week
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents Kamehameha Schools Hawaii’s production of “Ha’upu: A Hawaiian Opera.” This Maui premiere of the Hawaiian-language opera will be performed by the students of Kamehameha Schools Hawaii. Ha’upu tells the legend of Kana and Hina. It is a story of the Wa Kahiko, the ancient times when gods would walk among men.
The opera will be performed entirely in the Hawaiian language and a program will be provided that includes a thorough summary of each act so that audiences can follow along.
The production made history last August when it was selected by the American High School Theater Festival to be performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest performing arts festival.
* Performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets range from $25 to $35, with half-priced tickets for children 12 and under (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
ProArts Inc. concludes “Dial M for Murder,” by Frederick Knott (“Wait Until Dark”), directed by Francis Tau’a.
* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $26 and available by phone at 463-6550 or online at www.proartsmaui.com.