Plight of migrant workers …

… heartbreakingly told in Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’

Don Carlson (left) and Francis Tau‘a take on John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” in Maui OnStage’s production, directed by Alexis Dascoulias. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays opening Friday through May 13 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com. Jack Grace photo

For roughly 80 years, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” has been widely accepted as one of the greatest American stories ever written. Its prestige has certainly been aided by English teachers for three generations, but perhaps user-friendliness is why this unsophisticated and to-the-point novella is universally well-liked.

I’m certain that more than one teenager picked “Of Mice and Men” because it was the thinnest book, but what we discover inside is a tale that touches upon dreams, hopes, compassion, love and steadfast camaraderie — no matter the obstacle or outcome.

This weekend Maui OnStage at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku will open the stage version adapted by Steinbeck himself.

George (Don Carlson) and Lennie (Francis Tau’a) are two displaced farm workers in search of employment in California’s Salinas Valley during the Great Depression.

Lennie is a hulking, strong man and a hard worker — yet mentally disabled. George is a “brother’s keeper,” serving as Lennie’s friend, caregiver and conscience.

Puakenikeni Kepler (from left), Juliet Moniz and Joey Moepono impress in King Kekaulike’s production, “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree.” Photo courtesy KKHS Drama

After being hired at a ranch, the duo is confronted by Curley (James Reid), the hostile son of the Boss (Frank Hayes), who maltreats Lennie. Their troubles continue by means of Curley’s beautiful and flirtatious wife (Lia De Souza).

I sat with Carlson, De Souza and Tau’a last week and asked what drew them to the production.

“I’ve wanted to play Lennie since the seventh grade when I read it for an oral book report,” said Tau’a. “Whenever I get the chance, I love a good meaty part.”

“Being from California, Steinbeck is practically the Bible,” added Carlson. “I’m a Western kid. His are the first books we read in school, and when I saw the original movie, it haunted me. Anytime I get the chance to sink my teeth into this kind of drama, I can’t say no.”

De Souza expressed her high regard for Carlson and Tau’a.

Dale Button is Snoopy and Kathryn Holtkamp is Sally in the ProArts Playhouse production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” continuing through May 13. Jack Grace photo

“I wanted to explore the actor side of me, and to learn and work with stage actors I respect and admire,” she explained.

I asked all three to share their experiences in developing their characters.

“After reading it again, I realized that I could identify with her. Curley’s wife has no name on purpose. She embodies the complexities of being a woman that are apropos to the current social climate,” De Souza shared.

“I’m interested to find out how the audience feels about her. Do they hate her? It’s a strong picture of loneliness. She has no voice and struggles to find her place. I have a connection and a voice for her,” added De Souza.

“What hooked me on Lennie is his innocence,” shared Tau’a. “He is oblivious that everyone around him is so lonely — because he’s never known loneliness. He’s always had someone to take care of him.”

“There’s a real true loyalty between George and Lennie,” added Carlson. “Self sacrifice is an important strength of character that is sorely lacking in today’s age. Lennie brings out the best in George. He keeps George out of trouble. Were it not for Lennie, (George would) be in the cat houses and playing cards and drinking.”

De Souza, who is also a high school teacher, talked about how dreams permeate the stirring story.

“Everybody in this play has dreams — it is what keeps them going. There is an importance to dreaming. The only character that doesn’t have one is Curley, and he’s always mad,” she said. “There is a dreamy quality to ‘Of Mice and Men,’ from Steinbeck’s word choices, the way each character speaks and the pictures he creates.”

*****

It would be easy to honor the new King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center in Pukalani as the star of its current production, “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree,” and I could certainly devote hundreds of words sharing the details of last weekend’s opening night gala, but it is the student actors that literally brought this astounding facility to life.

Even more impressive than all the opening night pageantry was the performance of Juliet Moniz as the haughty Lady Prescott, with her stage presence, comedic ability and superior vocals on “A Lady of Sensibility.”

Another noteworthy comic performance was Joe Moepono as the foppish Professor Bidwell.

In the title role, Puakenikeni Kepler’s advanced acting and vocal skills anchor the production in a performance that one might expect from a college student.

As Jane, Captain Bree’s first mate, Madison Stephens-Maguire perfectly complements Kepler, especially when the two sing together on “Thar Be a Man for Every Wench.” Senior Kaya Glomb also impresses and charms as Shawna, the man-crazy lady pirate.

This signature King Kekaulike “Dramaaticans” musical was so highlight-filled, that there are too many of the 60-plus contributors to recognize. It would, however, be delinquent of me not to acknowledge the contributions of Technical Director Amy Lord, Orchestral Director Casey Nagata, Vocal Director Dr. William Kepler and Director Chris Kepler.

Opening night speeches referenced “a village” several times. A village built this performing arts center, which is sure to wow at first site, but Kepler dreamed-up a big-hearted drama program that will assuredly be loving caretakers.

• King Kekaulike Drama concludes “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree,” book by Martin A. Follose, music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center at the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets for any King Kekaulike Drama event, visit www.kingkekaulike.com.

*****

Seabury Hall’s 29th annual “Dance Showcase 2018” is chockfull of memorable displays of excellence — but as I watched, and then inspected the program in those moments, director David Ward was the frequent contributor. The choreographed piece by Ward that most impressed me was the welling, dreamy and dramatic “Lifted,” set to k.d. lang’s soundtrack from “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”

Although classical, academic performance will only aid the training required for future college dance majors, so does original contemporary dance. The Seabury Hall dance ensemble members in “Lifted” — Nichole Bland, Tahiti Cabrinha, Lona Girardin, Kalani Phillips and Jenna Quiocho — offered a hypnotic journey and glimpse into their potential future as professional dancers.

As much as I prefer 21st-century artistic ideas, I was additionally impressed with the Level C dancers on Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot.” Maia Brown, Cabi Cote, Meeya Dugied, Rina Hata, Malia Jalbert, Gabriella Kanoa, Daisy Kopycienski, Megan Malcolm, Leah McGregor, Jessica Nelson, Ava Notarangelo and Sophia Preiser are poised to ably represent the advanced ensemble next season.

I was also captivated by Vanessa Cerrito’s urbane “Clockwork” featuring the Ballet 2 students, and Andre Morissette’s gentle “Downpour,” again performed by the dance ensemble.

Another highlight was the ensemble’s mashed-up hip-hop and pop performance of “Greed,” choreographed by Meghan and Tito Reyes. It is a blessing that all of the major high school performing arts programs now have appropriate venues to showcase their talented students, who at times equal or surpass Maui’s finest adult performers.

• Seabury Hall Performing Arts concludes “Dance Showcase 2018.” Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in Seabury Hall’s ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center in Makawao. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. To purchase tickets for any Seabury Hall Performing Arts event, visit www.seaburyhall.org.

Also this week

ProArts Playhouse in Kihei continues “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” by Clark Gesner, directed by Ally Shore, with musical direction by Kim Vetterli.

A review of this delightful musical-comedy will appear in Backstage next week. The timeless characters of Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts” are played by Dale Button, John Galvan, Logan Heller, Kathryn Holtkamp, Lina Krueger and Kiegan Otterson.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through May 13 at the ProArts Playhouse at Azeka Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com.

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