Depression-era drama tugs at heart

Stage Review

Jonathan Yudis (from left), Don Carlson and Francis Tau‘a make plans in Maui OnStage’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” continuing through May 13. Jack Grace photos

A spectacular drama not only lingers in the hearts and minds of an audience immediately following its conclusion, but also remains with us subconsciously for a lifetime. Maui OnStage’s “Of Mice and Men” is an overpowering, uncommon and essential production flooded with prodigious artistic aptitude.

In dual leading male roles, both Don Carlson and Francis Tau’a surpass their previous dramatic offerings. Carlson’s everyman persona as George stirs the soul with a quiet dignity that masks clandestine anguish hidden just beneath the surface. That fury is only seen in small flares amid burdensome moments of being the caregiver of a special needs adult.

Tau’a, from the play’s opening scene, infuses humor and affability into Lennie that is uniquely his own. His Lennie is human and, at times, terrifying because the interpretation is so valid.

As impressive as these two performances are, it is the contributions of a flawless cast that makes “Of Mice and Men” so superb.

As the aging and handicapped Candy, Jonathan Yudis gives a stage verite-like portrayal of the dispirited old-hand, complimented with a notable character arc that maneuvers from hopeful to vanquished.

Lia De Souza, as “Curley’s Wife,” (left) and Carlson square off. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $20 to $40 with $10 student tickets. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

Daniel Vicars plays Slim with a relaxed, comfortable demeanor conveying both know-how as his character and commitment as an actor. There are no wasted or unnecessary lines in a Steinbeck story, and for the most part there is no waste in this wonderful production, beautifully directed by Alexis Dascoulias.

Aiding this sublime Maui OnStage offering is an elegant set by Caro Walker, transcendent lighting by Amy Lord and ideal sound design, ranging from crickets to Depression era music, by Dawn Harper (Kealoha).

In his first stage role, James Reid as Curley ably provides the essential youthful angst and unchecked rage essential to the story, which is well countered by Orion Milligan’s unhardened brightness as Whit, who is content with the simple joys of youth.

Jim Oxborrow as Carlson gives us a glimpse of who Curley could become were it not for the fact that Curley is the Boss’s son. Oxborrow displays the irritation of a man that was dealt a bum hand and no longer expects any luck to come his way. In a smaller role, Frank Hayes conveys the ominous, imposing patriarchal charisma necessary as the Boss.

In a simply magnificent multi-layered performance, Rueben Carrion commands the stage in Act 2 as Crooks, the lone black employee confined to living in a barn apart from everyone else.

I have frequently called Lia De Souza the most talented performer on Maui, and just as the rest of the cast does, she has risen to the occasion alongside her cast mates to present a bravura performance.

On the surface, Curley’s Wife (the character has no name), could easily be misconceived as a sexist, insignificant literary character from a bygone era. She is not, and De Souza asserts her perspective with an inimitable 21st-century take.

De Souza’s “wife” is abused, neglected, ignored and, more importantly, exceedingly lonely. The fear she invokes in the men is of their creation. Her performance crescendos into the most authentic stage scene of the season, which fittingly comes near season’s end — a physical offering that disturbs and stuns. Dascoulias’ “Of Mice and Men” is must-see theater and belongs on the best of the season short list.

Also this week

Maui Academy of Performing Arts showcases hundreds of dancers each May in the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului with its “Spring Extravaganza,” which takes place this weekend.

Four shows will be performed starring three-year-old pre-ballet students, the advanced teens and adult guest performers. The recital of dance performances opens at 1 p.m. Saturday with the “Jazz, Tap & Hip-Hop Revue,” followed at 7:30 p.m. by “MOVES” featuring MAPA’s most experienced dancers, along with a guest appearance by Adaptations Dance Theater.

On Sunday, over 200 ballerinas present the ballet “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with performances at 1 and 6 p.m.

* Tickets range from $17 to $22 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.

*****

The Baldwin High Performing Arts Learning Center and Baldwin Theatre Guild present their 13th annual “Variety Show Extravaganza.” The original revue created by the Baldwin students features singing, dancing and skits.

“This is a truly original one-of-a-kind show. The students always come up with a wide range of ideas — whether Broadway, film, movies or TV, this show always promises to be totally new, fun and entertaining,” says director Linda Carnevale.

* Performances are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, opening Friday through May 13 in the Loudon Mini-Theatre at back of the Baldwin High School Campus in Wailuku. General admission tickets are $5 and are available at the box office 30 minutes prior to show time.

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