Director David Johnston was worried. It was two weeks after auditions for the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of "The Grapes of Wrath," and he still had several male roles to fill.
"I was just sitting there going, 'What am I going to do? I need more men to drop out of the sky!' " he recalls. "Right then, my daughter called from the MAPA building and said, 'There are four guys here for the auditions; what should I tell them?' "
Turns out the men were new to Maui and had found the audition notice in an old newspaper. "Tell them to hang on, I'll be right there!" Johnston told his daughter. After four on-the-spot auditions, he got his much-needed actors.
ERIC ROLPH photo
Tom Joad (Daryl Jane, from left), Grandpa (Mark Collmer) and Pa (William Makozak) dream of a better life in California in MAPA’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
It's that kind of despair-to-hope transition that permeates "The Grapes of Wrath," based on the epic novel by John Steinbeck, opening at Steppingstone Playhouse Friday, April 3. Adapted by Frank Galati, the play is set during the Great Depression and follows the desperately proud Joad family as they journey from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the promised land of California.
The family's trials and hardships are representative of a dark time in American history. But Johnston says the play is more uplifting than depressing.
"Part of our job as theater artists is to tell stories that bring the community together and that guide us in the choices we make," he says.
"The show offers a great feeling of hope, so that by the end - even though you're dealing with so many depressing things along the way - the message is there that you can get through this by having a strong community around you. You can survive the change and come out better, if we work together and help each other It's such a rich script, and so relevant to what's going on right now."
The current economy necessitated a smaller production this year than MAPA's traditional big "Pieces" production at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center (although MAPA's "Spring Extravaganza" will still take place there in May).
"I was thinking, 'I'd love to do something a little meatier; it's been so long since I've done that,'" Johnston says.
Seventeen years, to be exact, since the last time he directed "Grapes of Wrath" at the old Kahului Community Center, before the MACC was built. Since then, Johnston has been haunted by a particular song from the play: "Rose of Sharon," a gorgeous piece which comes right at the end.
"The music (by Michael Smith) is fabulous; it's like another character in the play," Johnston says. "Some is authentic music from that period that really adds another dimension." Alan Hodara will lead four musicians on banjo, guitar, fiddle and harmonica.
Twenty-six actors will play the 40-some roles, with a strong core of veteran actors plus some newcomers to the stage. Johnston promises a stylized, "stripped-down" version of the play that really focuses on the acting and the words.
"The writing is so incredible, and the characters are so rich and deep," he says. "Musicals can be a little lean in their book, but this is just a treasure. You can be enfolded in it and swept away by it. It's about people struggling and coming through, about the tenacity that they have, about the human spirit that drives them."
Carolyn Wright plays the strong matriarchal role, Ma Joad. Coming off a 15-year hiatus from the stage to raise her own family, Wright sees theater as a powerful way for people to connect and build community.
"Whether you'rean actor oran audience member, you get topeel away the layers of everyday life and experience what itis that truly makes us human," she says. "It's these connections with one another that make life meaningful and give us the strength to survive anything."
Although the show is not recommended for little kids, Johnston highly recommends it for junior high and up. "I hope high school kids are still reading Steinbeck!" he says. If not, maybe the play will inspire them to pick up a book.
"The Grapes of Wrath" runs through April 19 at Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays (no performance on Easter Sunday). Tickets are $16; available at the mall's customer service kiosk, by calling 244-8760, or online at www.mauiacademy.org.
Haleakala Waldorf School in Kula will present the timeless story of "Peter Pan" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Watch 8th-graders enact J.M. Barrie's fantastic story of "the boy who would not grow up," taking the audience along with them to Never Never Land. The opening night show is followed by an opportunity to "mingle with the stars": Peter, Wendy, John, Michael, the Darling Family, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians, the Lost Boys and of course, Tinker Bell. Mercy Kraft and Tana Larson direct this musical production. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students; available by calling 876-0835. For more information, visit www.waldorfmaui.org.
If laughter is the best medicine, then an evening with Frank DeLima must be good for your health. The popular Hawaii comedian will perform at the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 3. DeLima has been part of the islands' comedy scene for more than 30 years, during which time he's won numerous awards for his humor, including 11 Na Hoku Hanohano awards. His characters and impersonations range from crazy aunties to musical parodies about the latest issues, celebrating ethnic differences (including his own colorful background) and poking fun at them in his comedic routines. Tickets are $25, half-price for kids 12 and younger. Applicable fees are added to tickets for all MACC shows, available at the MACC box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
Original musical "The Fisherman and his Wife" returns to Maui in April with performances at many local schools. The performance is part of MAPA's Educational Theatre Tours, and has been touring preschools, elementary and middle schools around the state. The lively show by Larry and Vivian Snipes is based on the Brothers Grimm tale about a talking fish, with music by Marti Kluth. The show is 40 minutes long and includes grade-level study guides based on HCPS III. For more information, visit www.mauiacademy.org.
Opera is elementary, it seems Kula Elementary School recently collaborated with Hawaii Opera Theatre to produce Georges Bizet's"Carmen." HOT worked with the school's students in grades K through 5, helping the young actors to put on five performances of the classic tale about the beautiful gypsy and her jealous soldier.
* Contact Sky Barnhart at email@example.com.