'Those of you familiar with Brian's work know that it's not your normal fare; it's strange and raw," director Derek Nakagawa told the audience on opening night of "A Night in Wailea" at Gallerie Ha last weekend.
However, for many of us in the small, brightly lit venue, the play by Maui playwright Brian Peoples stopped being edgy and unique about halfway in, and became more a matter of endurance. As one audience member put it, people were "squirming in their seats,"
The one-act play features two of Maui's best actors, Dale Button and William Makozak, with a script that surely challenges their sensibilities; yet they deliver their lines with grace and style. With just a couch and a few wineglasses to set the scene, they create a mood of simmering tension that could've filled a much larger stage.
Button plays Raymond Chamberstein, a dignified cinematic icon past his prime who lives alone in a Wailea mansion. On the night in question, he is dancing with a cushion out of sheer loneliness. When two actor brothers, the bullying Dirk (Makozak) and the dangerously juvenile Billy (Peoples), appear on his doorstep, Raymond invites them in. The dialogue drags as they swig wine and make small talk, punctuated by Billy's incessant high-pitched giggling.
There are some humorous moments that stem mainly from the juxtaposition of cultured vs. coarse: Dirk not understanding Raymond's refined vocabulary ("Genre huh?"); Raymond reacting to the brothers' skit from the movie "Rocky" ("Oh, my, I was stunned!"); Billy scarfing down hors d'oeuvres while Dirk spits them out in disgust; and the brothers choking back laughter during a prolonged discussion of Raymond's "pianist" ex-boyfriend.
Peoples also works in a few jabs at Maui's performing-arts community for its tendency to feature crowd-pleasing classics like "Annie" and "The Music Man," rather than edgier fare.
* Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information, call 244-3993.
The first hint of violence comes when Dirk twists Billy's arm, and we see the frightening aggression of which he's capable, seething in Makozak's forceful presence. When the mood suddenly shifts and the brothers ignore Raymond's request for them to leave, we are ready for the action, but not for the unrelenting verbal and physical assault that follows.
There are only so many times you can listen to anti-gay slurs with graphic references to sexual acts and still maintain a thoughtful interest. The worthless, sickening insults continue to fly long after they've worn out their effect, coupled with blows, kicks and slaps that are sometimes so real it's hard to watch. No wonder Button looked a bit dazed when he came out to take a bow at the end.
At least one audience member walked out during the play, but those of us who sat through it were vindicated by seeing Raymond cleverly turn the tables on his attackers at the end, never losing his dignity despite the degradation to which he was subjected.
This is Peoples' fifth and last play on Maui before he moves to Europe, so for fans of his style, "A Night in Wailea" is a must-see event. For the rest of us, the "standard fare" that Peoples ridicules sounds like the perfect antidote for what we just endured.
After the play, Gallerie Ha owner Pat Masumoto shares excerpts from last year's "My Mama Monologues" and gives a preview of the upcoming show, featuring dozens of real-life stories from writers around the world.