'Stop smelling!" Mrs. Fujiuchi admonished her idealistic, self-deprecating employee, Nornette, in "Half Dozen Long Stem," which ran last weekend at the Historic Iao Theater. In the latest production from the "Talking Stories" series, the play's wide-eyed ingenue can't help herself. It's one of the few indulgences in her regimented, predictable life. During the course of the play, the audience witnesses the eternal wallflower (played by Cheri Nashiwa, who also serves on the board of "Talking Stories") blossom, finally venturing out of the flower shop and into her own future.
The "Talking Stories" series features local playwrights, actors and directors, encouraging the preservation of local and Hawaiian culture through the performing arts. The characters in the charming slice of life play, written and directed by Lee Cataluna and Derek Nakagawa, respectively, could be anyone's cousin, sister, aunty, uncle or nutty neighbor.
This lively, funny and often touching production featured Maui's own Renaissance woman, Kathy Collins, as cranky florist, Mrs. Fujiuchi, whose business is threatened after her recently-deceased ex-husband leaves his share to his fabulously ditzy second-wife, Roslyn.
ROBBIE SPENSER photo
Cyndi Mayo Davis is the fabulously ditzy Roslyn.
The play opened with a series of "live" commercials from local sponsors, all of which incorporated the sweet-smelling set: fragrant cabbage roses, tuber roses and carnations rubbed elbows with regal king protea and flamboyant heliconia. The stage erupted in color -even the neon "Open" sign shone bright red - and the scent permeated the Iao.
In addition to its cynical, bristly owner, Fujiuchi's flower shop is the center of the universe for five additional wayward souls: Nornette - whose attachment to things "exactly as they are" has left her lonely and static; Bertram-the egomaniacal "player" whose endless female conquests keep Mrs. Fujiuch's shop in the black; Roslyn - a materialistic "sweet young thing" who once stole Mr. Fujiuchi, but who has grown wiser with age; Bully - the lovable hypochondriac delivery boy who never delivers a thing and, finally, Romell, the ultra-fabulous floral "artiste."
The interactions between these very different personality types kept the audience in stitches from the first line to the last. "Half Dozen Long Stem" is real community theater - theater that is actually about the community, theater which invites the community to come in and get a look at itself. Although the play takes place on Oahu, the shop could just have easily been on the corner of Market and Main in Wailuku. Kathy Collins played Mrs. Fujiuchi so convincingly, I felt she was channeling my own husband's grandmother - her walk, her expression, her feigned meanness, under which was hidden a lifetime of loves, hopes and fears.
Iokepa Cabanilla-Aricayos gave Rommell just the right amount of panache and sass. His over-the-top malapropisms created the play's most raucous (and sometimes raunchy) moments. Romell's wacky, Vegas-style floral aesthetic and fascination with the personal dramas behind each order made him the perfect foil for sensible Nornette and hardened Fujiuchi.
The play's title, "Half Dozen Long Stem," refers to Nornette's recommendation that Bertram (Wayne "Shakey" Boteilho's debut performance with "Talking Stories" included a lot of very funny Elvis-esque gyrations) take it slow - and send his lady friends an understated bouquet of roses rather than a full dozen showy blooms.
When Nornette fakes her own upcoming nuptials to get Mrs. Fujiuchi to keep her shop open long enough to do all her wedding flowers, all the characters come together to reveal the true depth of their feelings for each other. The cast worked so well together that the comedy never slipped into slapstick silliness and the sentimentality never slid into sappiness. Everyone walked out smiling. Sweet!