Wow! Just wow. That's a pretty mundane comment, but I'm literally speechless over Marc Bamuthi Joseph's "Word Becomes Flesh." Though the attendance was sparse, the Sunday night audience at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater was a veritable who's who in the Maui art world. Essentially it was a performance for artists, writers and performers. The collective consensus of those creative types was complete awe, a silent exit as everyone contemplated what it was that we had just experienced.
Not to slight Maui theater, but Joseph's production is the kind of quality Maui should aspire to. From the perfection of all things technical to the another-level performers themselves, "Word Becomes Flesh" may be the most impressive show presented on the island in years. Joseph describes his new medium as a "choreo-poem," which is a good summation except that the effect is much richer than poetry combined with dance. It is sort of like a hip-hop opera, but without any singing if that makes sense. It also attacks hip-hop music and its culture, even while utilizing them.
"Word Becomes Flesh" is poetic prose and political statements surrounding a black male expecting his first child. Five actors play that one man: Dahlak Brathwaite, Daveed Diggs, Khalil Anthony, Michael Wayne Turner III and B. Yung. Dion Decibels DJs from onstage, providing the soundtrack to each "choreo-poem."
Mark Bamuthi Joseph’s unique production dazzled a small but appreciative Castle Theater audience last Sunday.
Photo provided by the Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Snow White (Sienna Minnock), the Evil Queen (Julianna Scharnhorst) and the rest of the cast have been held over for another weekend in the Baldwin High School Loudon minitheater.
JAMIE LONG photo
The dialogue and subject matter of the play are highly controversial and much of what's said can't be put in print. The power of African-Americans criticizing themselves in a politically incorrect way is at times shocking and it was only fitting that excerpts from a Malcolm X speech were used as an audio accompaniment as the talented cast explored racism. Powerful words are presented as a dance with a rhythmic score of beats and bits of melody. Each performer is an independent star in his own right, but the troupe melds into one being. By show's end it became difficult to remember who did what; it truly became one man with five aspects of his journey into fatherhood.
Considered Joseph's seminal work, "Word Becomes Flesh" has been touring the United States since 2003. He describes "Flesh" as "confronting the intersection of the physical reality and mythology about the black male body, from the cotton field to the athletic field and all the spaces in between." The former Broadway star of the Tony award- winning "The Tap Dance Kid" was honored in 2007 by Smithsonian Magazine as one of America's top young innovators in the arts and sciences. He spoke briefly before the performance to acknowledge the MACC's diverse season and its commitment to presenting new works.
The powers that be at the MACC have made some bold choices this season from Sheetal Gandhi's "Bahu-Beti-Biwi" to Ben Vareen to February's Martha Graham Dance Company. If you didn't already know, tickets for most events at the MACC start at just $12, so don't let price scare you away from the groundbreaking New York-quality performances happening this season at Castle Theater.
It's been a busy year for Mark Collmer, ranging from managing Maui Academy of Performing Arts productions to performing, singing and even dancing at times. In October he directed "Sylvia" for ProArts and designed lights for Maui OnStage's "Cask of Amontillado," all the while preparing to reprise his role as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" at the Historic Iao Theater.
I asked him if it was a challenge to reprise the role, and he quickly corrected me: "Not a challenge, an exciting opportunity. Dickens' writing is so rich and Scrooge is so complex that the choices are infinite. I think that is why the range of actors to tackle this role includes Alistair Simms, George C. Scott and Henry Winkler."
When asked how he can juggle so many projects at the same time, Collmer offered, "I thrive on diversity. I wish I could say it's easy to switch your brain from director duties to performance; it's not. Luckily, I have the time to devote to a role such as this. I haven't had this kind of freedom in my schedule since my college days."
In addition to Collmer's work on Maui, he has taught theater in his hometown of Upper Bucks County, Pa., and at the University of Illinois. Prior to coming to Maui he was with the prestigious Scottsdale Center for the Arts in Arizona. In light of the current troubles in the United States, Collmer added, "When you think about the 99 percent, Occupy Wall Street and Marley's speech (in "A Christmas Carol") that "mankind should have been my business," over 150 years later those words are stronger than ever and perhaps even more relevant today."
* "A Christmas Carol" will open the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, and run weekends through Dec. 11. For more information contact Maui OnStage at 244-8680 or visit mauionstage.com.
Baldwin High School Performing Arts Learning Center and the Baldwin Theatre Guild have added an additional weekend of their hit production, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," a musical based on the story by the Brothers Grimm, through Sunday at the Baldwin High School Loudon minitheater. The book, music and lyrics are by Carol Weiss; Linda Carnevale directs.
* The final three performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the door only: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for 17 and younger. The box office will open one hour prior to showtimes and seating begins a half-hour prior to the performance.
Also this weekend
The Seabury Hall middle school presents its annual play this weekend, "Amanda Danger" by Robert Lawson. Big-city reporter Amanda Danger wants to cover something new, and when her editor sends her to Venice she gets her chance. Lawson describes his tale as a "noir comedic action adventure." "Amanda Danger" is appropriate for audiences of all ages.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the performing arts center at Seabury Hall. Tickets - $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for students - may be reserved by calling 573-1257.
MAPA announces new winter classes! Artists Francis Tau'a and Tina Kailiponi will teach two winter drama camps running 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec.19 to 23 and 26 to 30. Students ages 5 to 9 may sign up for one or both weeks. They will have fun with acting, music, movement and visual arts.
Winter dance camp, taught by Rebecca Owen, will cover skills in ballet, tap, hip-hop, memorization, flexibility, coordination and teamwork. Geared for students ages 6 to 10, the dance camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 26 to 30. The camps culminate in performances of original productions for family and friends on the last day of each week. Tuition is $175 per week.
In the winter ballet camp, 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 19 to 23, students in levels I/II and II (ages 10 and older) will work with ballet mistress Barry Brinker Jones to enhance technique, work on pre-pointe conditioning and learn holiday choreography. Tuition is $150.
The dance smorgasbord workshops for ages 12 to adult will run 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 to 22. MAPA alumni Rachel Berman, Julia Cost and Ali McKeon return from the Mainland for the holidays to teach three workshops in modern, modern partnering, contemporary and lyrical jazz for intermediate and advanced dancers. Cost is $20 for one workshop or $55 for three workshops. All the camps are held at MAPA Main Studios in Wailuku. Space is limited, so register early. To download a registration form, go to mauiacademy.org or call 244-8760.
Details, applications and regulations for the second annual Maui Fringe Festival are now available at the Maui OnStage website. One- act plays of 60 minutes or less may now be submitted for the three-day theater marathon to be held Memorial Day weekend, 2012. Writers of all experience levels are encouraged to submit their original performance pieces.
If you didn't attend last year's Fringe, here's how it works: Multiple production companies pack their shows into a suitcase or two and present a bare production every hour or so for three days.
Writer/producers pay $500 to perform their show three times at the Historical Iao Theater and receive 50 percent of their box office sales. Maui OnStage provides publicity, a house staff, a tech crew, backstage help and general assistance. No one ever got rich doing a Fringe Fest, but it's a wonderful way to get your play up on its feet.
Submission will be considered until mid-January, and the winning entries will be announced in February.
To submit, mail a copy of your original script along with a $20 submission fee to Maui OnStage, 68 N. Market St., Wailuku 96793. For more information and a printable application, visit mauionstage.com.