MAPA's "Lesser Ahi" is billed as a comedy, but there is much more happening at the Steppingstone Playhouse than laughter. The tale is bittersweet at times with several poignant moments about the meaning of ohana. There are many plays running head-to-head this month, but if you can't make the time to catch them all, don't let "Ahi" slip through the cracks. It may still be a little rough around the edges, but that is the excitement of a world premiere. The story unfolds perfectly as brothers Andrew (Derek Nakagawa) and Anden (Francis Tau'a) share opposite ends of the stage having cell phone conversations with their parents. A "no love lost" relationship between the brothers is quickly apparent.
After a quick change, Tau'a and Nakagawa reemerge as Mommy and Daddy. This first scene with the parents is one of the best and funniest of the entire production. Director David Johnston cleverly choreographs scene changes during one-sided cell phone conversations which allow each actor quick change time to become his "new" character. The reason "Ahi" remains so fresh from start to finish is its quick pace and constant movement. Mommy reveals that Andrew and Anden are "not evangelical, what's it? paternal twins" via her to-much-information labor story. The similarity between the two names is also explained. The first- born was named Andrew "after the Saint an' den (pause), so that's what the nurse wrote down." Andrew and Anden have not seen each other since Anden went off to Oxford to study music six years prior. He returns to Maui to marry the daughter of his music professor, Monty (also played by Tau'a).
There are many hysterical scenes in "Ahi" but none better than Monty's acclimation to island life while hanging out in the family garage with Daddy. Monty's reaction after trying li hing mui is priceless.
Levi Young (Huckleberry, from left), Shawn Naone-Burger (Duke), Dylan Thomas (Tom) and Joshua Berman (King) appear in the King Kekaulike Dramatic Arts Company’s “Huckleberry Finn”, opening Friday.
Photo courtesy King Kekaulike Dramatic Arts Company
One minor flaw to "Ahi" is that the actors need to hold for laughs when possible. Johnston's choice of a very fast pace is an exceptional one, however, and Nakagawa's and Tau'a's timing is near perfect. Another brilliant choice is Kathleen Shultz's understated drag costumes. Yes, they are loud and colorful, the audience instantly laughs when either actor emerges clad in muumuus and leopard print, but it's just ridiculous enough that you continue to let the lines deliver the laugh as opposed to a 10-second sight gag. Two other great character choices of note are Tau'a's Uncle Chin and Nakagawa's Jesse. All of Uncle Chin's lines are completely unintelligible, yet I understood every word. In addition to Nakagawa's perfect depiction of every Hawaiian dad you've ever met, as Daddy, he rocks Jesse too, the black sheep, dead beat, stoner cousin who never has a lighter.
My inner jury is still out on whether the songs in "Ahi" are necessary, but the sibling rivalry revolves around a high school band, failed dreams and a stolen song, so it would have been difficult not to include music. It's possible that if you just moved here or you're visiting, you may not get "Ahi," not unlike Monty and the li hing mui. But on the other hand, if you've lived here your whole life and rarely attend theater, you'll love "Lesser Ahi." "Lesser Ahi" and "On Golden Pond" are neither commercial nor conventional. There are plenty of empty seats available, but in my opinion they are the two best productions of the 2011-12 theater season thus far.
* The world-premiere of "Lesser Ahi," created by Francis Tau'a and Derek Nakagawa, directed by David C. Johnston continues through May 5. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Tickets are $16 adults, $14 seniors and $12 students. For reservations or more information call 244-8760 or visit mauiacademy.org.
Also this week
Maui Slam Poetry celebrates its sixth anniversary with "Earth Slam!" tonight at Casanova Makawao. Enjoy a full night of creativity and art to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth. The theme for this month's Slam is climate change. Poets and performers are encouraged to raise their voices for a healthier earth, while competing for the $100 cash prize. Open poet sign-up happens from 9 to 9:30 p.m.; all poems should be three minutes or less and the poet's original creation. Costumes, props and group pieces are encouraged. Additional entertainment includes "dirty earth" musings by comedian Chino LaForge, an "upcycled" bikini fashion show by Indie Attire, turntable sorcery by DJ Boomshot and visual alchemy by Douglas Deboer.
* "Earth Slam!" happens tonight at Casanova Makawao. Tickets are available at the door $5 before 9:30 p.m. $10 after.
The Performing Arts Learning Center and Baldwin High School Thespian Troupe present "Play On!" by Rick Abbott, directed by Linda Carnevale, continuing through Sunday. This special production is open to only the Baldwin students honored with being thespians.
"Play On!" is the story of a theater group trying desperately to put on a play in spite of Murphy's Law. Actors, technicians, and the director are all caught up in this madcap comedy.
The Thespians Troupe will be hosting a Gala Fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. Saturday prior to that evening's performance that includes pre-show entertainment, desserts and beverages. Gala ticket prices are $17 adults, $15 seniors, $13 students ages 11 to 17, and $10 children age 10 and younger. All proceeds will go toward this year's Thespian Troupe scholarships and next year's student New York trip.
* "Play On!" performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday at the Baldwin High School Loudon Mini-Theatre. Tickets are $10 adults, $8 seniors and $7 age 17 and younger. The box office opens one hour before showtime.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents its 23rd annual recital, "Dance Showcase 2012", in the Performing Arts Studio this weekend. This year's showcase includes "Velvet Voices: The American Song Book" with pieces from every level of the dance and ballet classes. Dance teachers David Ward, Andre Morissette and Vanessa Cerrito have choreographed dance to the lush voices of Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, The Manhattan Transfer, Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James.
* "Dance Showcase 2012" performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets are $11 adults, $9 senior citizens and $5 for students. For more information and reservations, call 573-1257.
King Kekaulike Dramatic Arts Company opens "Huckleberry Finn" Friday, continuing though May 6. Enjoy this musical comedy adaptation of Mark Twain's classic tale of Huck Finn (Levi Young) along with Tom Sawyer (Dylan Thomas), the King (Joshua Berman), the Duke (Shawn Naone-Burger), Mary Jane Wilks (Fiona Wais), Susan Wilks (Katarina Kress) and Joanna Wilks (Rachel Simmons) on a series of adventures and mishaps along the Mississippi River.
* "Huckleberry Finn" performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays in the King Kekaulike cafetorium. Tickets are available at the door only, a half- hour before the show; adults $8, students $4.
The Olinda Chorale and Musical Voices Maui will present a concert of chamber choral works by Claudio Monteverdi, Johannes Brahms, Kelly Krandell, Joseph Jennings, Eric Whitacre and the Beatles under the musical direction Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs, Gary Shin-Leavitt, with accompaniment by Lotus Dancer.
* The Olinda Chorale and Musical Voices Maui concert of chamber choral works will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday at Makawao Union Church. Suggested donation is $15; free for students with I.D. For more information visit musicalvoices maui.org.