David Johnston says he had no idea audiences would connect so deeply to the "Ahi" ohana. Now that I have seen both productions, I believe it is that audience connection that makes these tales so entertaining. As someone who occasionally performs, I can say it is a great audience that makes a great performance. The "Fresher Ahi" crowd last Saturday night hooted, howled and snorted with almost nonstop laughter.
Two wise choices were made in the construction of this sequel. One, brothers Andrew and Anden, the leads of "Lesser Ahi," have now become supporting roles, allowing the madcap sidekicks to take the lead; and secondly, the addition of Kathy Collins.
When the Ahi brothers last left you, that had just resolved a family feud. But this time, it's they who must assist in squelching a family squabble. Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau'a are two of the island's most talented performers, but it is Collins who steals the show. As Ilona the home wrecker, she plays the villainess who breaks up Mommy (Tau'a) and Daddy (Nakagawa).
It is in her smaller cameo roles, however, that she showcases her incredible range, playing a bevy of diverse characters. There's Jeannette, a mousy, cute, ditzy young girl, and Jody (formerly Joseph) a cross dressing "gender illusionist." Then there is Roland "Bang Bang" Macadangdang, the beyond-stereotypical local boy who could use a little Zoloft in his spam musubi, and the ancient Aunty to Uncle Chin (Tau'a). Tau'a and Collins' scenes as the cranky old couple were so hysterical, my wish is that the third "Ahi" installment will revolve around them.
Because "Fresher Ahi" relies a great deal on surprises and one-liners, I don't want to reveal too much of the fun, but then again, there are so many laughs that I could never list them all in one review. For example, Daddy getting defensive at Mommy for cooking laulau after his fishing trip.
"What? You think we wouldn't catch anything?" Daddy asks.
To which Mommy replies, "Did you catch anything?"
"No, we didn't catch nothing," Daddy answers.
Crowd favorite, Tutu, is now heavily involved in Zumba and she likes to "shake 'em." And there's brother Anden, tortured throughout childhood by his accidental "an den" naming, yet chooses the name Kaden for his son.
In truth, I enjoyed "Lesser Ahi" a little more than its sequel, but it is still enormously funny, entertaining and it wisely stands on its own. You don't have to have seen the first installment to appreciate and laugh a lot at "Fresher Ahi." In many ways the "Ahi" comedic saga is like episodic sitcom television we all have a favorite character and episode, but if you miss one, it's still funny.
* The world premier engagement of MAPA's "Fresher Ahi," by Francis Tau'a and Derek Nakagawa, directed by David C. Johnston, and starring Kathy Collins, Nakagawa and Tau'a. "Fresher Ahi" continues through April 28. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 seniors and $12 students (18 and under). Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.mauiacademy.org, by calling MAPA at 244-8760 or by visiting the Customer Service Kiosk at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.