MauiTime – November 11, 2010; Volume 14, Issue 21
By Anu Yagi
“I just can’t hold back…” – Prodigy, “Pandemonium”
Whenever the string section played, I was incorrigibly impassioned. Nana imitates me when she tells the story—going so far as to flare her nostrils and furrow her brow (a look I haven’t yet managed to lose)—gripping her hands in her lap, back straight as a plank, bobbing like a tall-topped buoy in a steady swell. I was three, maybe four years old, and it was my first time seeing a live orchestra.
“I was so embarrassed,” she always says, her honesty affirmed by the little trill in her voice. “You’re supposed to be proper at those sort of things. We were right in the front row and everyone was watching you, laughing. You were so serious!”
I couldn’t help it then, and I can hardly help it now. Rhythm and winds are all good and well, but there’s just something about the soaring sounds of chordophones (i.e. string instruments) that sweep me off my feet. Play me a mere snippet of Paganini and my heart’s a hot-air balloon.
Embarrassment aside, Nana’s always been my curator of all things arts and culture, and since I was a tot she’s toted me to Maui’s best venues, which then were but the old Puunene Playhouse (scroll to bottom to read more), more holes than wood, the Iao Theater, verging on demolition, and (for said classical music introduction) folding chairs on the floor of the War Memorial Gymnasium. Our isle has since had a few decent upgrades—from the Maui Theatre to the MACC—and last Friday Nana treated me (“in return” for last month’s date to see Complexions Contemporary Ballet) to the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet at the Castle Theater. Because if there’s anything I love as much as a rosined bow on cat guts, it’s instrumental guitar.
From the very first notes of Giacomo Rossini’s Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia, it was like trying to stifle the deep tendon reflex when the doctor taps your knee with that triangle hammer thing. Thankfully, the lady next to me was bobbing her head, too.
“Does this make you want to get back to playing?” Nana whispered loudly after the foursome finished Entr’acte in the first half. The troupe’s selections from George Bizet’s Carmen were indeed inspiring, but I shook my head with a firm “no.” It’s hardly accurate to say “back to,” anyway; I may have an ear for music, but not the fingers. In my pre-teens I went so far as to seek out the very best six-string sensei, but not even Tom Conway could help my hands’ sorry state. The only thing I was much good at was trudging up the creaky Bounty steps to their upstairs classrooms (which, for legs worse off than my arms, is saying something).
The quartet was wonderful, but their special guest Phillip Proctor stole the show during the second half. A comedic dramatist, Proctor did an hour-long reading based on El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, expertly set to music from the 17th century and earlier. (To give you an idea of the tone, the group began conceptualizing the show over dinner with Monty Python’s John Cleese, after the 2007 Santa Barbara Guitar Festival, with Cleese starring in the show’s premier last March.)
Which all reminds me of another adventure with Nana: a painful stint wherein I was certain I wanted to be an actress. Ever-supportive Nana escorted me all the way to California so I could audition among thousands for one of 30 spots in UCLA’s theater program. I’m not quite sure who I was kidding. I’d never yet been in a play in my life, and needless to say did not get into UCLA. (I did, somehow, get into Santa Cruz’s theater program, and had I gone, I think I would have made a fine Banana Slug—five of them, after all, spurt from each of my wrists.)
Fortunately—for the good of the world, as much as for me—I quickly learned that I am not a performer, but a patron. Perhaps even a patron prodigy. And still a straight-backed bobbing buoy of incorrigible enthusiasm.
>>> MYTH BUSTER: Some of my early keyboard clickety clack for this column included expanded reminiscing about the old Puunene Playhouse. While I remember shows and activities at the playhouse quite well, I can’t so much recall many facts about the playhouse. So, after my good friend Traci (who remembers going to Puunene to see Pieces I) reminded me the building had belonged to Maui Youth Theater (now Maui Academy of Performing Arts), I contacted Carolyn Wright, director of programs at MAPA. What happened to that place? A March 2005 column by Tom Stevens for the Maui News indicated it had burnt down, but…
Turns out, Wright says, “There seems to be an old urban legend that the Puunene Playhouse burned down, but it did not! The building that burned down was the old territorial building which [had once] housed the Maui Community Theater (on the old fairgrounds).”
Hannibal Tavares, then mayor, had gifted them the building (formerly named the Puunene Clubhouse) after Linda Takita took students from her small, after-school drama program to the mayors office, says Wright. “When one of them did a song and dance on top of his desk, he was delighted and arranged for them to have the Puunene Clubhouse.”
For awhile, MYT just used half of the building, with the other half designated as a community center. “Eventually, we were able to have the whole building,” Wright says. “The community came together and worked like crazy to transform it into a theater. The Sound of Music was our first show in the whole building. Our first Garden Party was in that building in 1989.”
So what happened to the playhouse?
“We moved out of there in early 1990 and HCS knocked the building down, removed the swimming pool, and put up the chain link fence that is there today,” she says. [The part about the swimming pool reminded me about the old Salvation Army building next to the old swimming pool in Kahului (on Kaulawahine St., I think); and if memory serves me correctly, that place burnt down in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Perhaps, another reason for the urban legend.]
There you have it. Urban legend dispelled! Thanks, Carolyn (and Traci)!