What better Christmastime tale of charity and repentance than Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol? And where better to stage a classically interpreted rendition of this story than at the historic Iao Theater?
Maui OnStage’s 2010 holiday play is designed and dressed so beautifully, the costumes and set pieces (thanks to Lynda Timm and Caro Walker, respectively) seem wrought from the very walls of the patina-rich theater, the stage itself like a well-worn hearth aglow under crimson ceiling medallions that bloom like curled poinsettia. The actors—especially the keiki—do a thumbs-up job tackling tricky accents (with the help of dialect coach and musical director Steven Dascoulias), and really seem to put themselves in the far-away world of Dickens’s Victorian England.
Though the closest we can come here at home is Haleakala spitting a shave ice or two every blue moon, like the first wind rustling a light northern snow, this show is just the thing to whisk you into the Christmas spirit—no matter how bad your humbugs might be.
We all know the story: Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Mark Collmer)—whose name has become synonymous with both greed and generosity—is a stingy old rich man turned philanthropic when the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future show him the error of his ways. Even when embodied by Mr. Magoo and Scrooge McDuck, the essence of the character hasn’t changed since the book’s first publication in 1843, so I’ll skip the two-act analysis and instead tell you what I’m really excited about: director Lehua Simon.
In her directorial debut, Simon masterfully orchestrates this holiday classic, an adaptation by Tom Frey that includes delightful and apropos four-part a cappella interludes (madrigals Diana G. Clark Crim, Marilyn Hirashima, Cameron Keys, Gesen Nisly and R. Sebastiano Taft). Be assured, we have much more to look forward to from Simon’s artistic endeavors; A Christmas Carol is but a preview.
However, Simon—a 23-year-old Pukalani girl and Kamehameha School alumnus—has had a lot to prove. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in theater direction in New Zealand, and studied for a semester in Brazil learning Augusto Boal’s school of the Theater of the Oppressed, work that included teaching theater to hospital patients and inmates. She’s candid about her own battles with depression, and how that led her to study Boal’s form of theater. But when she returned home, she says she found it impossible to land work in her field of choice.
“Because I wanted to believe in my dreams and really could not see myself living properly without doing my theater work, I slaved away for various theater companies on Maui,” Simon says. “I did this for two years for little or no pay—sometimes working on two or three productions at the same time and all the while holding down a paying job during the day.”After years of schooling abroad and returning home to Maui to work her craft and commit to community theater, she has finally earned her first directing gig out of college.
She’s taken that gig and done a damned fine job with it, as evidenced by the camaraderie of her cast and crew. When sitting in on a rehearsal the week before the show opened last Friday, I was impressed by Simon’s amicable command of her actors. And when, at the close of the night, she told the cast she loved them, she was met with a chorused echo that was even more uplifting than Scrooge’s turn from nasty to nice.
Simon’s leadership brings out the best in everyone, and standouts including Chris Kepler as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, Robyn Grahn as Scrooge’s lost lover Belle, Rueben Carrion as Bob Cratchitt and Ikaika Ahina as Old Joe seem to shine all the brighter. Again, the keiki—as ever—are a delight, and Simon’s personal touch of adding a troupe of tulle tutu-ed angels to bring a little “mischief and magic” was a wonderful and unexpected addition.
You have two weekends left to see the show—running Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, plus a Sunday matinee at 3pm. Be sure to bring a couple bucks for Lava Java coffee and coconut macaroons from the concession and a few more still for the collections for various non-profits taken by cast members at the close of the night. After all, A Christmas Carol is a story of charity, produced by our own community, so no better time to be merry and share the wealth.