Continues Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 8-18, 7:30pm. ProArts Playhouse, 1280 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 463-6550; proartspacific.com
“Yeah, but this is Maui” is a double-edged maxim, used either as an excuse of or an exaltation at the way things can be (or at least seem) different here. So yeah, that said, paradisiacal paradoxes—be them good, bad or ugly—flow from the Valley Isle like Na Wai ‘Eha et alia once did.
Therein we find ourselves immersed in myriad anomalies: like city-ish spaces created on a rural rock that’s international renown lends nonchalantly to live-in celebrities rubbing elbows with roughnecks (to name one too-obvious example); or that visitors who’ve exhausted thousands of dollars/miles to revel in our isolated utopia find their first sign of welcome posted outside a Krispy Kreme.
So, then, is strip mall-theater really such a weird thing? And one nestled next to Taco Bell, no less? No, not really—especially when it’s a hardworking outfit like ProArts Playhouse, a sweet Southside establishment that’s churning out season after season of quality shows.
Sure, the locale isn’t grandiose—but it’s intimate (just 80 seats), air-conditioned, and the walls are colored with a rotating exhibition of local art. And yeah, it isn’t going to land itself on the National Register of Historic Places any time soon, but consider the fact that the strip mall’s named for the beloved Bill Azeka, who—with a stock of sundries and a recipe for the most-ono ribs—prophetically pioneered Kihei’s transformation from quagmire to bustling business center.
But I digress. ProArts productions don’t disappoint and provide a great Southside option for theater lovers. Their latest, Social Security—directed by Kristi Scott—is worth a look-see.
Ironically, this play has never been one for the history books, despite its clever timelessness. Written by mostly unknown author Andrew Bergman (though he’s of Fletch and Blazing Saddles fame), neither play nor playwright ascended to household name notoriety. Nonetheless, Social Security’s comedic themes are layered like a onion that’s both biting and sweet—which makes for no holds barred belly laughs.
Here’s the story line’s gist: a Manhattan couple, Barbara and David (Chaney Cramer and Kevin Hazelton)—who’ve done reasonably well for themselves as modern art dealers in the 1980s—have their lives upended when Barbara’s tightwad, straight-edge sister Trudy, and her accountant husband Martin (Angela Thompson [disclosure: Thompson is MauiTime Editor Anthony Pignataro’s girlfriend] and Jonathan Lehman/Jonathan Yudis), arrive on short notice. What’s the big deal? Well, to save their frosh daughter from dropping out of college for a life of two-dude debauchery, Trudy and Martin must themselves drop everything to rescue her—including Trudy and Barbara’s excessively demanding mother Sophie (Joyce Romero), whom Trudy has long been caretaker of, blaming this parental preoccupation as the crux of why she’s neglected her own parental duty.
Barbara and David can’t write-away dear ol’ mum with a check, and given little choice, begrudgingly take Sophie in. Hilarity ensues just as Sophie’s antics reach a head (because I want you to see the show, I’ll do you the favor of sparing you the spoiler), and character breakthroughs are made—largely at the hand of Maurice Koenig (Norman Halip), a world-famous 100-year-old artist who’s come to Barbara and David’s for a fish dinner.
What’s most winning about ProArts’s execution of Social Security is, rightfully, its senior actors Romero and Halip, who steal the show after intermission. Both grasp the depth and point of their characters in a way that makes the audiences’ job—and enjoyment—effortless. And, the stage—another stunner by Caro Walker—is superbly crafted down to the slightest detail. Cramer, Hazelton, Thompson and Lehman as the in-laws all do fine work, but there are some issues with interpretation.
For example, there’s seems to be more Upper Midwest than downtown Manhattan in Barbara’s character (despite some accented attempt to indicate otherwise), and where it’s easy to understand a desire to convey the sort of businesswoman brute that would make a gallery owner trendy and successful, it might have better suited the character for Cramer to step out of her comfort zone and embrace a little socialite sly. This is especially the case as Barbara interacts with her husband David, who by his lines is a man who doesn’t need to spout witty one-liners and asides so as to intentionally elicit a laugh, but is rather so confident in his swagger he can say his peace as if for himself alone. Hazelton, who really looks the part, often acts beyond the fourth wall—and too good-natured, too boot—and stymies his character’s authenticity.
Similar critique can be said of Thompson, who’s new to the Maui theater scene. Thompson nails Trudy’s pathetic plight by conveying her despair with welling eyes so much so that I can’t help but mourn for her—and that’s good, though I ache to laugh at her. But it’s a little hard to suspend disbelief when both her youth and pleasant countenance betray Trudy’s stodgy, curmudgeon-in-the-making style.
During opening weekend, ProArts’s producer Jonathan Lehman filled-in for actor Jonathan Yudis, who returns to the show Sept. 8-18. While the isle’s yet to see Yudis’s performance, Lehman (who again, to his credit, was an understudy) as Martin felt askew in that his rants about his daughter’s sexual exploits were more in awe than enraged (and that came across as a little creepy). Any daughter knows that a daddy trying to spit those explicit descriptions past the clinched-jaw gates of his fury would rather (if not already) have a brain aneurysm.
But again, I digress. The players are good and the play itself is great fun. Sure, it isn’t perfect—but what is? In fact, while it might be easy to pawn off such minor flaws as “yeah, but this is Maui,” it’s actually symptomatic of small theater anywhere; and the Maui maxim in this case turns its blade to the friendlier edge. Considering tight time frames and even tighter budgets, the whole shebang is all the more impressive.
So do yourself a favor and drive yourself down to historic Azeka Makai, cozy up with 79 of your Kihei pals (ooh, and don’t forget to get a concession stand candy bar), and enjoy the show.