‘The Twits’ offer a lesson in ethics
BY STEVEN MARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
The first Monty Python episode this writer ever saw featured the “Upper Class Twit of the Year,” who competed in such contests as “kicking the beggar,” “backing the car over the old woman” and “insulting the waiter.”
Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Info: hawaiitheatre.com or 528-0506
Then, last year there was (sorry, Republicans) “Mitt the Twit,” the presidential candidate who couldn’t see the folly of insulting his British hosts, especially while having such a rhyme-alicious name.
Now we have the one, the only, the original “The Twits,” a staged version of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s story about a married couple so entangled in their twittish behavior that either would coast to a victory in the Python contest, whether Mitt Romney was competing or not. The play, which has been playing to school audiences, will be staged twice this weekend at Hawaii Theatre for the public, i.e., more kids and parents who dare.
“The story is about two people called Mr. and Mrs Twit who are rather disgusting and horrible and awful in a funny way, if one can be all those things and still be funny,” said Mark Branner, head of the Youth Theatre Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who portrays Mr. Twit.
What kinds of things do the Twits do? One is to play tricks on each other. Mrs. Twit scares her husband out of his, well, wits by dropping her glass eye in his beer. Mr. Twit gets back at her by lowering his wife’s cane to make her think she’s becoming grotesquely large. This of course leads to other tricks and shenanigans as revenge.
They are, as narrator John Gruhler says, “a very happy couple who are seldom happy at the same time.”
GRUHLER, WHO performs on stilts in carnival barker style and to perhaps imply that he is above the fray, fills in much of the Twits’ back story and communicates some of what he calls “messages that are masked in the story.”
“Mrs. Twit is ugly, and one of the reasons why she’s ugly is because she has evil and nasty thoughts every day, every week, every year, and so she grew uglier and uglier,” he said, saying such subtle lessons are “part of the charm of this play.”
It’s something that kids pick up on right away. One of Branner’s sons went to a rehearsal and later scolded him for “saying the ‘S’ word … ‘Shut up!’”
“It’s very easy for kids to know from the start these are crazy, horrible people,” Branner said. “We like to see awful things happen to them as a result.”
BRANNER, WHO once left college to go to clown school and toured with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, uses all of his training for the role, which requires a lot of exaggerated physicality and manic gesturing.
He’s been getting into the role by growing out his beard — since the play, like Dahl’s original story, begins with a lengthy discourse against beards. Mr. Twit’s is so overgrown that he never goes starving for a meal; he merely digs around in its bushy confines to find “bits of old breakfasts, lunches and suppers (stuck) to the hairs, strips of gravy, dried scrambled eggs, spinach, tomato ketchup. … Things that had been there for months and months.”
It would not be considered unusual for Dahl, a British writer of Norwegian ancestry, to spin such a tale out of so trivial a thing as a dislike for beards. He was said to be opposed to them because he felt men were hiding behind them.
Dahl was also accustomed to making things a bit larger than reality, writing about an experience in the British Royal Air Force in which he was supposedly “shot down” over Libya. In fact he had run out of fuel.
“The Twits” is one of several popular children’s works by Dahl, which include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.” But “The Twits” seems to have a special place in children’s hearts.
“Roald Dahl is a genius, and he’s written so many children’s books,” said Patrice Scott, who plays the long-suffering — and insufferable — Mrs. Twit. “But this is the one that most children, especially those in the third or fourth grade, really remember because it’s a little bit dark.”
Scott, a teacher, said many of her students, hearing that she would be in the play, told her, “‘That’s my favorite book ever!’ That’s because it crosses the line.”