Playbuilders playing their part
BY STEVEN MARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
PlayBuilders, an organization devoted to encouraging the development of local playwrights, offers its fourth annual Festival of Original Plays this month at Leeward Community College.
“Several months ago we had an open call to local playwrights to submit their work,” said Terri Madden, founder and executive director of PlayBuilders. “We read the plays and selected the plays that we thought best represented a variety of walks of life here in Hawaii.”
PLAYBUILDERS FESTIVAL OF ORIGINAL PLAYS
Where: Leeward Theatre, Leeward Community College
Don’t expect full-blown productions at the festival. The festival consists of readings of original works that have never been staged before. It aims to encourage other theater companies to stage the plays.
In drawing community attention, PlayBuilders has already been a success, with Nancy Moss’ “Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up?” produced at Kumu Kahua Theatre, and Jan Shiarella McGrath’s “Outage” staged at The Actors’ Group.
“We like that people are picking up on these plays and producing them,” Madden said. “It’s just very fun.”
The festival features a variety of plays, starting this week with three one-act plays: “Something’s Wrong With the Foundation,” by Kemuel DeMoville; “The Big Tent,” by Joseph O’Brien; and “The Unsalable Thing,” by Mark Tjarks.
“Something’s Wrong With the Foundation” is set in New Zealand and tells the story of a dysfunctional family involving two brothers, their dead father and their unfaithful mother. The play takes place as a kitchen is being built onstage.
O’Brien’s “The Big Tent” refers to the current political environment, while Tjarks’ “The Unsalable Thing” is a takeoff on the popular “Storage Wars” reality show, in which the contents of abandoned storage lockers are auctioned off, often revealing hidden treasures or worthless junk.
The following production, on Jan. 16, will be a single, full-length play, “Dark Side of the Moon,” by David Penhallow Scott, a fifth-generation Hawaiian and a descendent of William Hyde Rice, the last governor of Kauai under the kingdom of Hawaii. He wrote the play several years ago as an homage to Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” but “instead of a cherry orchard I use a coconut grove,” Scott said.
The play is set in prewar Oahu and involves a local family facing hard times. “They all live in the past,” he said.
“The only way they can save their family fortune is to sell their coconut grove to the government,” Scott explained, “to build low-cost housing for the workers and service people in Pearl Harbor.”
Scott is a former director of the Kauai Museum who taught drama at Kauai High School and Kamehameha Schools. He’s working on a cycle of plays that, like “Dark Side of the Moon,” reference Hawaiian history. His recent play “Emma’s Last Dance” was eagerly received on Kauai.
Scott said he’s pleased that “Dark Side of the Moon” will get its first reading here on Oahu.
“I’m very grateful that they’re doing it,” he said. “It will be fascinating for me to hear and see it.”
THE THIRD weekend of the festival will feature plays written by students of Robert St. John, longtime drama teacher at Le Jardin Academy.
St. John has emphasized playwriting for several years, at first allowing students to develop plotlines and characters for plays he was writing, and later helping them write their own plays.
He has developed a set of rules for his student playwrights to follow, such as minimizing the number of characters and scenes. One of his students’ plays won a contest held by TAG and later was chosen among the top five plays in a national contest, helping the young playwright get a scholarship to college.
His students are contributing five plays to the festival, among them Maddie Matthews’ “Through the Lies of the Beholder,” which involves two characters discussing a piece of graffiti, unseen by the audience, with one trying to hide something from the other.
The play showcases one of the more complicated techniques in playwriting — providing a lot of back story for the characters, “without being boring” or having the characters over-explain, St. John said.
Another student play, Kivalu Ramanlal’s “Computing 4 Life,” is “really quite funny,” St. John said.
The story is about a middle-schooler “who’s addicted to his computer,” he said.
“The computer is played by an actor sitting on a desk. It’s just hilarious because the computer is controlling this guy’s life. … It’s almost as if his mother has snuck into his computer and reprogrammed it.”