GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Playwright Frank South's "The Night Talkers" develops characters created in his earlier plays. and was written to showcase actress Margaret Jones' stellar talent.
Dialogue after dark
A veteran television writer and producer is inspired by Hawaii and an isle talent
Sometimes, in the long dark night, things are both clearer, larger and murkier -- perception shifts as the brain focuses on the inner person. Late-night talks, fueled by booze, sleeplessness or loneliness, take on weight and power. Everything seems to have added significance.
'The Night Talkers'
On stage: 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, through Nov. 19
Where: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Call: 550-TIKS or visit honoluluboxoffice.com
Or the significance simply becomes more apparent.
Frank South's new play, "The Night Talkers," explores this territory. The long-established television writer and producer, who came here in the late '90s to try and hammer some sense into "Baywatch Hawaii," has settled into the islands and discovered that not all talent emigrates to Hollywood or New York. He began dramatic coaching of local actress and playwright Margaret Jones and was so taken with her talent that "Night Talkers" was developed as a showcase for her. In the other role, he cast himself. Why not?
"I was looking for a guy about my age ... hey, I'm perfect!" joked South.
Just so you can keep things straight, the play is directed by filmmaker Roger Wilko, who used to be Margaret Jones' significant other, and she and Frank South met while acting in one of Wilko's shorts. South's wife, Margaret South, a story consultant and producer in her own right, is a co-producer of the play.
In the hopes of domestic bliss, we hope Frank South keeps his Margarets straight. If not, well, there's more storytelling material for everyone.
"Night Talkers" develops characters created in earlier South pieces, particularly registered nurse Connie Johnson, a Hawaiian who's had little contact with Hawaii and is biding time in Sedalia, a small Missouri town. This is disrupted by the talkative ol' codger who stops by to fix her garbage disposal.
"It's hard to find a theater company devoted to new work," says South. "It's specialized and it's risky. People like us need a place to do new work, and luckily Hawaii residents have Mark's Garage. That whole area downtown feels good to me. I started out in New York as a playwright and performance artist, and Honolulu's Chinatown has the same energy I felt there. Los Angeles -- it's all about the business there, and doesn't pretend to be anything else. Here and in New York, a play is a play, not a back-door pilot for a sitcom, and the performers are doing for the love of the work, not as an opportunity to be 'seen.' "
"Energy, it's all about the raw energy," said Jones. "I like to surround myself with people who love the art and can teach me something."
Jones, who became South's acting student, also became a catalyst for the new play. "I started writing, and it came out of her performance. She was so precise ..."
"I need the dot-to-dot," said Jones.
"Precise. Helped me rewrite this vague idea into a brand new play. She gave me insights I struggled to put into words. A lot came from warm-up talks we had about living in the islands."
When "Baywatch" packed up its thongs, the Souths were given the option of returning to Los Angeles. "I was surfing at Makaha with Brian Kekaulana, and he looked over at me and said, 'You're staying,' " recalled South. "I said, 'Hah?' And he said, 'Some people stay, and you're one. You'll find a way.' "
The Souths began directing OC-16's "Entertaining in Paradise," sparkplugged the creative writing program Kids Talk Story, and Margaret South teaches "The Art of Story" online and as part of the University of Hawaii's "Pacific New Media" sequence.
"Hawaii has been an inspiration in how to live our lives, and in what's important, and that's a reason I'm back to writing plays."
Given all that expertise in snappy scripts for shows like "Melrose Place" and "Hill Street Blues," is a modest play like "Night Talkers" a work in progress?
"No, it's pau, finished and polished ... but you never can tell," said South. "There may be precise adjustments made for dialogue and pacing and dramatic effect."
"It's the hardest piece I've ever done," said Jones, who was no slouch onstage in "A Period Piece" and various Kumu Kahua works.
"You have to get the trust of the audience, because you're taking them on a journey and you'd better find something," said South.
"Some plays are so self-indulgent," said Jones. "They're about the playwright, not about the characters."
"It has to be emotionally coherent. Margaret -- my wife Margaret -- came to rehearsal and was taking notes. Once the play takes over, though, you don't notice anyone. I hope," said South.
"Like putting on a coat," suggested Jones.
"Been about 20 years since I was on stage," said South, trying to look nervous.
"Oh, ha-ha," said Jones. "He's so good. Game on!"