Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, November 15, 2001

HPU brings chilly
Ireland parlor to
life in ‘The Dead’

"James Joyce's 'The Dead'"

Runs 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 9 at Hawaii Pacific University Theatre, Hawaii Loa campus. Tickets are $14 general; $10 seniors, military and HPU staff; $5 students. Call 375-1282.

Review by John Berger

Nothing much seems to happen for most of "James Joyce's The Dead," a "musical play" that combines the basic premise of a Joyce novella with a half-evening's worth of Irish song and dance.

It's Ireland where this story takes place, just before Christmas about a hundred years ago. It's the custom of the Morkan clan to sing a few songs and dance a few dances before sitting down to celebrate with Christmas dinner. And, because the Morkan sisters, Julia and Kate, and their niece Mary Jane are music teachers, the singing should be first rate, what with a visiting opera singer among the guests. And so it is.

Snow is falling as the party starts, but all the snow in Ireland is warmer than what takes place within. Gabriel Conroy, a nephew of Julia and Kate, twice compares the evening's experience to walking on a frozen lake: "One day a crack appears. And so we learn that just beneath us lies an unimaginable depth."

Therein lies the brilliance of "James Joyce's 'The Dead' " as theater. Joyce Maltby, director of theater at Hawaii Pacific University, brings this hybrid creation to vibrant life. In Alan Sutterfield and Eden-Lee Murray she has two accomplished actors doing exceptional work, even by their usual high standards, exploring the richly written lead roles.

The interplay between Sutterfield and Murray is the hinge on which this production swings to its conclusion as thought-provoking musical theater. Maltby's staging succeeds in being as strong and satisfying as theater as it is as a de facto class in World Music 101: Introduction to Irish Song and Dance.

Sutterfield, as Gabriel is the narrative voice and steps outside the action several times to comment on it. Murray must be watched carefully in Act I because most of her best work lies in what she does rather than says. The success of Act II ultimately depends on her. Murray was excellent last Sunday.

A talented cast surrounds Sutterfield and Murray. Four women certainly stand out: Mary Frances Kabel-Gwin (Aunt Julia), Sharon Adair (Aunt Kate), Katie Leiva (Mary Jane) and Jo Pruden (Mrs. Malins). Pruden has played so many tart and snappish characters in recent years that it's great to see her slip into a role that shows a softer side, perhaps even a hint of comedy. Kabel-Gwin shines in one of the biggest supporting roles. She shares a great number with Adair in Scene 1 and is charming from start to finish as the center of attention in Scene 3. Her final number, "When Lovely Lady (reprise)," shared this time with Tatiana Wilson (Young Julia), is a grand finale to an impressive performance. Wilson proves herself with that one number a talent to watch in her HPU debut.

Luke Anderson likewise makes a grand debut with his portrayal of unpredictable Freddy Malins, who shows up late after perhaps half a drink too many, but who turns out to be a great guy. Anderson's intensity and energy gives "Wake the Dead" the power it needs as the final number in Act I.

Jason Carpenter exudes attitude as opera singer Bartell D'Arcy in Act I and then delivers an excellent rendition of "D'Arcy's Aria" in Act II.

And then there's Dave Donnelly, Star-Bulletin columnist, who seems born to play show business veteran Mr. Browne, who speaks fondly of the old days and flirts with the ladies.

Mary Chesnut (cellist), Lisa Cripe (Lily), Kalani Hicks (Michael), Becky Maltby-Graue (Molly Ivors), and Sarah Tidwell (Rita), complete the cast.

The tech support is tops as usual with HPU shows. Peggy Krock's early Edwardian costumes are luxurious. Paul Guncheon's set looks solid as well but he and Darren Hochstedler (lighting) use a bit of wizardry to suggest the spiritual elements as well. Annette L. Murphy-Johansson (choreography) adds another essential ingredient to the success of the show and the cast does her proud with the dance numbers.

Indeed, this is a wonderful show, with Sutterfield and Murray first and foremost. Even little things can become important if they suddenly reveal the depths of a heart, a relationship, an intellect or a soul.

That said, HPU should borrow an airport security inspector or two to confiscate cell phones on entry. A person who left his phone on during the Sunday performance spoiled one of the show's most dramatic moments.

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