Mary Chesnut (Aldonza) and her husband, Kalani Hicks (Pedro), rehearse a scene from Army Community Theatre's production of "Man of La Mancha," playing at Richardson Theatre.

Musical teamwork

Mary Chesnut and husband
Kalani Hicks will share the stage
in 'Man of La Mancha'

'Man of La Mancha'

Presented by Army Community Theatre

Where: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter
When: 7:30 p.m. today; continuing Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 29
Tickets: $14 and $17; $8 and $10 for keiki
Call: 438-4480 or 438-5230

Given that so many people work one or more day jobs, Mary Chesnut and her husband, Kalani Hicks, have an unconventional solution when it comes to seeing more of each other, and that is to share a stage. Both will be appearing in Army Community Theatre's revival of "Man of La Mancha," which opens tonight.

Chesnut is the star of the production, playing the prostitute Aldonza. Hicks is Pedro, the most brutal of a group of mule drivers who abuses her.

"He has become fascinated with the character, and he did extensive research on whips and so he built his own whip," Chesnut says. "He practices (with it) at home, but I'll leave it at that.

"The pastor at church where I work was very concerned about the fact that we have to play these roles onstage," she added, explaining that some of the violence in the classic 1965 Broadway hit has been sanitized and desexualized by ACT.

Getting top billing is also a bit unusual because Chesnut is obviously of the wrong gender to play the title role.

"The poster says 'Man of La Mancha' and 'Mary Chesnut.' There's been a lot of ridicule about that, but it's flattering to be at a point where (ACT director-producer) Vanita (Rae Smith) has considered me to be on the same level as Shari Lynn and Cathy Foy (the respective leads in "Gypsy" and "Kiss Me Kate"). I've never thought of myself as a leading lady in that type of way. I love what I do, and no matter what role I'm in -- whether it be a larger one or ... a very small part like "Titanic" -- I love going down these different paths."

Chesnut IS taking a lot of "different paths" these days. She was seen earlier this year in Lisa Matsumoto's revival of "On Dragonfly Wings" and then gave a memorable performance as Mother opposite Leslie "Buz" Tennent as Father in Diamond Head Theatre's "Ragtime." After "Man of La Mancha" she'll do "Amahl & the Night Visitors" at the First Presbyterian Church and then have a small role in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of "The Merry Widow."

Chesnut had to start rehearsals for "La Mancha" while "Ragtime" was running.

"It was really interesting to go from performing (in "Ragtime") all weekend and then turn around and Monday night have to be an entirely different character. I promised ("Ragtime" director) Mary Gutzi I would not be working on my Aldonza lines during the show because if I went out (as Mother) and accidentally sang "I was spawned in a ditch ..." instead of "There was a time ..." it would not fare too well," Chesnut said, but the opportunity to stretch as a performer and go from playing "a very matronly woman in 1906 to a kitchen slut" was too good to miss.

"Mother is a much more legitimate not-belting role, and so switching over and making the transition vocally is a bit of a challenge. ... Aldonza is a switch from (the types of characters) I've been cast in (before), but they both are women who are going through changes. Mother is learning about independent thinking and gaining in her confidence. Aldonza learns to see herself as a person who is loved and cherished for who she is."

Doing "Ragtime" had other benefits, Chesnut says, because the cast included three veterans of national productions -- Gutzi, Crystal Williams and Jerold E. Solomon -- who she credits with lifting "all of us up."

Three other actors -- Julius Dae-Song Ah, Scott Moura and Zenia Zambrano -- also moved with Chesnut from "Ragtime" to "La Mancha."

Chesnut ARRIVED in Hawaii seven years ago with no expectation of doing much local theater.

"I came to Hawaii thinking there're wouldn't be any theater, and so I've been really surprised and delighted at the high level (of the theater) that there is on the island."

The income from her three "day jobs" -- teaching part time at Iolani, conducting the choirs at First Presbyterian Church and teaching a course in music education at the UH -- make it possible for her to do community theater and opera.

"When you have to rely on performing to get a paycheck, it puts an added stress on your life to make sure you have that next job lined up, (but) I can do this just to do it. I work three jobs so I can have this hobby at nighttime."

Theater has been good to Chesnut in other ways. Kalani Hicks auditioned for DHT's 2001 staging of "Chess" after he met her "because he wanted to understand what theater is all about," and proposed to her during a curtain call while they working together in ACT's "Evita" -- she was playing Evita, he was in the ensemble.

"It's nice to do a show together," she said. "There are moments in rehearsal when he comes up to confront me (in character) and we giggle. It will be fine in performance, but (doing it) in rehearsal over and over again, he has a very strong grip -- I think I still have bruises."

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