By Vanessa Wolf
This Friday, ProArts Playhouse in Kihei presents their second show of the spring season, Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”
The play was written in 1971 and the plot is based in the same year.
It features Mel Edison, a well-paid executive of a high-end Manhattan firm.
Suddenly, Mel’s life goes to hell: the company hits the skids and he’s fired. His wife, Edna, takes a job to tide them over, and then she, too, is soon sacked.
Then he’s robbed, and his psychiatrist dies with $23,000 of his money.
Mel does the only thing left for an uptight New Yorker in the heyday of Woody Allen kvetch-ing comedies to do and has a nervous breakdown. Presumably laughs ensue amidst the misery.
Director Kristi Scott chose the play in part for the schadenfreude.
“This play – although written in 1971 – is still very topical today,” Scott explained. “We can relate to the central characters. We watch Mel’s spiral and think, “I know that.” Moreover, we can laugh and walk away thinking, “I can handle this. At least I’m not him!”
Not only will playgoers experience the second-hand relief that (presumably) their life is less messed up than the central character’s, but Scott lists off five additional reasons to see the show.
“1. Neil Simon the playwright. 2. The six terrific actors. 3. John and Jennifer Rose are wonderful comedic actors and they fit Simon’s style quite well. 4. The scene in the second act featuring Mel’s siblings is Simon writing at its best. 5. Moreover, our seasoned cast handles it very well.”
There is a general belief that Maui playgoers don’t enjoy more serious pieces, but Scott feels that the true core of the ProArts’ audience loves an emotional challenge now and then.
“Of course on the whole people prefer comedies and musicals, but I was recently at Man of La Mancha – not a happy or peppy play, but quite deep and powerful – and the audiences adored it. If it’s moving and powerful, audiences respond well.”
Considering the size and transiency of the island, there is a fair amount of live theater here on Maui. Still, there are challenges.
“On Maui, we learn to welcome newcomers with open arms and the knowledge we may part soon,” Scott says. “The Maui theater ohana took quite a hit last year with over 14 members leaving the island. Happily, new ones come in all the time. We miss those we’ve come to know and love, yet welcome new faces. I directed ‘Doubt’ last year with a cast of actors who were entirely new to Maui and it was a joy to work with them.”
Those hoping to exercise their acting bugs are urged to audition.
Scott advises, “Watch for auditions and jump on in. Musicals are easier to get into because they have bigger casts. Watch for classes too. Also, we always need help with sets and crew work, and that is a great way to meet people and get your feet wet.”
When asked what play or musical Scott would most love to direct or produce on Maui, but isn’t sure she could get the audience for, she cited “Children of Eden,” by Stephen Schwartz. “He wrote the musical ‘Wicked.’ It’s the story of a father/son relationship wrapped up in the creation myth through to the times of Noah. And there’s gorgeous music.”
Perhaps Maui audiences can prove her wrong.
Scott’s final comments lean in that direction. “The more audiences take a chance on the unknown, the braver producers and directors will be and the better Maui’s overall theater experience will be.”
“The Prisoner of Second Avenue” opens this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and runs until May 19.
It plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., although there is no show this Sunday, May 5.
ProArts offers reserved seats at $20. Kama’āina nights, with discounts for Hawaii residents, are scheduled for Saturday, May 4, and Thursdays, May 9 and 16. Call 463-6550 for tickets or more information.