Monday, February 9, 2009

Doing It For The Children

I don't often spend a lot of time thinking about babies but, for better or worse, this weekend was an exception. On Saturday night, I attended a hula concert performed by members of the Halau o Keikiali'i at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. No matter how hard the performers worked to entertain the audience, they were up against stiff competition. A young Asian woman had brought her infant to the performance -- an infant who proceeded to scream and make noise through not just one, but both acts. 

Apparently no one bothered to tell this woman that the audience did not pay for the privilege of listening to her child's prodigious vocal talents. No one explained to her that the proper etiquette is to either leave her child at home with a baby sitter or, if she can't afford a sitter, stay home with the child and skip the performance.  As much as I believe in children being introduced to the arts at an early age, they need to be able to remain quiet so that the audience's attention is not constantly diverted from what is happening onstage.

Led by the troupe's kumu hula, Kāwika Keikiali'ihiwahiwa Alfiche, the program, entitled The Power of Healing Through Hula,  was broken down into four acts: 
  1. Ka Ho'Okupu (The Offering). This section details the offering made to the gods through chant and leis, with an altar being built to hold an offering to Laka, one of Pele's sisters who is a goddess of hula, a fertility deity, and guardian of the woodland.
  2. Na Akua (The Goddesses -- Pele The Creator, Hi'iaka The Healer). The two sister goddesses are blessed with complementary powers -- Pele, a volcano goddess, is the creator of new land but has extremely destructive powers. Hi'iaka  is a goddess of dance and hula who has the power to heal wounded lands. Wherever she walks, new forest growth appears.
  3. Nana I Ho'Ailona (Look To The Signs). In this section, Kāwika Keikiali'ihiwahiwa Alfiche explained how Hawaiian culture looks to signs from nature (a rainbow, a light mist, a daydream, the appearance of Halley's comet) and explains how these signs can be interpreted as messages from tribal ancestors. Some of the songs in this section also paid tribute to Hawaii's King Kamehameha and King Kalakaua. Known to many as The Merrie Monarch, Kalakaua was the first king to travel around the world.  He died in San Francisco on January 20, 1891, while staying at San Francisco's famed Palace Hotel.
  4. La Au Kahea (Healing In Voice). The final section of the concert was devoted to songs of love. It celebrated the love shared by Hawaiians for the environment, for each other, and for their ancestors.
This video clip (taken from a public television segment about hula) features Halau'o Keikiali'i and its kumu hula, Kāwika Keikiali'ihiwahiwa Alfiche:

As I rode home from the JCC (with less than pleasant thoughts about screaming children filling my head), my mind turned to Edward Albee's upcoming appearance on Monday night. Sometime around 1970, while living in Providence, Rhode Island, I attended a student performance of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Brown University which was cast entirely with men. The play, which premiered on Broadway on October 13, 1962 at the Billy Rose Theater (now the Nederlander), shocked audiences of the day. When I first saw it on Broadway, I was much too naive to understand what was happening onstage.  I was also dramatically handicapped because no one in my family drank. As a result, I had absolutely no idea how a long night of drinking could affect a person's behavior.

Still, the question of whether or not Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was meant to be performed by two gay couples has persisted for many years.  Albee has vehemently denied such rumors. However, with the past decade's emphasis on gay marriage and gay adoption, it's interesting to reread the play and think about all the references it contains to George & Martha's imaginary son -- the apple of their eye -- who is doomed to one of the most curious deaths in the history of the theater.

* * * * * * *

An untimely birth (rather than death) provided the dramatic catalyst for Sunday's matinee of Be My Baby. This tidy little comedy by Ken Ludwig is filled with gentle laughs and the kind of bittersweet moments guaranteed to please audiences at community-level productions and dinner theaters around the country.

The play begins in 1963, as Gloria (Melissa Quine) and Maud (Patricia Silver) are motoring through the Scottish countryside near Aberdeen. An extremely impulsive young woman, Gloria is madly in love with Christy (Brady Woolery).  Her ADHD personality makes Gloria the kind of driver who easily -- and repeatedly -- strikes fear in the hearts of her passengers. 

Maud (who raised Gloria after her mother passed away), is a tightly-wound control freak from London without much sense of humor. When they arrive at Christy's lodge in Loch Mull, Scotland (popluation 42), Gloria wastes no time jumping her boyfriend's bones in full view of Maud and Christy's elderly friend, John.  As they commiserate over the younger generation's lack of discretion, Maud and John take an instant dislike to one another.

Needless to say, Gloria and Christy rush into an ill-advised wedding that causes grief all around. Shortly after Gloria miscarries, she receives a letter from her cousin in San Francisco (who is due to give birth while in the midst of getting a divorce). To their horror, John and Maud are soon deputized to fly to California and bring the unfortunate child back to Scotland for adoption. Let's just say that complications ensue.

Patricia Silver and Chris Ayles (Photo by Judy Potter)

Set designer Peter Crompton made excellent use of the dual turntables built for the Willows Theatre Company to handle quick changes between the play's 29 scenes. The set decor offered many fond memories for travel agents and cruise devotees. Scenic panels featured poster art from Cunard White Star, The French Line, TWA, Pan American and other famous names from days gone by. Richard Elliott's stage direction kept the plot moving at a fairly fluid pace as Scottish stinginess, San Francisco kookiness, hospital nurses with a bad attitude, and the perils of adoption hearings were all subjected to Ludwig's comic scrutiny.

Patricia Silver and Chris Ayles carried the bulk of the show on their strong shoulders, with Tiffany Hoover and Nikolai Kloteff filling a variety of small roles. In the end, the baby melted the heart of everyone she met. The young lovers remained happily independent and two doddering old curmudgeons were tamed by an adorable infant's drool.

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