LIHUE — The much-publicized and long-awaited play from writer and director David Penhallow Scott, “Emma’s Last Dance,” attracted large crowds for its three-day run last weekend at Kauai Community College’s Performing Arts Center.
The production, which followed an Oahu family before and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was seen by 280 people Friday, 346 Saturday and 425 on Sunday, for a grand total of 1,051.
Melissa Mojo, president of Women in Theater, which produced Emma’s Last Dance, said attendance exceeded expectations.
“We were happy to see such an ethnically diverse audience in a wide range of ages attend this weekend,” she said. “In addition, very few audience members left their programs behind to be recycled, which is unusual. We take this as a positive sign that they liked the play and wanted a memento of it.”
Romey Curtis, a past WIT president and producer of Emma’s Last Dance, said the four months of rehearsals paid off.
“It was such a pleasure to hear the laughter — and even, the gasps — after weeks of rehearsal without an audience,” she said.
What made this play work well, Curtis said, was that everyone involved was committed to its success.
“Playwright David Penhallow Scott has always been a good friend, and supporter to WIT, and the cast and crew were completely committed to the project — with the added benefit of really liking each other,” she wrote.
Mojo said there were several highlights of the production.
“Scott captured and conveyed the essence of what sugar plantation society was like in the early 1940s, the glamour of Hollywood and the horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor,” she said. “By juxtaposing these aspects with the earthy wisdom and mysticism represented by the character of Emma Kealoha, Scott gave us the opportunity for us to be touched by what makes Hawaii special — its mana, its beauty and its deep spiritual connection to the life force of the planet.”
While Emma’s Last Dance was described as a melodrama, throughout the play each night there were numerous scenes and lines that drew laughter from the audience. Mojo said Scott has a very dry sense of humor and included quite a bit of comedic timing, especially in the first act.
“He is so precise with his characters — each has a uniquely singular voice, based on his observations of the people he grew up knowing and lived around — that the honesty of each one shines through,” she said. “To me, much of what’s funny in the play has to do with irony — the characters are just telling their truth and it’s a bit ironic, so you laugh.”
“David is an accomplished writer, who knows that a leavening of humor in a serious play gives poignant contrast to the drama — and, of course, that is true to life,” Curtis said.
A message Scott wanted to portray in Emma’s Last Dance is that life can change in an instant,.
“So be grateful for what you have now. The characters show us our inhumanity in all its imperfections, yet they are all lovable — just like us,” Mojo said.
“It juxtaposes a certain lifestyle with a cataclysmic event, which alters that privileged existence forever after,” Curtis said.
Next up, Women in Theater is planning its 2015 season, with a fun mystery in the new year as well as its biennial Kauai Shorts Festival, featuring 10-minute plays by local playwrights created and performed by local directors and actors, next August.
It is also looking for its next home. Its vision is to have a 70- to 100-seat theater where it can present a variety of innovative productions, as well as events, classes and workshops that appeal to the entire community.
“We’re looking for people who’d like to join us and help us manifest this vision and have some fun in the process,” Mojo said.