When World War II came to Kauai, David Penhallow Scott was a boy.
He grew up fast and early.
“I was 11 years old driving a Jeep,” he said, recounting how the Marines gave him a license despite his age.
He learned how to fire a gun. He went to USO shows. Raised by a single mom, he became friends with many of the military men stationed on Kauai to fend off Japanese attack.
“These guys were like dads to me,” he said.
It was, he said, an exciting time that left its mark on his life. Beaches were lined with barbed wire. Gun nests were all around. Servicemen came and went.
“As a kid, it was adventurous,” Scott said. “They treated us as adults.”
It was also the end of one era and the beginning of another in Hawaii and on Kauai. Lifestyles, morality, attitudes, were never the same, even after the war ended and the servicemen returned home.
“It changed everybody I think,” Scott said.
Those changes and their impact on the Kauai man and the island he loves will be reflected in the play he wrote and directed, “Matilda’s Waltz,” which opens tonight and continues weekends through March 8 at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse. All three performances this weekend are sold out, an indicator of the popularity of Scott’s “Emma’s Last Dance,” that drew big crowds and received praise last year.
Matilda’s Waltz is the sequel.
Scott, a veteran performer and writer, was pleased, more for his cast, to hear the show sold out, but was still a bit nervous about opening night.
“I think it’s normal, you should be nervous,” he said.
Colleagues say there’s no need to worry, with Scott as the guiding hand.
“There’s nothing like live theater and being in a show like this with such wonderful people to tell the story,” said Steve Whitney, who plays Whit.
Will Welsh, president of Kauai Community Players which is presenting the play, said Scott captures an era “in a way that no one else could.”
“He’s lived this and has a nice, dramatic sense he brings to it,” Welsh said.
He believes Matilda’s Waltz will be received just as well as Emma’s Last Dance.
“It will take you on a journey you haven’t been on before,” he said.
The play is about the men in the Armed Forced who in 1944 came by the millions to Hawaii. It is about the Whitney family, who live on Oahu and are hit hard by the war.
“What awaits all the characters in Matilda’s Waltz is not a pot of gold found at the end of a rainbow, but each character learns to face life bravely with all its goodness and cruelties and not the romantic notions created in 1944 MGM Technicolor movies,” Scott wrote. “Each character discovers that underneath all this madness that war brings – a new life emerges – it is one of hope.”
Cast members say the history, the personalities, the scenes, the struggles, the pain and the humor, too, of Matilda’s Waltz, will connect with the audience and let them sense what life was like in Hawaii 71 years ago.
“It touches so many different aspects of life that people can relate to,” said Rod Green, who plays General Justin Patterson.
Emily Goldbach, who plays Julie, said Matilda’s Waltz is “all of our stories.” The play, she said, encapsulates a time “that really had an impact on the history of Hawaii.”
Claudia Cowden, who plays Mrs. Tanaka, said because the play is based on local experiences and written by someone who lived through the war on Hawaii, it hits close to home.
“It’s a slice of reality we may have lost, it brings that back,” she said. “It’s how they thought, felt, behaved, because of what was going on.”
The cast credits Scott with making the play both pleasure and work, giving it a genuine, real feeling.
Jennifer Cullen, who plays the lead role of Eudora, said Scott told the cast early on they would each come to know their characters better than he did — and that’s what happened.
She’s pleased to be part of Matilda’s Waltz, which brings life to Scott’s work and what she called “a fabulous look at the past Hawaii” that will give people an appreciation for what life was like when the war started.
She said Scott is a director who wants everything spot on. At the same time, he’s demanding, giving and encouraging.
“I would say only slightly demanding,” she said, laughing
“He doesn’t pull punches as far as what he wants out of his actors,” Green said. “He’ll make suggestions and give a lot of leeway. He wants you to really define the character.”
Chad Dellatan, who plays Mr. Tanaka, called Scott, “the epitome of a gentleman.”
“He’s very heart-felt when he directs, very heart-felt when he gives directions to his players,” Dellatan said. “He wants to see the best out of each actor.”
Issac Worth, who plays Dan, a soldier, said Scott is very involved, very hands on, but leaves his cast room to stretch their characters.
“He does his best to make sure you understand the point of each scene,” Worth said.
Matilda’s Waltz, Whitney said, will transport the audience, for one evening, to 1944, wartime in Hawaii, and they will learn and think about the way things were then and the way things have changed.
“They’ll be on an emotional rollercoaster until the end,” he said. “They’ll leave feeling good.”
Scott said the play, while telling the story of a family in World War II, is also about the challenges and changes that await all people, and how they react to them.
He remembers well the war’s influence on a young boy on Kauai.
“You never know what life brings you,” he said. “You just hope everything falls into place.”
Scott, despite the accolades from his cast, credits them with always being on time, taking direction well, “and, they put up with me,” he said, smiling.
“They’re just a wonderful group of people,” he said. “They have made this play, for me, come alive.”
Matilda’s Waltz is written and directed by David Penhallow Scott and presented by Kauai Community Players. Performances are scheduled Feb. 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and March 1, 6, 7 and 8. Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 4. Tickets are $20. Info: (800) 838-3006.