Hope, love shines through in ‘Matilda’s Waltz’

There are reasons why “Matilda’s Waltz” sold out its first nine shows.

There are reasons why it was extended an extra weekend, three more shows were added, and they sold out.

It’s not too hard to figure out.

The play written by Kauai’s David Penhallow Scott is good. The cast is good. Add in the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse that puts patrons in the seats up-close-and-personal with those on stage, and it adds to a wonderful experience and a memorable evening. It is community theater at its best. This is how such stage stories should be done. It is not over acted. It is not complicated. It is not splashy. It comes from the heart. Matilda’s Waltz is well told, paced and acted.

First, to recap, Matilda’s Waltz is a sequel to last year’s popular “Emma’s Last Dance,” also written by Scott. Set in Oahu, it centers around the Whitney family and the changes facing them brought on by World War II. It reflects in part Scott’s experiences as a boy growing up on Kauai during the war. It is a time, as the play makes clear, that changed Hawaii forever and characters often wish they could go back to the Hawaii of old.

Let’s talk about the story and characters.

It’s a compelling story with challenges and conflicts and colorful characters. Consider, there’s an affair outside of a marriage. There’s an ailing husband. There’s an angry father. There’s an interracial relationship that’s kept secret for fear it won’t be accepted. There’s the coming out of a military son who, much to the dismay of his father, is gay. There is a fatal crash. There’s a self-serving daughter who cares for herself more than she seems to care about anyone else.

At the center of all this turmoil is Eudora Whitney, played by Jennifer Cullen. While there are 10 roles, it’s her performance that makes or breaks Matilda’s Waltz. She’s almost always on the stage, and this is a good thing because she rises to the challenge. She holds the story together as it transitions from one scene to the next. She is the constant, from start to finish. You can sense her frustration, her doubts, her fears and her divided loyalty between her ill husband played by Steve Whitney and the dashing General Justin Patterson played by Rod Green. Cullen takes over this role. It is hers. She is not acting. Despite the difficulties, Eudora Whitney stays strong and you find yourself cheering for her.

Averie Soto (who also is a reporter at The Garden Island) commands the stage well and if there is a second actor this play hinges on, it is her. Her character, Peggy, is pretty much completely unlikeable, a pouting brat with a mile-long mean streak who believes she deserves whatever she wants and delights in tossing insults at her mother. Perhaps ironically, though, it is the few tender moments with her brother, Lowry, played by Kaina Allard-Mahoney, where she shows she does have a heart and you sense she has a gentle spirit. But that spirit is not allowed to come out and by the end, her character in the final scenes is practically demon-possessed, her sweet, sunny smile replaced with a furious frown. Soto, in her first stage performance on Kauai, displays great range.

Steve Whitney, who plays Whit, spends much of the first scenes languishing in his bathrobe and pajamas, mostly bed bound and suffering from an illness. However, late in the play he becomes a central figure. His rage toward his son’s sexuality is a powerful scene. He delivers his lines with authority and kindness as he comforts and defends his wife (unaware of her affair) and welcomes a single mom and baby into his and Eudora’s home. By the end, he is Matilda’s Waltz unexpected anchor, a man set in his ways, beliefs and actions. Eudora and Whit, despite wave after wave of setbacks, find strength in each other’s arms.

Cast members Issac Worth and Tani Ishino are the star-crossed lovers Dan and Miyako. They don’t get a lot of stage time, but when they do, it is the best of scenes. The play opens with these two, so it’s important they draw the audience in early. They do.

Other cast members, Green, Allard-Mahoney, Chad Dellatan as Mr. Tanaka and Claudia Cowden (who played Emma in Emma’s Last Dance) as Mrs. Tanaka, hold the spotlight when asked to do so. Emily Thronas, as Julie Thronas, appears in the final scene, but her glance and comment make it clear what she thinks of Peggy and earns a chuckle from the audience.

And finally, credit must go to director and writer Scott for sharing such a story with the community. The overall theme, a family faced with a changing Hawaii because of the war, hits close to home for many on Kauai.

They would rather go back in time, but can’t, so they push ahead. Scott wants us to know that hope and love can win out. And at the end of Matilda’s Waltz, they do.


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