David Penhallow-Scott said he saved the best for last in his quartet of plays about a Hawaii family and plantation life before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the years that followed.
He was right.
“Going Home,” presented by Kauai Community Players is, in a word, excellent. From the opening scene when Eudora Whitney (played by Jennifer Cullen) walks on stage to the finale, this play has what you want and what you hope for: Good pacing, sharp dialogue and real emotion. Never drags. Never misses. This is Penhallow-Scott’s finest writing, and it all comes together in this production directed superbly by Steve Whitney.
Going Home takes the audience for a ride marked by ups and downs of the characters, some you’ll like, some will make you mad. There is joy, there is anger, there is hope, there is sarcasm and there is crushing disappointment. It all leads to an ending that brings things together, perhaps as we hoped, and lets the audience share a collective sigh of relief.
The conversations that play out in Going Home are very much the kinds of conversations any of us would have. The cutting comments, the jokes, the cries for help, the wise advice of friends, bounce back and forth and keep the audience waiting for what’s next.
It helps, of course, that a fine, seven-member cast delivers strong, believable performances.
Before continuing, let’s set the stage of how we reached Going Home.
It started with “Banzai Darling,” followed by “Emma’s Last Dance” and “Matilda’s Waltz.” In the fourth and final episode, World War II has ended and Eudora, the play’s protagonist and widow of the manager of Aiea Plantation on Oahu, struggles to make a new life for herself against powerful forces trying to stifle her new independence.
Just when it seems Eudora has found happiness following the death of her husband a year prior, her emotionally troubled children, Peggy Whitney (played by Erin Gaines) and Lowry Whitney (played by Jarhett Gaines) are worried about losing the allowance they receive from her and oppose her marriage plans.
Sadly, desperate to salvage her relationship with her adopted son and daughter, she listens to them.
Cullen has the key role and meets the challenge. She displays a range of emotions — joy, hurt, hope, despair, vulnerability — and really is the glue of this play. The story rises and falls with this character and Cullen brings it to new heights. You can feel the anguish she displays in one of the final scenes.
Dottie Bekeart plays Louise Proctor. Her stage time is short but effective. The speech she delivers to Eurdora late in the story, trying to snap her out of her sense of surrender, is tough love. The comment about stepping in dog poop and another about the “Wong name” are laugh-out-loud funny because of the ease and smile with which she delivers them.
Ron Wood plays Eurdora’s love interest, Hank Wong. He is strong, sensible and smart. When he tries to convince Eudora to marry him and let her grown children earn their own way, you cringe when she rejects this fine man. He is crushed and it shows. But, fortunately for Eudora, he is not gone for good.
The husband and wife team in real life, Jarhett Gaines and Erin Gaines, nail their roles as the troubled, indifferent, grown children.
Jarhett Gaines delivers a strong performance. His character, Lowry Whitney, has you thinking he will come around and rally to Eudora’s side, as he seems to be the most thoughtful and likable of the two. There is hope he turns out to be a good guy, but in the end he walks away to return to a life of desperately seeking love.
Peggy Whitney, played by Erin Gaines, is flat selfish, nasty and self-centered. It’s clear she cares for no one but herself. Penhallow-Scott wants the character of Peggy Whitney to be completely unlikable, and thanks to Erin Gaines she is. Like Lowry, there is one fleeting moment she gives that shows a soft side and reason to believe she will stand by Eudora’s side, but that moment disappears, never to return.
Matt Feeser plays Paul Glaser, Lowry’s love interest. This is another unlikable, rude, manipulative character. Paul struts and grins and pouts, when necessary, to get his way. When Feeser comes on stage, he makes this character so real and hurtful that we’re glad to see him finally go away.
Stacy Ramos, as Julie Thronus, almost steals the show. She delivers many of the lines and facial expressions that leave the audience chuckling, particularly as she mutters in Pidgin under her breath as she walks off stage during her scenes. Her delivery of Pidgin is spot-on. And if there’s one character in this play you always cheer for, it’s Julie. She is strong-willed, opinionated, feisty, and yet loyal to Eudora right to the end, and gives the audience one more reason to be glad she’s there.
Kudos go to Steve Whitney for directing this fine play. He keeps the story moving, the characters changing and the plot evolving. With the rearranging of the stage and seating at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse, the audience is put right in the middle of this play, and it works. We connect with the characters whether we want to or not.
And finally, well done to David Penhallow-Scott. This man, raised on Kauai, today lives in Hilo. He has numerous publications to his credit, including his most recent book, “Murder with Aloha at the Coco Palms Hotel.” He poured his heart and soul into this final play of the Whitneys and it shows. His experience in life makes this work.
If you want to see Going Home, hurry to get your tickets. It wraps up this weekend, and Saturday’s and Sunday’s shows are already sold out. Seats are available for Thursday and Friday. Buy them at kauaicommunityplayers.org.
Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island.