Jen and I had a rare night out yesterday to attend a benefit reading for the Honolulu Theatre for Youth featuring several cast members from ABC’s filmed-in-Hawaii series “LOST“:
Matthew Fox (Jack), Terry O’Quinn (Locke), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Michael Emerson (Ben) and Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet).
I dare say it was the highlight of my year so far.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, mixing the stage, primetime television, and a great cause. The reading was organized by Annie Wood — accomplished children’s theatre director, HTY board member, and Cusick’s wife. She’d directed a play for HTY in 2005 when Cusick signed on for a handful of “LOST” episodes. When they found themselves back in Hawaii for a longer term, she threw herself into the local arts community with gusto.
And the actors similarly let loose last night on the stage. Sometimes flawless, sometimes halting and awkward, it was all real. There were no props, there was no pretense, just a bunch of actors and friends having fun together… ably assisted by several HTY players, of course.
Jorge Garcia and Elizabeth Mitchell opened the evening with a reading from an adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” that Wood had brought with her from London. Mitchell sparkled as the wide-eyed mermaid yearning to discover the world above (even as her young son stomped and squealed backstage), and Garcia unsuprisingly charmed everyone as her clumsy, mooning admirer.
The second reading was, perhaps, the highlight of the evening. First of all, it was a scene from “Maui vs. Hercules,” a new, original play commissioned by HTY from local playwright Yokanaan Kerns. So new, in fact, that the scene is the only piece of “Maui vs. Hercules” so far written, and Kerns — in the audience — sheepishly vowed to complete it before the new season began.
Michael Emerson played Maui, and Matthew Fox played Hercules. Fox played it straight, much like the character of Jack, and gets credit for mostly keeping a straight face. But Emerson stole the show as Maui. He didn’t hold back, despite the singular challenge of performing a character who speaks pure pidgin.
“Das’ one mountain, and das’ one big mountain,” Maui asserts to a disbelieving Hercules. “Knolls are tiny like pimples, rising from da face of da ‘aina!”
HTY’s “BullDog” was his dialect coach, and did a fantastic job. Emerson’s pidgin occasionally strayed into a Mexican accent, even New Jersey, but he immediately connected with the audience and kept them in stitches.
And Emerson never broke character, even when Fox briefly lost his place in the script. “Aue!” he groaned, struggling under the weight of an imaginary giant fishing hook, as Fox found his place. He staggered as pages flipped. “Aue!”
Next up was an obake tale, a Japanese ghost story by renown kabuki scholar David Furamoto. Daniel Dae Kim and Terry O’Quinn played Yaji and Kita, two hapless travelers lured into a mysterious forest inn by the eminently creepy Emerson. Kim relished the playful role as O’Quinn’s sidekick, and O’Quinn’s character’s dedication to their mission was reminiscent of his island incarnation.
Emerson, again, had everyone rolling, this time as a “cute” country maid that turns out to be something quite different.
“Please let me show you to another room, where I promise nothing has happened…” Beat. “…up to tonight.”
The “LOST” cast got a break with a special reading by BullDog. He performed another Kerns work, “Hannachriskwanzabon,” telling the story of a Christmas made special by Hawaii’s distinct, multicultural mix. “Suck da air! Suck da air!”
Finally, Cusick, Kim, Emerson, and Garcia together read from an adaptation of “Ferdinand the Bull” by Karen Zacharias. Here, Cusick transformed himself into a snooty British duke with a lisp, hoping to make a man out of his dance-obsessed son, played by Kim. “Bullfighting is what you should do,” lectures the duke. “You get to dress up, have an audience just like dancing, but it’s better than dancing, because you get to kill a bull in the end!”
Garcia played the gentle Ferdinand (“Cha cha cha!”), and his starstruck porcine companion was played by Emerson (“Can the pork ask ŅPor quť?”).
The pig puns flew fast and furious, and the audience needed no prodding to get into the story. “Ole!”
It was a wonderful experience, made even better by the opportunity to meet with the cast after the show. They milled about with the audience backstage and in the Tenney Theater courtyard, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. We got to meet O’Quinn and Cusick, trade parenting stories with Mitchell (and shake hands with her son), catch up with Garcia, and join Kim in congratulating Wood for an incredible evening.