Make Longs a Part of Your Day
Lee Cataluna’s Folks You Meet in Longs is a well known piece of local Hawaii theatre. Many have seen the productions from Kumu Kahua circa 2003 or 2004 (or even the 2011 Kumu fundraiser held at Tenney Theatre), and it seems to be a well-known truth that Cataluna’s piece holds up. Consisting of monologues taken from her book, “Folks You Meet in Longs and Other Stories,” time and time again Cataluna’s insightful, sharp, and totally fictional but totally accurate characters (hey, I know that auntie/uncle/guy/girl/Long’s worker!) bowl audiences over, and this current production at The Leeward Theatre is no exception.
I was unaware of how large the cast of this iteration of Longs was, but looking at the playbill I think I counted sixteen actors (confirmed in Director’s Note)! This is quite the accomplishment in the smaller alternate space of AM-101 at Leeward Community College, and with the show consisting of monologues that keep the time between pieces to a minimum you would barely notice their numbers. The audience only truly begins to fathom how many people are backstage when they sprinkle in lengthier transitions, which range from the simple and functional to the bizarre and otherworldly. These transitions serve the pieces they are sandwiched between well, including a much needed break in tension, a tonal setup for a piece, and reminding us all that yes, these are all people that shop at Longs, and you may have run into them at one point in time (or many). The set is minimal, with a few levels, but looks like it was wrapped in the weekly Longs sales ad. There are distinct yellows, reds, and blues that occupy that circular, and Scenic Designer Claire Ranney and her crew have pinpointed that look and aesthetic down to the pictures and the font. Be aware: the audience, save for the very back row, is not raked. This makes some of the monologues difficult to see if the character makes the choice to sit on the bottom-most level of the stage. Try not to sit in the back of people taller/bigger than yourself to savor the full experience.
Director Betty Burdick’s true accomplishment in this production is her casting. She has selected actors that have taken the material and ran, making it their own while still honoring the spirit of the characters. This piece is an ensemble piece at heart, and to go through them all would equate to a review that would never end. While I may not mention every actor in this review, know that I believe in my heart that they are all strong, and you would have to be the nit-pickiest of nit-pickers to identify a weak link, for I see none. Juvy Lucina’s Nadine Tam Sing is the anchor that keeps this show together and the glue that binds all the pages, as she opens and closes the show and through her stories shows what a model Longs employee may look like- someone who works hard, isn’t a push over, and always wants to help. Geph Albo Jr.’s performances keep the audiences rolling (his Curt Lum has been where we all have been, no lie now), and I appreciated the musical element he brought to the production, working with Burdick and Cataluna to arrange the songs he performs. Reb Beau Allen flexes his acting chops with three distinct and dynamic performances in Act Two, and Sean Nelson’s Tsukebe Uncle Richard is appropriately uncomfortable and chilling. Maile Kapua’ala performs a few monologues, but really closes Act One with a bang (and some tape). Jonathan Reyn plays a range of characters both male and female, but the most memorable moment was seeing him come onstage for the Verna character (or, how to install a wet bar in your garage) and hearing the voice he chose to go with for her. Gloria Tu’uao has only one piece as Georgie Kam, but it was a marvel to see her dream about the day she would become Mrs. Longs, wife to Mr. Longs, and how they would live in the store and take care of their customers like they were their own children.
This piece, like real life, is unabashedly crass and rude at times, never pulling its punches. Like real life, it also has glimpses and sparkles of humanity that we can all see and relate to, despite how rough and tumble a character may seem. Be prepared, a great deal of the show is in pidgin, but within the context of the monologues themselves the meaning is usually communicated.
At the time of writing, it seems the tickets are completely sold out, including the two shows they added for the extension, which were released a day or so ago. The production runs until November 17. If you were lucky enough to get your tickets in advance, I wish you a wonderful evening of theatre. To those that were not able to get tickets, know that there is great work being developed at Leeward Community College, and be sure to grab your tickets for their next production, In the Heights, sooner than later!