By A.M. Larks
“Sons of Maui” by Lee Cataluna
**Editors note: This performance and the corresponding review were written prior to the devasting Maui fires. **
A play is a bit of a chimera: a bit performance, a bit writing, a bit individual, a bit communal. Plays shape and change even as they are being written, and unbeknownst to me “Sons of Maui”--by the time I saw it--was no different.
“Sons of Maui” has a history. The original version (entitled “Funeral Attire”) was developed during the pandemic, specifically during SF Playhouse’s “zoomlets” (and is still available for viewing on their website). It was then that Bill English asked playwright Lee Cataluna to develop the ten-minute play into a full three act performance. Quite the daunting task! A reading in Honolulu and four workshops later, “Sons of Maui” took the stage for what felt like a polished performance despite being called a "reading".
Expecting a scant crowd on the Monday night performance, I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the Mezzanine and Orchestra seats were filed (the balcony was not open for seating). The crowd skewed older and their die-hard theatre knowledge proved to be indispensable, especially during the post- Q& A session. These (likely) season-ticket holders have been supporting live theatre and new works continually throughout the years, especially for the SF Playhouse, and in a time when theatres are struggling to entice the public to return, it is especially impressive to see this number of attendees. Even more impressive than their volume, the crowd at “Sons” had been supporting this play (and this playwright, especially) from its infancy, and were knowledgeable of her style, past performances, and even the history of her culture. I got the feeling that they were here precisely to be wowed by the deftness of her pen, yet again.
“Sons of Maui” opens with the confrontation of two mothers, impregnated by Maui (the Demi-God for whom the island is named after). Their sons are the same age, and they are naturally pitted against one another in a competition to see whose son is the best and, ultimately, which one of them is most loved by the absent demi-god.
Thus begins the story of Maui, the demi-god, and Maui, the island. This is the real Hawaii, as Cataluna likes to note, not the touristy version non-locals know. The boys--polar opposites--grow-up apart, one in the mountains, one on the beach. However, due to the fact that it is an island, they inevitably interact.
Despite their differences, they bond. They both worship their father and know the hollowness that is made by his absence in their lives. Themes of hero-worship, motherhood, absentee fathers, maturation into adulthood, and time’s inevitable ability to alter circumstances are sprinkled throughout the play as we watch time pass and the boys age. But a threat is lurking in the shadows: a demi-god lizard realtor has wormed its way into Maui (the island), buying up all the land, and is enticing the last holdout to sell. What are residents to do? They need a hero, a superhero. They need Maui. But then suddenly, Maui is dead. Who will save Maui (the island) now? Maui’s sons: the sons of Maui. They are imbued with his powers and the sons join together to save Maui from the devil-like threat of gentrification. The lizard realtor is vanquished and the true heroes emerge, the ones within ourselves.
“Sons of Maui” is rife with perfectly timed comedic moments, side-splitting dialogue, and all too real depictions of life on an destination island locale. Steeped in culture and lightly overlaid with powerful philosophical observations, Lee Cataluna is a master at her craft and the New Works Program at SF Playhouse has churned out another hit, where dads are demi-gods, mothers are mortals, grandmas are goddesses, and of course, there is lots of pineapple candy.
Lee Cataluna (www.leecataluna.com) Born on Maui and raised in Hawaii, Lee Cataluna’s stories reflect the cultural acuity of an island artist who grew up in an international crossroads. Her work is often uproariously funny, deeply emotional, and tightly wrought.
Her plays include commissions from Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Arena Stage, La Jolla Playhouse, Dramatic Publishing, Honolulu Theatre for Youth and San Francisco Playhouse. Her play Home of the Brave has been produced in schools around the world, and her scripts have had dozens of performances in Hawaii. Her work has twice been supported by NEA grants.
She writes TYA plays as well as scripts for general audiences, and has written expressly for digital theater and television. She has worked on historically-based plays and theatrical pieces based on interviews. As a journalist, she writes a popular metro column in Honolulu. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. She is of Native Hawaiian descent and lives in Honolulu.
AM Larks’ writing has appeared in NiftyLit, Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Five on the Fifth, Charge Magazine, and the Zyzzyva and Ploughshares blogs. She has served as a judge for the Loud Krama Productions Emerging Female and Nonbinary Playwriting Award and has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, CA. She is the managing editor and blog editor at Kelp Journal. She is the former the former fiction editor at Please See Me, the former blog editor of The Coachella Review, as well as the former photography editor at Kelp Journal. AM Larks earned an MFA in Creative Writing from U.C. Riverside, Palm Desert, a J.D., and B.A. in English Literature.