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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Say Aloha to Aloha

Published: October 24, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

If you would like to know what Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls is about, you’re reading the wrong review. Trying to stick to the obscure plot line of the play is not only a dizzying endeavor, it is also completely unnecessary.

Rather than focusing on plot, Aloha, written by Naomi Iizuka and performed by the Free Play Theatre Cooperative, is a play centered on characters, all of whom struggle with life.

The first scene takes place in New York City, a very fitting setting to describe the struggles and, for lack of a better word, insanity we see develop among the characters. In a brilliant directorial decision, the audience is truly made to feel the menacing nature of the city when during each scene transition the offstage actors screech and howl in a frightening jungle imitation that, as a native Manhattanite, made me feel right at home.

Over the course of the act, all but one character finds a way to leave the pressures of the city and make it to Hawaii (though one character somehow ends up in Alaska). The characters still find themselves struggling with the same unsettling issues that plagued them in the city. The way the characters deal with these issues makes this play a joy to behold and the phenomenal acting makes these issues compelling.

Each member in the 11-person cast really lent weight to the success of this show, though some a little more than others. There was not a single actor out of his or her element and each had moments where the actor and character really clicked. However, as the play progressed, a pattern began to develop that experienced actors (for the most part) really made a difference.

Often, it seemed that the characters played by students new to the Brandeis stage were either under or over acted in ways that would turn the audience loose from the spell we were caught in for most of the performance. This does not let upper-classmen off the hook though, and there were moments where even they lost their grip on their parts.

On the whole, though, the acting was truly magnificent. Three performances that really excelled were those of Eric Engelstein ‘10, Laura Lorand ’09, and Michelle Miller ’11.

Engelstein plays Derek, the panicked author with an identity crisis plagued with guilt for not living a fulfilling life and for losing his roommate’s dog. Engelstein really made us believe each and every freak out he had and even managed to add subtle differences from his ‘episodes’ in New York to those in Hawaii— not an easy task to be sure.

Lorand plays Myrna, the savior, always appearing at the moment of deepest despair with some sort of advice or gift that doesn’t quite seem to fit the situation and yet somehow makes everything all better. She seems to represent that teacher/parental figure we all wish we could keep with us all our lives, always ready with a cookie and a smile to kiss the boo-boos and make the bad things go away – and Lorand is all that and more.

Finally, Miller plays Vivian, the closest thing this play gets to a main character. Miller does a fantastic job giving us Vivian, a character in search of pretty much anything, desperate to belong and to be accepted, while at the same time refusing to give in. It is Vivian who resists the flow and ends up in Alaska and makes a home in the ice and snow. Miller does an expert job of showing us Vivian’s determination yet at the same time her desperate need to have the approval and presence of other people. All in all, this play’s success was an ensemble effort.

Have you ever been tricked by someone pointing to “something” on your shirt and poking you in the face when you look down? Yes? Well in essence this is Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls. You’re watching the witty dialogue and character play until suddenly, BAM, you’re hit with a metaphor for life, love, death, time, loneliness, or any other hard hitting topic we usually try to avoid. This is the true glory of Aloha. It makes you think without realizing you’re doing it or making you uncomfortable.

We watch the characters struggle with their lives, just as we struggle with ours, with just the right amount of pain and laughter that we accept it, embrace it and if we let ourselves, grow from it.

At the very end of the play, Derek takes a guess at what two figures in a snow globe could be saying. He thinks they are saying, “Help! I’m trapped! Let me out of here!” which really, if you think about it, is what every other character in the play is saying the whole time. If you are looking for an experience to laugh, learn, and confuse the hell out of you, say aloha to Aloha.

Oh, and then there’s the dog. If you figure that one out, please let me know. Well-played Mr. Warsoff. Well played indeed.