Honor Amongst Thieves / The 35 actors on stage study fight choreographer Tony Pisculli as he works one segment of the big finish to Honor Amongst Thieves, the new “swords and wenches” play opening Friday at Leeward Community College.
“OK,” Pisculli says to one actor, demonstrating with a foil, “you’re a little early on the parry.” He jumps, slaps the hand of another actor away–a girl sporting a bullwhip around her torso–then points at her, “Dirty tricks, right here.”
She pretends to knee him in the groin. The first actor watches Pisculli intently, knowing he’s next.
While Pisculli walks members of the cast through the fight scene–35 of them at the moment–costume designer Sami Akuna is staring at a vest that an actor has brought in for him to look at. Akuna’s job is to make sure all 50-plus performers in Honor are clothed according to character, even the reggae band that will play live on stage in certain scenes.
“This one is a bit more collaborative,” Akuna says, with actors bringing in what they have at home. Even so, Akuna will be building at least four full costumes for the show: two for the governor’s daughter, one for the pirate captain and one for the queen of the vampires.
“This is very 19th-century melodrama,” says director Paul Cravath, who clarifies that the play features Caribbean (not Somali) pirates–and the vampires follow suit. “It’s its own world.”
Playwright, co-director and lead actor Reb Beau Allen was a bit surprised by the vampires as well. The 29-year-old’s first thoughts were to write a play filled with pirate derring-do.
“It was a subject I was always intrigued by. I was a fan of all of those old movies–Black Swan and all of the Errol Flynn films.”
“It’s not about vampires and it’s not about pirates,” says Allen. “It’s about one man who lost the meaning in his life when his wife was killed.” The urge for retribution leads this character, Captain Blackheart, into a pirate’s life and a series of adventures, which in turn lead to vampires, sword-fights, and women with bullwhips. Interest grows.
As Allen dashes off to continue swashbuckling, composer John Signor arrives to watch the fight scene as it now unfolds. “This is not a musical, by any means,” he says, but he has written songs to enhance the production (one of them in Portuguese) as well as writing all of the dance and incidental music as well. He mentions to Cravath that some of the stage action is now exactly where the live band of reggae musicians (the local group Dub Phylum) are going to be playing. Cravath has the band’s platform wheeled in and the actors adjust. Signor grabs a djembe drum and begins to tap out some ideas. “There is this Caribbean-feel to the music,” Signor says. “The music is a mix of Brazilian, dub, reggae–even Beethoven mixed into the play.”
A live reggae band playing electronic instruments during a pirate/vampire fight? Aren’t we bending reality a little here?
Signor and Cravath respond as one: “Yes!”
Backstage, set designer Don Ranney sits patiently while the battle rages on stage. This is his calm time. “There are 28 different scenes,” he says, and most of those will be handled by the fly system, with curtains shooting in and out. He’s had one major benefit for this production: the last dance group using LCC generously left their set, a series of steps pyramiding toward the back of the stage.
“We try to be as ecologically minded as possible,” Ranney says with a smile.
The show has two prop masters, 24-year-old Mililani Taylor and 21-year-old Kristen Labiano. Taylor is studying art at LCC and Labiano recently declared her sociology major at West Oahu, next door. They show off their stage-left props tables, three of which are groaning with goblets, swords, muskets, food and food trays, baskets and more. They estimate that they probably have 200 props in the show and then they think they’ve guessed low.
“There’s even a camp fire,” Labiano says, “… and body parts.”
“Would you like a finger?” asks Taylor.
Riding herd over the entire crew, at least once the show opens, is 22-year-old Amanda Barr, the stage manager, an LCC Liberal Arts major. What’s the biggest challenge for her? “Taking initiative. Just doing what people need and providing it when people ask.” It’s her job to keep rehearsals running smoothly and to shoot a line to an actor who needs one–and to keep all of her people in mind and on stage, on time. With a large cast, that takes work.
“That’s one of the first things I tried to do–learn their names. If someone says, ‘Go and find so-and-so’, you need to know who so-and-so is!” she laughs.
As Signor gathers the cast to rehearse a song, I ask LCC student Jonathan Reyn, Akuna’s costume coordinator, if there are any worries about costumes splitting from all the action–or worse, what if someone should slice and dice a bit too enthusiastically during the show?
“We have a full first-aid kit in the back,” Reyn laughs.