By Wayne Harada
It’s small, it’s cozy, it’s precious — and it’s coming back.
It’s Readers Theatre, for many years a Sunday afternoon staple at Richardson Theatre (Fort Shafter), when Vanita Rae Smith (now retired) assembled a savvy cast to read theatrical scripts not commonly staged to a dedicated following of theater fans in an intimate setting.
And Smith and another theater vet, Jane Campbell, are partnering to revive “Grace and Glorie” and the Readers Theatre tradition, in a reboot run at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 and 11 and 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at Bacon Auditorium at Pohai Nani in Kaneohe.
A cast of equally devoted actors — Sylvia Hormann-Alper as Grace, Stef Anderson as Glorie and Suzanne Green as the sound effects-maker — has been tapped to help bring Readers Theatre out of the proverbial mothballs to herald the return of Readers Theatre.
All participants (on stage and off) are Windward Oahu residents, so the place is right-on, too.
Furthermore, actress Hormann-Alper is a Pohai Nani resident, and had been coaxing Smith to get something theatrical going.
“The idea actually came to me from A.T. Miller, a Pohai Nani resident, who is also treasurer of Windward Arts Council, which I head,” said Campbell. “He asked why doesn’t WAC sponsor Readers Theatre at Pohai Nani?”
So the lightbulb was lit.
“‘Grace and Glorie’ was my second RT at ACT back in November, 1998,” said an elated Smith of the play by Tom Ziegler, which earlier featured Jo Pruden and Shari Lynn, with the late Richard Pellet as narrator. The play eventually earned a slot on the Manoa Valley Theatre season and went on to earn seven Po’okela Awards, the local theater evening honoring theatrical achievement.
Estelle Parsons and Lucie Arnaz originated the roles off-Broadway.
The story is about the relationship of two women, one nearing life’s end, the other one much younger, who are thrust together in an isolated cabin in the Blueridge Mountains of Virginia.
“The delight is in the country humor that expresses each woman’s deepening awareness and their journey to a shared experience,” said review Joseph Rozmiarek in a 1998 Honolulu Advertiser review. “Much of the fun is in the details: ‘Ain’t you never ate chicken before?’ ‘Not one that I made eye contact with.’”
Grace is stubborn and illiterate, fresh out of a hospital cancer ward, refusing to take her meds; Glorie takes the role of a hospice workerto tend to Grace’s needs; Grace learns to boil an egg; Glorie discovers the propriety of wearing makeup. Ultimately, they each learn insights and lessons from each other abougt the notion and reality of dying — and living.
Campbell said that WAC is paying the royalty fee and arranged for the Pohai Nani site, which can readily seat 90 or so.
Smith ordered four new scripts to read and acknowledged, “the pay isn’t so good, but rewards are out of this world.”
The endeavor enables two retirees (Smith and Campbell) to continue to pursue their devotion to theater and provide an arena with a specific focus of targeting a senior crowd. But certainly, the play is suitable for for all ages. And the performers — with previous stage credits here — didn't need to have their arms twisted to get aboard.
“It’s a wonderful space with perfect stage and lighting,” said Smith.
“Good acoustics, comfortable chairs, lotsa parking, easy to find,” said Campbell. “We are hoping, of course, to get lots of theater guys as well as Pohai Nani residents.”
The earlier Readers Theatre was staged in the expansive ACT on the mainstage, with seats encircling the performers. The playdates coincided with a mainstage musical, with Readers Theatre occupying the Sunday matinee slot.
WAC has previously staged chamber music concerts at Pohai Nani, so the stage visit made sense. Both entrepreneurs indicated that visits to other sites might be a future option, if there is a market for Readers Theatre on tour.
Admission is free, but calabash donations will be accepted. Reservations are suggested and may be made via phone (254-4885) or email (email@example.com).