A funny thing happened on the way to the first reading of the new play, "Celestial Mechanics"--or rather, a not-so-funny thing.
J. Marc Mance, who made a splash as the chauffeur in the acclaimed ProArts production of "Driving Miss Daisy," got lost in the maze of Maui Meadows and never showed up. In the ensuing shuffle, the part of the homeless "living statue," Hristo, who scrapes together his living in a square in Belgium, had to be recast. But determined to keep Mance in the project, playwright Matthew Gurewitsch added a freestanding monologue called "An Angel Unawares."
And so, the miniature double bill (running approximately 30 minutes) will receive its world premiere at the Historic 'Iao Theater in Wailuku during the Maui Fringe Theater Festival, scheduled Friday through Sunday, Feb. 1 through 3.
The cast of “Celestial Mechanics,” a play for three human beings and one solar system, includes (left to right) Sharleen Lagattuta, Rueben Carrion and Nakota Kai Crumbo.
Photo: Peter Swanzy
"Things happen for a reason," said Gurewitsch, who moved to Maui two years ago after three decades in Manhattan, where he covered the American and European arts scene for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian Magazine and other leading print media. (For an archive of his work, visit beyondcriticism.com.)
"Now we have a pair of parables," Gurewitsch continued. "If everything had gone as planned, "An Angel Unawares" would never have been thought of, but it's the missing piece that sets the stage for "Celestial Mechanics," literally and figuratively. Although the two plays are set in different places at different times, they share the same props and the same soundscapes. Their common theme is spiritual awakening."
The title "Celestial Mechanics" refers to the branch of physics that describes the movement of the solar system and heavenly bodies. Central to the action is the rare astronomical spectacle called the "Transit of Venus," observed by two well-off tourists and a stranger they meet by chance in a park in Brussels. For the tourists, the planetary show is a form of entertainment. For their new acquaintance, it's an eye-opener on a cosmic scale. The curtain-raiser, "An Angel Unawares," takes off from the Biblical passage about messengers from beyond, who go about their business on Earth without being recognized for who they are.
The talent involved in the production includes the pick of Maui's theater talent. "Celestial Mechanics" reunites Sharleen Lagattuta, Rueben Carrion and Nakota Kai Crumbo from Alley Cats Productions' "Pulp Fiction." Derek Nakagawa, a specialist in new scripts, is the director. The music and soundscape, which incorporates birdsong and NASA's Voyager recordings from space, are the work of the composer Peter Swanzy of Pa'ia, courtesy of Ebb & Flows Arts.
"Writing about theater has its fascinations," said Gurewitsch. "But making theater, there are so many minds at work. In rehearsal, the actors try something and ask, 'Is that right?' And mostly I have to answer, 'It's not what I anticipated, but I love it.' They keep surprising me."
Performances of "Celestial Mechanics" are scheduled for Friday at 7:45 p.m., Saturday at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
Tickets are available at the box office (242-6969), online (mauionstage.com) and at the door (68 North Market Street).