The Wright Stuff
An interview with local playwright Wayne Moniz
April 26, 2007
This is his last year teaching at Baldwin High School. And yet, by
his admission, Wayne Moniz is far from done with his work. A prolific
playwright with more than a dozen produced plays under his belt, as
well as published short stories, poems and songs, Moniz received the
Cades Award, Hawai`i's annual prize for literature, in 2005. His focus
is always on the people, history and issues of Hawai`i, but his
perspective varies greatly—from a story of three generations of
Portuguese in Hawai`i in Under the Star of Gladness to a tale of the Hawaiian monarchy as teens at the Royal School in Children of the Turning Tide.
This year he's published his third book containing three of his plays, including Hibiscus Pomade—a 1960's musical comedy, Steamer Days—a 1930's romance mystery, and Tandy!—a
biographical libretto based on a local opera singer. Moniz apparently
still has lots of ideas, including a play highlighting the early days
of television in Hawai`i.
"I'm retiring to busy-ness," he jokes. I talked with him recently
after his autograph-signing appearance at a writers conference at Maui
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: Tell me about the plays in your most recent book, starting with Hibiscus Pomade—I love the title, by the way.
WAYNE MONIZ: Yeah, that's
the Hawaiian "grease" we used in Maui in the '60's—flies landed on it!
It was the heaviest thing! So I wanted to do a local version of Grease
and I actually wrote a song for it. We did it for Baldwin Theater
Guild, I believe in 2002. It's about four kids on Maui. The boy Herman
wants to get the girl, of course, but he speaks horrible pidgin. The
girl speaks well and keeps pushing him away 'cause he doesn't speak
well. A couple people help him with his pidgin and we try to do an
operation to get "the spam" out of him.
It's kind of Jerry Lewis/Nutty Professor,
which was big at that time. They give him a concoction and he does good
but halfway he breaks down… and it goes into a parody of the West Side Story
with a slippah fight between the Mokes and the Visitors. Then they go
to Honolulu—Elvis is in town for a big fundraiser for Pearl Harbor and
they get to meet him—and all this is a plot for her to fall in love
with him and it works. She starts to see he's really a good guy.
There's a senior dance, and a sweet ending, laced with music of that
That sounds like it must've been a lot of fun for the kids to perform. How is it to see your plays acted out?
It's still a big thrill. When I saw my first play [Still Born—Na
Mele O Kaho`olawe] the first time it sent shivers up my spine! It was
so neat to hear other people say the words. Sometimes they know it
better than me.
I laughed out loud when I read your lyrics for Hibiscus Pomade's "The Moke Song."
Yeah, I read that today for the kids. Some people are disappointed
that I don't use pidgin for all my plays. When it calls for it, I put
it. I'm trying to get that middle pidgin—you know, the good English
with pidgin. It's more real, like people talk. But I remember my
brother would use heavy pidgin just to taunt my mother.
How did you get into writing plays?
I'm an English teacher. I started directing shows before I got into
it. When I started teaching, I'd get these anthologies and think, I can
write better than that. You know, I'd get some horrible version of Huckleberry Finn
or something. At that time I happened to go to Kaho`olawe and I was so
moved when I went over there somebody said, "You should write about it"
and that's how the first play was written. I've been lucky, most of my
plays have been done. In some cases I've had to direct them myself just
to make sure they do.
So tell me about the second play in your book.
Steamer Days was an
all-adult show Sue Loudon did that took place in the `30s, of the old
boat days. They called 'em steamships. So it's "steamer" days.
Everybody remembers that time in Hawai`i. They weren't complicated
I like to take these personalities and throw them into a situation
to see how they react. So there was Duke Kahanamoku, and Burns and
Allen, Bing Crosby—all the stars of the time period. We'd go down
memory lane, with all the hapa haole songs on the beach of Waikiki, and
I tried putting some kind of context into it… there's a mystery. But
you know like how on the Orient Express, they all did it? In this, they
all solve it. And it ends with a replication of Hawai`i Calls—each
performer does a piece, then the ship sails off to San Francisco. It's
a real nostalgic piece. The popular culture stuff really just fades
And what is Tandy! about?
Tandy! is a libretto, kinda like a biopic—like Warner Brothers did in the '50s with The Glenn Miller Story.
It's the life of a person with music as they play it… So I asked,
"Who's Tandy?" and started doing research. He was an opera singer, a
contemporary of Caruso, born and raised in Hana. I start with the scene
of him as a little boy. He is eventually crushed by his own spirit—like
a lot of actors and performers—and I show how it probably happens.
He was coached, trained, tours the world. He goes to Kaluapapa and
he's worried but when he arrives there he finds his seamstress and hugs
her and has to touch these people and sing with them. Then he sings in
Germany and La Scala and France. He gets kicked out of Germany by
Hitler. There's a scene in a hotel with Nazis telling him he's gotta go
home. This actually happened, too!
So he sings to the Germans out on the street. He sings at the
Hollywood Bowl. He's the first male tenor at the San Francisco Opera
House. And his life spirals downward. The opera ends like a typical
opera. Triumphant scenes and tragedy…
Three Plays by Wayne Moniz is available at Borders Books in Kahului, or you can order it by calling (808) 244-5373. MTW
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