Kona resident Jackie Kalani, 81, is proud to be starring in the deliberately provocative, often offensive and wildly satiric production of “Women Behind Bars” at Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu.
After all, she said happily, “it’s the dirtiest show in town.”
Written by Tom Eyen, popularly known as the author of the Broadway hit musical “Dreamgirls,” the play is set in the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village during the 1950s. It follows a young prisoner from innocence and wrongful incarceration to cynicism and a life of crime. It’s an edgy, dark adult comedy intended for mature audiences only and those who truly appreciate irony.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, as well as at 2:30 p.m. Sundays. The Aloha Performing Arts Company show opened July 12 and runs through July 27.
Kalani warns “Women Behind Bars” isn’t a show for the fragile or those sensitive to profanity, violence and sexual situations, all of which occur in this play. As the advertising and promotional materials state: “This show is not appropriate for children.” Still with all the warnings, Kalani expects some people may walk out.
“The content of this show can be off-putting. For Kona, this is a stretch and a risk,” she said. “But I think those who stay will appreciate the effort and artistic talents of the really fine actors, who are doing superb things with their roles.”
In his director’s notes, Jerry Tracy writes, “This is a tough show. Tough to read, tough to cast, tough to rehearse, tough to sell, and maybe even, at times tough to watch. It explores issues and situations that many people are not comfortable talking about or even thinking about.”
There’s lobotomy, sodomy, rape, murder and mayhem, all wrapped up in what some might consider a perfect gleefully raunchy spoof of 1950s B-movies. Such unintentionally bad black-and-white movies were praised for their campy humor in over-the-top melodramatic situations.
“In its own kooky way, ‘Women Behind Bars’ exposes hypocrisy in our society and judicial system, and criminal neglect and mismanagement in our penal system,” Tracy said. “It is common knowledge that very few, if any, inmates get ‘rehabilitated’ in prison. In fact, quite the opposite, many times. I am grateful to my talented, dedicated and sometimes crazy cast for approaching this material fearlessly.”
The cast includes Kalani (The Warden and Granny Sarah Lee Crocker, a religious old lady with a poisonous tongue), Ricky Delorely II (The Matron, who favors sadism and female flesh), Janemarie Singer (Louise, the matron’s flunky assistant), Robin O’Hara (Blanche, a delusional ex-debutante), Sara Hagen (Jo-Jo, a hyperactive slum runaway), Rachel Leonard (Cheri, a big blonde with low morals, but a high price tag), Arlene Araki (Gloria, a hard-living, smoking murderer), Nani Moreman (Ada, a speed-addled space cadet), Priscilla Basque (Guadalupe, a fiery senorita), April Mai (Mary, the innocent, young newcomer who was framed by her husband on a charge of robbery), and Kikiola Pimental (The Man).
Kalani, who is a licensed clinical social worker, said it has been fun playing one of the lifers, particularly one that spews Bible verses and slurs while drinking booze from a pocket flask. The caustic granny has been inside for 42 years for poisoning nine husbands. She admitted it was a difficult play to learn the lines for, especially since several of the characters seem to just speak to the air and not to each other.
Mai, a 28-year-old scuba instructor and boat captain, wanted to be a part of “Women Behind Bars” because she’s a huge fan of ’50s B-movies. She enjoys how such movies are a stew of kitschy silliness, monologues that attempt at some sort of justification, dragnet, simpleness, irony and hacked-out schlock.
Mai plays the wide-eyed Mary, who is brutalized, humiliated and sexually assaulted, from her first few moments behind bars to her release eight years later. During her stay, she becomes hardened and cynical. To prepare for her role, Mai watched several prison documentaries and read up on lobotomy. This research helped her get a better grasp into prisoners’ lives and body language. She also pulled from her own past and tear-stained journal writings to get to that dark place.
Mai added, she and Delorely have a few scenes that send shivers up her arms.
While the first couple of scenes are harsh, Mai encourages viewers to not leave early. She said there will be plenty of laughs and awesome fun bits, even if they are tempered by an uncomfortable undercurrent and rough dialogue. She said the audience will go on an amazing journey and be captivated by the dramatic portraits of women in trouble.
Tickets, costing $17 and $20, are available by calling 322-9924, visiting alohatheatre.com or at the box office, beginning one hour before performance time.