The King Kekaulike drama program likes to tackle social awareness, specifically the issues that concern teenagers. In recent years the topics have ranged form drug abuse to domestic violence, suicide and teen pregnancy. Their latest production, "Salem's Daughter," takes on bullying.
"Salem's Daughter" is an exploration of the effects and consequences from ostracizing those who are a little different, but Craig Sodero's play also asks an intriguing question. Not unlike the tell-tale heart, is guilt more painful than being victimized?
Sodero's story moves forward in time on three occasions in the course of the show, but all the action remains on the same plot of land.
Starting with a Salem witch trial in 1692, a young widow, Sarah Brooks (Kiana Grundy-Morrison), in sentenced to hang by Justice Naughton (Jimi McCain). Facing death, her final words are a threat to haunt anyone that would disturb her grave.
Fast forward to the present where Heather Naughton (Rachel Simmons), a multi-great granddaughter to Justice Naughton, is hosting a birthday slumber party. The Naughton home has changed little over the generations, except for some human bones found during the building of a shed.
The impressive interior set is a big upgrade for King Kekaulike, featuring antique furniture and artwork. Director Chris Kepler and his production class deserve high praise for creating a wonderful warm parlor atmosphere.
Heather and her "since kindergarten" friends Dottie (Zoe Wender), Jeannie (Marissa Godinez), Marcy (Dara Reckard), Toni (Lindsey Ramos), and Jennifer (Malia Kimmel) invite a new, undesirable student to the party simply to mock her. Their victim is also named Sarah Brooks (Noelle Barber). When Heather's initiation prank goes horribly wrong, the girls panic and dump Sarah's dead body down an old well.
The entire group does a good job at playing mean high school girls, but Zoe Wender as Dottie is particularly strong. Wender has a natural ease on stage and plays the humor of her character very well without upstaging the rest of the cast. The first act was a little slow moving on opening night, but the cast reached a higher level of believability when armed with the higher stakes of the second act.
Eight years later the six girls reunite, and unforeseen circumstances require them to revisit Sarah's accidental death. Heather is not her usual self now that husband Cory (Matt Pulliam), has begun construction to deepen the old well. Ironically the young cast is more convincing when playing 26 year olds, particularly Marissa Godinez as a glamorous mobster bride donned in a full length white fur coat.
Rachel Simmons shines in the second act as well, becoming increasingly more ruthless as she plots to protect their secret by any means necessary. The thriller culminates with several ghost sightings, a peculiar investigation by Detective Ellen Brant (Rosie Kulhavy-Sutherland), and a near mental breakdown by the guilt- ridden Jennifer, in another noteworthy performance by Malia Kimmel. Kimmel's guilty soul begins to affect the others as well, and one by one each girl longs to confess their crime.
The suspenseful plot kept the opening night audience engaged right to its conclusion with its several surprise twists. Perhaps this production could have been more chilling with a few more special effects or some unexpected entrances by "the ghost" to further frighten the audience, but never the less, "Salem's Daughter" is a refreshing alternative to the usual high school fare. If you looking for a family frightening Halloween outing "Salem's Daughter" is just the ticket.
* "Salem's Daughter," continues through Sunday. The final three performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sunday in the cafetorium at the King Kekaulike campus in Pukalani. Tickets are available at the door only one half hour before the show, adults $8, students $4.