Review of South Pacific

Published: Saturday, October 4, 2014 By: Michall Jeffers

The sun is so huge and bright; the whole sky seems to be “a bright canary yellow.” The ocean is “beautiful and still”; it’s the perfect setting for a couple to fall in love at first glance, “across a crowded room.” In fact, it’s paradise, even if it does get awfully hot, and malaria is endemic.

Unfortunately, there’s a war going on. The Seabees on the island are getting bored and reckless. The nurses jog and exercise and have a curfew. The big offensive is coming soon; nobody knows when. Meanwhile, one especially high-spirited nurse has fallen for an older planter, and she marvels at the life she could have with him.

This is the basic setting for South Pacific. The moonstruck nurse is Nellie Forbush (Haley Swindal), a self-proclaimed hick from Little Rock, Arkansas. The equally smitten planter is the dashing Emile de Becque (George Dvorsky); he has fled France after accidentally killing a man. At the behest of the brass at the base, she will later quiz him on the reasons why. Marine Joe Cable (Zach Trimmer) has come to the Island from Guadalcanal, hoping to enlist de Becque in a plan to spy on the Japanese. It’s a dangerous mission; Emile refuses because he hopes to build a life with Nellie.

But Emile hasn’t yet introduced his two mixed-race children to Nellie, and when he does, she flees. Her upbringing won’t permit her to accept a relationship between a white man and a Polynesian woman. Joe is discouraged, and at the coaxing of local beach entrepreneur, Bloody Mary (Joanne Javien), he agrees to go to Bali Ha’i. There he meets and beds the lovely Liat (Alison T. Chi), who, it turns out, is part of the scheme her mother, Bloody Mary, has set up to give her daughter a better life by marrying an American GI.

It’s difficult to give a new spin to such a beloved old classic, but when Bloody Mary comes on the scene, Joanne Javien turns up the wattage to max. She’s tiny, and seems younger than the actresses we’ve seen playing the Tonkinese grass-skirt impresario, but she has a seasoned voice and irresistible stage presence to match. Javien is fun to watch, largely because she seems to be having a wonderful time onstage; she steals every scene in which she appears. Her sometimes competitor, Luther Billis (Bill E. Dietrich), is portrayed with exuberance and snap. The quiet moment when he realizes that Cable is hooked on Bali Ha’i is worth the price of admission.

Haley Swindal makes Nellie infinitely likeable. Her soprano voice is lovely, and her cornpone accent is on the money. We see that to her, life is meant to be an adventure, and we understand how she falls not only for Emile but also for his breezy island lifestyle. George Dvorsky has the rich baritone we’ve come to expect from actors playing de Becque; he and Swindal have an easy chemistry