David Penhallow Scott’s Kauai roots date to the days of the monarchy, and he brings much of his historical knowledge to life in a new play, ‘Emma’s Last Dance,’ onstage this weekend at KCC
Iconic plantation family names such as Wilcox, McBryde and Rice surround David Penhallow Scott as he speaks about his childhood on Kauai at Lihue Cemetery. It’s an unlikely place to conduct an interview, but knowing that he is a descendent of William Hyde Rice — Kauai’s last governor under the Kingdom of Hawaii — it feels appropriate. He is at ease among the many friends and family he knew and loved, and lights up when he shares their stories.
“I would like to bring these people back to life again,” says Scott, a professional storyteller who has written numerous books and plays.
His most recent story, Emma’s Last Dance, will come alive on stage this weekend at Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center. For three days — Friday and Saturday (Sept. 26 and 27) at 7 p.m., and Sunday (Sept. 28) at 4 p.m. — local actors and actresses from Women in Theatre (WIT) will perform a family drama about the sugar plantation society before, during and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
It’s a tale that hits close to home for Scott, who was living on Oahu when Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec. 7, 1941. A mere 7 years old at the time, he recalls the confusion and fear he felt as if it were yesterday.
“I lost my childhood,” he says. Scott’s mother, Anna Slogget (a “living treasure” who died at age 106), moved Scott and his sister Marion to the Mainland for several years before bringing them back to her native Kauai when Scott was 11 years old.
“I know in a minute our lives can change,” says Scott, who often integrates this life lesson into his stories as a reminder to others.
While he delights in writing now, Scott didn’t focus on putting pen to paper until recently.
It was the acting bug that bit him first.
He began performing in various shows while attending high school (he went to Kauai High School and graduated from Punahou School). Scott continued to pursue his love of acting afterward by earning a degree in speech and drama, as well as a minor in history at Stanford University.
“It’s about life,” he replies, when asked what he loves so much about theatre.
After graduating from University of Southern California with a master’s in education, Scott devoted much of his time to teaching drama to students at Kauai High School and Kamehameha Schools, among others.
But before he eventually settled back down on Kauai, Scott had an enriching theatrical life, including a brief stint in New York City’s Off-Broadway productions in the 1950s.
His experiences off-stage are just as poignant. He retained hotel-management positions and became fast friends with leaders in the industry, including Coco Palms Hotel’s Grace Buscher Guslander. His friendship with her actually led him to pen the book The Story of the Coco Palms Hotel.
“She was a very big mentor to me in my life,” explains Scott, who only recently left the stage as Captain Brackett in the musical production of South Pacific at Kauai Beach Resort.
A man of many talents, Scott also was director of Kauai Museum, as well as assistant to Mayor Tony Kunimura.
His heart, however, always was in theatre.
It still amazes him how many people volunteer their free time to produce shows he’s written, including Emma’s Last Dance.
“I’m so appreciative and humbled that they would be willing to do this,” says Scott, whose books include The Betrayers and After the Ball. “I just hope they get joy out of it; I hope they feel a sense of accomplishment that they’ve done it well.”
He also hopes audience members will leave with a better sense of Hawaii history.
“I want people to know there was a life before everybody came to this island — and an interesting life,” he says.
Scott is a walking encyclopedia of Kauai, and he incorporates his knowledge into his plays. Although, he admits, his understanding is limited.
“I wish I had asked more questions,” he laments.
Still, the Lihue resident plans to produce more historical plays.
“I want to do them while I’m still on two feet,” quips the 81-year-old.
“I hope they (the audience) will feel something, learn something, be entertained,” he adds. “Come for the actors — these people who have given their time and energy to share a story.”
Visit womenintheatre.com or call 635-3727 for tickets.