About once a year, I’ll find myself in a conversation where the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific is mentioned, at which point it’s unofficial protocol to say whether or not you’ve seen the show. I always say yes, but I do so with an asterisk flashing in my head. I have technically seen South Pacific but only once and far from Broadway. It was the staff show in 1994, when I was an Arrow, and I can remember only one thing about it: Uncle Ben Woolf in a coconut bra.
Ben was playing the iconic role of Bloody Mary, who, according to Wikipedia, is “a sassy middle-aged Tonkinese vendor of grass skirts.” Uncle Ben could be a bit sassy, but he was young and British, and he didn’t vend grass skirts. The previous summer, Uncle Ben had taken my division on a Mount Washington trip, where he scared off a bear, offered an impromptu survey of local New Hampshire algae, drank copious amounts of tea, and threatened to take us to a lecture on logging.
But now here was Ben happily wriggling around the stage in a coconut bra, while a chorus of staff members sang “Bloody Mary’s chewing betel nuts!” in that group monotone I fondly associate with every camp song. The play was directed by Patrick Higgs, a camp institution in the ’90s, and Jim Kropa, who earlier that summer directed my division in Bertolt Brecht’s The Elephant Calf. So along with telling cocktail party patrons that I’ve seen South Pacific, I can add that I’ve performed Brecht.
The campers of 1994 loved the show. If you’re reading this and were in the audience that night, you probably remember it. As for me, I can’t recall the plot of South Pacific—or anything about it, really. If pressed, I would tell you that it features the famous Ann Astrove - K.C. Woller duet “Some Enchanted Evening.” And if you say I need to see a “professional” production of the show, I beg to differ. I’m sure it’s great, but I’ll be happier remembering it as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in which Uncle Ben Woolf wears a coconut bra.