Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, July 12, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
It's good to be the queen as Lisa Matsumoto, left, finds in the
production of her own work, "The Princess and the Iso Peanut."
But will the prince, played by Bryan Yamasaki, and princess,
played by Ka'ohi Yoja, find happiness in spite of their vastly
different backgrounds? Yoja, above right, shares the role of
Princess Alexis with Colleen Fujioka.

‘Iso Peanut’ goes
beyond pidgin formula

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Bullet The Princess and the Iso Peanut: Presented at Diamond Head Theatre, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 1. Tickets are $10-$40. Call 734-0274.

LISA Matsumoto's pidgin musicals have made her one of Hawaii's most popular resident playwrights and also served as cash cows for island theater groups. Matsumoto's latest effort, "The Princess and the Iso Peanut," will almost certainly be a financial success for Diamond Head Theatre. It may also surprise local folks who go to DHT expecting only another recycling of the basic formula.

That template has worked like a charm for Matsumoto ever since her days as a drama and theater student at the University of Hawaii 10 years ago: Scramble the plots and characters of familiar European-American fairy tales and "translate" the results into pidgin.

The formula draws equally on the "Fractured Fairy Tales" seen on "Rocky & Bullwinkle" 40 years ago and on Kent Bowman's K.K. Kaumanu'a pidgin fairy tale recordings of the '60s. This time Matsumoto is using a only one fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea."

Matsumoto also stars as Queen Yumiko. She is also directing the show in place of her longtime mentor, Tamara Hunt.

Queen Yumiko and Queen Alana (Roslyn Freitas Catracchia) take turns telling how Prince Yoshi (Bryan Y. Yamasaki) and Princess Alexis (Ka'ohi Yojo) meet, overcome a language barrier, and marry.

Yoshi and the other inhabitants of the Yamamoto kingdom are the familiar pidgin-speaking Asian-American types who represent normal everyday folks in Matsumoto plays. They use contemporary local Hawaii slang but observe distinctly Japanese cultural traditions such as cheering "banzai!" at weddings. Everyone except for the loud and abrasive Queen Yumiko wears casual local aloha print attire.

The Allyrians speak standard English and wear a hodgepodge of medieval robes and 18th century fashions.

Since the story begins with the wedding celebration, there is no question that Alexis won't have to go through with an arranged marriage to someone else, that she will survive her encounter with pirates, and that she will pass the titular test of the pea, or iso peanut of the title.

A brief cultural debate over folding 1001 paper cranes generates no suspense or dramatic tension but merely serves to set up another song-and-dance number. As with Matsumoto's prior plays, this one has more musical numbers than necessary.

It also has Allyrians and pirates in place of the familiar stereotypical local characters who provided the comic spark in the "Once Upon One Time" trilogy. One or two of them make brief appearances. Da Mean Mongoose (Matsumoto's wolf surrogate in her earlier works) doesn't appear at all. Given the insatiable local appetite for simple ethnic comedy, it is a gamble to omit these characters.

Credit Dion Donahue (Peter the Pirate) and the equally versatile Stephanie Sanchez (Isabel) with carrying most of the non-pidgin comic load. Donahue adds another outstanding performance to an impressive resume. She goes well over the top as Princess Alexis' spunky Scottish servant.

The funniest and fastest scene comes when Matsumoto falls back on the what she knows best. Yoshi asks his retainers, Nathan and Russell, to help him learn standard English even as Alexis and Isabel are enlisting "bilingual" local girl Janice (Jill Y. Shimabukuro) to teach them to speak pidgin. The word play and comic interaction is excellent throughout. (Two teams of Matsumoto show veterans, Neil N. Furukawa and Mark Ikenaga, and Eddy Gudoy and KCCN's Devon M.T. Nekoba, alternate as Nathan and Russell).

Men dressed as women is a another traditional comic device in Matsumoto's plays; Ron Encarnacion (Princess Eteokalani), Gary Matsuoka (Princess Sansan), Ken K. Morita (Princess Tahitiana) and Thomas Villegas (Princess Ugliana) got big laughs opening night. One-liner references to Punahou, Zippy's, and show sponsor City Mill, and a gratuitous use of the word shishi also went over big.

Shawn K. Forsythe (One-Eye'd Jack) and Michael Ng (Uncle Masa) and Clint R. Sekioka (Chah Ming Won) stand out in smaller roles.

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