Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, July 26, 2002



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KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Da Menehunes return to delight you in "Once Upon One Kapakahi Time." From left are Eddie Gudoy, Todd Motoyama, Gary Masuoka, Neil Furukawa, Dwayne Fujitani and Kyle Shimabukuro. Most of these actors had played menehunes in prior theater seasons.



Reunion in pidgin fairyland


By John Berger
jberger@starbulletin.com

All Lisa Matsumoto was thinking about was getting a good grade.

"I had to write a one-act play, and all I was hoping for was an A," Matsumoto said Tuesday night during a dress rehearsal of "Once Upon One Kapakahi Time" at the Hawaii Theatre. "I brought in a bunch of my friends, we did a reading of it and Tammy (Hunt) said, 'We need to put this on (the Kennedy Theater) main stage.' Then it became my MFA project. We had no idea that it would take on the life that it did."


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KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Playwright Lisa Matsumoto also plays Da Wicked Queen.



Matsumoto's "Bye Bye Hanabata Days" would be followed by her first pidgin fairytale play, "Once Upon One Time," which was such a success that she wrote two more in the same vein, "Once Upon One Noddah Time" and "Happily Eva Afta." She used the same successful template with "The Princess and the Iso Peanut" and, on Monday night, received a Po'okela Award with songwriter Roslyn Catracchia for the script of "On Dragonfly Wings," a musical based on the Alana Dung story.

Matsumoto also founded 'Ohi'a Productions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing creative and educational theatrical productions for children and families.

Although Matsumoto readily volunteers the fact that she wasn't the first to write plays in pidgin English, no island playwright has done so with greater success. Her pidgin translations of classic European-American fairy tales, retold with identifiable local characters and dialogue, have become such an integral part of the Hawaii theater scene that other playwrights now make reference to them in their own shows.

MATSUMOTO'S LATEST production, "Once Upon One Kapakahi Time," opens tonight with many veterans of her earlier shows on stage again.

One of them is Devon Nekoba, who has done "like eight or nine" Matsumoto shows. Nekoba made his debut in Matsumoto's first Diamond Head Theatre production as Tantaran (one of the always-popular "boys will be girls" roles). From there, he moved into the role of narrator, which he'll reprise in "Kapakahi."

"I get to watch the whole story unfold from the best seat in the house," he said. "It's more challenging (this time) because it's all these other stories that we've done before that are now mixed up and made new-new.


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KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
An unsuspecting Red Rose Haku (Chrissy Naruo) meets Da Mean Mongoose (Patrick Fujioka).



"A lot of the guys who haven't done shows in years came back to do this show, so it's a nice mixture of the old and the new people," he said. "Some of them, like Neil (Furukawa) and Eddy (Gudoy), are so integral to (Lisa's plays) that to have them come back brings it full circle."

Gudoy, an educational assistant at Moanalua High, has been one of Matsumoto's stalwarts ever since "Bye Bye Hanabata Days." Fans probably know him as Menehune Who, but he's also been a pig, a narrator and King Lolo in various productions.

"It's good fun and good to see everybody again," Gudoy said, comparing the annual summer productions to a high school reunion. "A lot of the guys (who) haven't been doing the shows for a few years tried to come back for this one."


'Once Upon One Kapakahi Time'

Where: Hawaii Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 4, with additional shows at 4 p.m. Aug. 3 and noon Aug. 4
Tickets: $15 to $35 (discounts available for seniors, students, children and military)
Call: 528-0506


Patrick Fujioka, who defined the role of the Da Mean Mongoose opposite Matsumoto's Da Wicked Queen in the original "Once Upon One Time," teaches and directs theater at Kamehameha Schools. He said the "choke time" he spends with his wife and infant daughter keeps him away from the stage during the school year.

"Like Eddy said, it's a reunion, 'cause we don't see each other all year, and then it's good fun all summer long," Fujioka said.

The reunions actually give Fujioka and his wife, Colleen, a chance to spend more time together, since she's also a longtime member of the ohana. The two met when she was cast in "Once Upon One Noddah Time" at Kennedy Theater in 1992. He proposed to her when they started working on DHT's "The Princess and the Iso Peanut" in 1999, and tied the knot just before the show opened.

Two-time Po'okela Award-winner Stephanie Sanchez, who did her first 'Ohi'a show in 1999, describes herself as "one of the young'uns, but it's kind of good because I feel like one of the older members now because we keep getting new people doing our shows," she said. "You just can't get away (from doing) them. They're too much fun!


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KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
The aunties gather: from left, Aunty Dat (Margaret Jones), Aunty Da Kine (Zan De Peralta) and Aunty Dis (Eunice Gaston-Fukunaga).



"I love what Lisa writes, and it gives each and every one of us a great character to work with, so we're constantly adding new things to old characters that everyone's seen before."

Other returnees from prior Matsumoto shows include Zan De Peralta (Aunty Da Kine) Dion Donahue (Pierre), Michael Ng (Prince Wun Cute Guy), Clint Sakioka (Prince Chah Ming Won), Kyle Shimabukuro (Menehune How Come) and Charles Timtim (Noddah Bruddah).

But none of them came farther than Neil Furukawa (Menehune Wea), another veteran from "Bye Bye Hanabata Days." He scheduled his vacation so he could fly in from Oregon to appear in the new production.

"I enjoy doing these shows and it was a good opportunity," he said, adding he doesn't do theater in Oregon. Coming home to reprise his role as one of the comical menehune is "a lot of fun, and we all catch up."

"Everyone who is a menehune this year, except one, has been a menehune at some time in one of the different seasons, but, yeah, I'm one of the old-timers. I'm glad I was able to work things out so I could be here."


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