LISA MATSUMOTO / 1964-2007
STAR-BULLETIN / 2002
Lisa Matsumoto starred as Da Wicked Queen in "Once Upon One Kapakahi Time" at Hawaii Theatre.
Inspiring Honolulu playwright, 43, dies after head-on crash
She was driving on the wrong side of the H-1
STORY SUMMARY »
The local theater community is mourning the death of Lisa Matsumoto, a playwright, author and actress who died after a head-on crash on the H-1 freeway early yesterday.
Matsumoto is mostly known for penning the beloved "Once Upon One Time" trilogy of local-flavored fairy tales, and she won several Po'okela Awards for shows and children's books. She was 43 years old.
Police said she was driving in the wrong direction on H-1 near Houghtailing Street when she crashed into an oncoming car. The driver of the other car was seriously injured.
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Lisa Matsumoto, a prolific and award-winning Honolulu playwright, died yesterday after she was driving on the wrong side of Oahu's main freeway, leaving the local theater community in shock and mourning.
She was 43 years old.
"It's a devastating blow to the entire theater community," said John Rampage, artistic director for Diamond Head Theatre.
Police said that at about 3:32 a.m. yesterday, Matsumoto was Koko Head-bound on the innermost Waianae-bound lane of the H-1 freeway near the Houghtailing Street offramp.
Matsumoto, driving a green 1997 Toyota Camry, crashed head-on with a black 1998 Toyota Corolla driven by a 36-year-old woman who apparently tried to avoid the collision.
Matsumoto suffered internal injuries and was taken in critical condition to the Queen's Medical Center, where she later died. The other woman was listed in serious condition with head and lower leg injuries.
The Wrong Way
Some recent wrong-way crashes on the freeway:
» June 17, 2006: Janice Madamba, 33, died after her vehicle collided with an oncoming vehicle headed east in the westbound lane of the H-3 freeway, near Halawa Valley Road, at 3:45 a.m.
» March 29, 2006: At 2:54 a.m., 20-year-old Renee Champ, who was intoxicated and pregnant, was headed east in the westbound lanes of the Moanalua Freeway near Red Hill when she crashed into 40-year-old Chikako Iwakiri's vehicle. Both women died.
» April 9, 2005: Bradley Lopes, 33, was driving west on the eastbound lanes of the H-1 freeway near the Military Road Overpass in Kunia. At about 1:16 a.m. he crashed into another pickup, driven by 28-year-old Jeremy Villanueva. Both men died. Lopes was later found to be intoxicated and on Ecstasy.
Police said it is not yet known whether speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the crash. It is also unknown how Matsumoto got on the wrong side of the freeway.
"We still don't know, and we will be asking if there are any witnesses," said Maj. Susan Dowsett, head of the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Safety Division. "If anybody saw her get on the freeway, that would be helpful to our investigation."
Dowsett said two 911 emergency calls came in about a vehicle headed the wrong way on the freeway shortly before the crash. She asked those people, as well as other witnesses, to call police.
Serious traffic crashes involving wrong-way drivers are rare in Hawaii, Dowsett said.
"A lot of our local people know the roads, so it's unusual that it would occur with a local person, but it has happened before," she said.
Sarah Richards, president of Hawaii Theatre, said the theater community was reeling from news of Matsumoto's death.
"She wrote plays that had a local theme, and they always had a message that was important," Richards said. "She particularly wrote plays for young people, but they also related to adults. Our prayers and thoughts go to her family, and she will be terribly missed."
Matsumoto also founded 'Ohi'a Productions, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing creative and educational theatrical opportunities for children. She also acted in more traditional productions like "Little Shop of Horrors," and performed in most of her own works.
'Ohi'a issued a statement announcing her death, noting that "her creativity and celebration of the aloha spirit will be greatly missed. As Lisa would say, 'This is not goodbye, but till another day.'"
Rampage said, "She inspired such devotion from the people that were in her shows, and that's rare."
Rampage has overseen Diamond Head Theatre productions for 12 years, including several of Matsumoto's works. He had recently been in discussions about her writing an original piece for the theater.
"Across the board, everybody who was associated with her shows idolized her," Rampage said. "I don't think we will know the extent of our loss for a very long time. The things she would be capable of presenting and writing in the future, we will just never know."
STAR-BULLETIN / MAY 2001
Isle playwright Lisa Matsumoto helped present the play "Wish Upon A Star" at the Leeward Community College Theatre in 2001.
Her stage and literary legacy
Lisa Matsumoto entertained local kids for almost two decades with a string of pidgin musicals that began with "Once Upon One Time" and continued with "Once Upon One Noddah Time" and "Happily Eva Afta."
The formula drew in equal parts on Kent Bowman's classic pidgin fairy tales of the 1960s and the "Fractured Fairy Tales" seen on the old "Rocky & Bullwinkle" show.
A fourth musical, "The Princess and the Iso Peanut," was a pidgin "translation" of "The Princess and the Pea." Matsumoto directed and starred in "Peanut" when the show debuted at Diamond Head Theatre in 1999.
"Peanut" was one of three shows that earned her a Po'okela Award for best original script from the Hawaii State Theatre Council. "Happily Eva Afta" and "Das How Come" also won for best original script, and she received a Special Adjudicators Award for "her outstanding contribution" to theater.
Matsumoto's fifth "Pokie" was for her performance as Da Wicked Queen in "Once Upon One Time."
In 1995, Matsumoto co-founded 'Ohi'a Productions, a nonprofit organization that produces shows for children and families, with her cousin, artist and illustrator Michael Furuya.
'Ohi'a Productions combines light musical entertainment with messages about the importance of preserving Hawaii's fragile ecosystems.
Matsumoto moved beyond pidgin parodies in 2001 with "On Dragonfly Wings," a musical based on a book she wrote in response to the death of 3-year-old Alana Dung.
Matsumoto and Furuya collaborated in 2004 on "The Christmas Gift of Aloha," a children's book and a musical about a Christmas elf in Hawaii. The show is currently running at Ala Moana Center.
JOHN BERGER, STAR-BULLETIN