Some familiar faces return in 'Iso Peanut'
By Wayne Harada
Special to the Advertiser
The laughter erases the pain, and the process of putting together a Lisa Matsumoto production provides comfort — like soothing medicine.
So says Roslyn Catracchia, a collaborator with late playwright-humorist Matsumoto, of tonight's relaunch of "The Princess and the Iso Peanut" at the Hawaii Theatre, 10 years after its debut and two years after Matsumoto's death in December 2007 in a bizarre head-on traffic accident in which she was driving the wrong way on the H-1 Freeway.
" 'Iso Peanut' definitely has been good medicine," said Catracchia. "The memories are so vivid. It was the first show Lisa and I did together that was a single story with a single through line, and it was very exciting for us working together as a team."
Normally a music director for an 'ohia Productions show, Catracchia has been juggling several tasks while trying to keep her emotions in check. The involvement has been cathartic, she said in an interview, and old-cast vets have blended with newbies in sharing the joy of pidgin theater.
"The decision to revive the show wasn't difficult —however, the process has been challenging," said Catracchia, who has a teeny cameo in the production. "I was ready to get one of her shows out there again. I want so much to remind people of how incredible Lisa was how creative, how hilarious, how joyful.
"Lisa had a magical way of helping us to keep our inner child alive and well, primarily through laughter and through celebrating our differences," said Catracchia. This notion underscores all their collaborations, from "Peanut" to the "Once Upon a Time" trilogy.
At a rehearsal, Dwayne Fujitani (who is reviving the King Yuichi he originated opposite Matsumoto's Queen Yumiko 10 years ago) and Catracchia watched a scene from Act II. "Dwayne turned to me and said, 'We never get tired of it, do we? It's just as fun as it was 10 years ago.' And it's true. We're still laughing."
With a mix of returnees and newbies, "it's wonderful to see the family growing," said Catracchia.
Indeed, folks who are touched by the experience return to stay.
"I'd say about half the cast are returnees, and that's a cast of almost 50!" she said.
For director Patrick Fujioka, this show is particularly meaningful: during the original run, he proposed to his wife, Colleen (Sullivan) Fujioka, who portrayed Princess Alexis.
Clint Sekioka (playing Prince Chah Ming Won) encouraged the casting of new actors. "They are our future," said Sekioka. "If we don't get them and show them what it's all about and how much fun it is and why it's important to do it again, then something else will get them — baseball, paddling, volleyball. It's time for us to nurture their creativity."
Catracchia said University of Hawaii director Tammy (Hunt) Montgomery "taught all of us — the original cast and crew of Lisa's trilogy — about creating a safe, playful environment where as a cast you become more like family."
Matsumoto's death was a gray day for Catracchia. "I was in shock," she said. "The day after she passed away, I was sick and my mom was driving me to the hospital. I remember looking out the window and everything looked black and white, no color at all. I tried to search for something with color, and I couldn't find anything. The trees were gray, the sky was gray, the ocean was gray. I was exhausted and emotionally drained, and I felt as if everything around me was 'The Wizard of Oz' in reverse, as if Lisa and I had been living in amazing, beautiful, colorful Oz, and that I had been swept away, alone, back to Kansas, and there was no going back."
Moving forward was not easy for the singer-composer, who stopped writing for a while. "Then a few projects came in, and it was good to write again, but they were nothing like the projects Lisa and I had done in the past," said Catracchia. "She and I had a list of musicals we wanted to do together. It made me so sad to think that none of them would ever come to pass."