'Iso Peanut' saves the best for last
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
'Ōhi'a Productions has brought back Lisa Matsumoto's "The Princess and the Iso Peanut" for one more weekend at the Hawai'i Theatre, with all the life and color that local audiences continue to find delightful in the pidgin retelling of favorite children's stories.
Matsumoto rocked the island theater community with her debut production of "Once Upon One Time" while she was still a student at the University of Hawai'i and parlayed that mixture of enthusiasm and innocence into a trilogy, a production company and a legion of dedicated performers and fans.
"Iso Peanut," with music and lyrics by Roslyn Catracchia, is the company's first show based on a single story line. It is entertaining, but it continues to have the same trouble in establishing and sustaining momentum that it experienced in its premiere production 10 years ago. And that is the burden of its wandering first act.
The simple story based on "The Princess and the Pea" tests a young woman's royal nature by placing a peanut under a towering stack of mattresses. If she can't sleep well because of the lump, she can marry the prince.
"Iso Peanut" follows the romance novel formula of building tension by keeping the lovers apart, but — because they don't meet until two hours after the show begins — there is the problem of how to fill out the prestory. And, if curtain call position determines star billing, show director Patrick Fujioka gives the nod to a pair of mothers.
So, in Act One, the action rests on Stephanie Kuroda as mother of the prince — a role written and originally performed by Matsumoto and only a shade less domineering than "Da Wicked Queen" — and Jennifer Cleve Sojot as mother of the princess — who is more of a narrator than an engaged character.
This preliminary action alternates between a moping prince (Nolan Hong) and a distracted princess (Sallie Carey) and is truly enlivened only twice. The first by a violently funny parade of Pacific Rim princess contenders, marked by outrageous cross-dressing and physical comedy. The second punch is a "Lord of the Dance" parody performed by a shipload of clogging pirates led by Dion Donahue.
When the lovers finally meet, things pick up speed. Act Two is shorter, more direct and contains seven songs, compared with 16 in Act One. It also develops real comic warmth as the lovers struggle to communicate in each other's language — Hawaiian pidgin versus standard English.
Because the show rests on parody, it's not surprising that several of Catracchia's songs contain echoes of familiar show tunes. The lovely "No Can Understand" recalls the tentative prologue ("This is what I need, this is what I've longed for") to "Some Enchanted Evening." "Pidgin 101" is an unabashed cousin of "The Rain In Spain."
Ultimately, fun prevails, and the obligatory happy ending ensues.