Ho, Brah! "Iso Peanut" Was Funny, Buu!
The last show of Manoa Valley Theatre’s season is here and it is a crowd pleaser, according to this past Saturday’s production of The Princess and the Iso Peanut. The Princess and the Iso Peanut, from the late Lisa Matsumoto, roars onto the Kaimuki High School stage filled with the local humor and zany antics many have come to love about Matsumoto’s plays.
Told through a series of flashbacks, the play is narrated by Queen Yumiko (Kat Nakano) of the Yamamoto Kingdom and Queen Alana (Colleen Fujioka) of the Allyrian Kingdom. The queens are telling the story of their children, Prince Yoshi (Kenny Kusaka) and Princess Alexis (Melani Carrié), and how they eventually ended up together. A Hawaii-framed retelling of fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, The Princess and the Iso Peanut has Prince Yoshi looking for a woman to marry and Prince Alexis looking to free herself from an unwanted planned marriage. When destiny puts the two together, their loves blossoms and all seems well- until Queen Yumiko decides to give Princess Alexis “Da Princess Test” and tries to find out if Alexis is really worthy in her eyes of marrying her son.
This large cast really fills Kaimuki’s stage well, and Director Michael Ng has gathered quite the ensemble, capturing the necessary performances to drive this sprawling story home. His cast finds the soul of the production through local humor- the kind of playfully stereotypical humor that Hawaii locals resonate with- and they come together as parts of this one whole to tell this lighthearted and fun story. Each actor fills their role with such energy and zeal, that whether they are royalty, a pirate, or a potential spouse they all thrive within this world they created, and for this the ensemble should be proud. Among the cast, a few stand out with dynamic performances: Fujioka's Queen Alana and Nakano's Queen Yumiko, for always emotively toeing the line between royalty and maternal figure and giving a three dimensional breath to these characters; Daryl Bonilla, Eddy Gudoy, Jill Chung, and Stephanie Sanchez for not only playing a relatable support system to their respective kingdoms but for their pidgin lesson too (as well as one fun Scottish accent); and Joe Abraham’s Peter the Pirate is the charming scalawag that we didn’t know we needed but voyaged into our hearts nonetheless. While acting was a strong suit for the bulk of the cast, most of the songs throughout the show had actors cycling between “acting mode” and “singing mode,” not always channeling their emotions that they were just pulsing with just moments before. The exception to this the piece “Make It Through the Night,” where everything seem to click with all the actors on stage, singing and acting going hand in hand.
Unfortunately, a couple of issues slow this otherwise fun family affair. The lighting was not that great- whenever there is a song with a single actor, the lighting switches to a dramatic sort of lighting, darkening all the lights and having a spotlight on the singer. All of these scenes felt unnecessarily dark- maybe a the spotlight was a bit weak or the balance of the lights brought down was too much, but it felt too dark nonetheless. When the stage was lit up proper, it was still a bit underlit- odd pockets where actors were on stage, sometimes even speaking, were dark. The sound was also very uneven throughout the show, with the dialogue not always being properly enunciated and sometimes having the microphones come in too late to an actor’s lines. All of the pirate scenes were very loud, and when fed through microphones just sounded very garbled and not very fun at all. Speaking of sound, the songs sometimes dragged the show’s pacing, and not just because of the aforementioned comment about the acting through them. I respect that Roslyn Catracchia’s compositions are the original songs, but they do feel a bit dated. I would love to hear live renditions of Catracchia’s songs that live and breathe with the actors as opposed to being pre-recorded and played over the speakers.
These issues are not enough to stop an audience from having fun- and that’s what this show is: a raucous, fun-filled family romp through fairy tales and local humor. Come ready for a pidgin 101 lesson, a “Princess-off” competition, and that all too familiar family gathering where everybody and your calabash cousins show up and Uncle teaching your friends how to “banzai” correctly. If you enjoy local humor and fairy tales, The Princess and the Iso Peanut is right up your alley.
The production will run through July 22 and all shows will be performed at Kaimuki High School. Show times are Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thur. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 7:30 p.m., Sat. 7:30 p.m., and Sun. 4 p.m. Tickets are $40. Seniors and military are admitted for $35, youth 25 years old and younger are $22. Call 988-6131 or purchase tickets online at manoavalleytheatre.com. The play is performed in two acts with one intermission.