"Buffalo’ed" at San Jose Stage, CA
by Paul Myrvold on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 3:03pm
Alexandria Diaz de Fato as Madrid, Nila Le as Market Girl, Gregory Manalo as Merienda, Clarissa Chun as Dancer and Carmichael "CJ" Blankenship as Dancer in San Jose Stage Company's Commission and World Premiere of "Buffalo'ed." Photo by Dave Lepori.
We certainly didn’t learn much about the Philippine Insurrection in high school history class. The ginned up Spanish-American war of 1898 lasted a few months and ended with a peace treaty that included a twenty million dollar payment that eased the Spanish surrender, put a period to that country’s global empire, and added Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to our back pocket as “protectorates.”
But the conflict continued in the Philippines when the indigenous people who had struggled against the Spanish yoke for centuries discovered that the United States of America, rather than liberating the islands, became occupiers instead. The U. S. shoved the Spanish boot off the necks of the Filipinos and replaced it with their own. Eventually seventy thousand American soldiers were deployed to the Philippines to put down the rebellion, thus turning the “freedom fighters,” who opposed Spanish imperialism, into “insurrectos” struggling against American imperialism. Moreover, mid-Twentieth century high school students never learned that thousands of Buffalo Soldiers – African American Indian fighters – were sent to war in the Philippine jungles and that some twenty of them defected to the rebels.
Clinton Derricks-Carroll* as Fagen in San Jose Stage Company's Commission and World Premiere of "Buffalo'ed." Photo by Dave Lepori.
Playwright Jeanie Barroga’s Buffalo’ed, staged in collaboration with Alleluia Panis, is a dynamic olio of style and form that tells the story of the soldiers and the insurrection with drama, music, dance and minstrelsy. With magnificent showmanship and boundless energy, Clinton Derricks-Carroll simply owns the audience from first to last as a kind of protean master of ceremonies who, as scripted by the savvy Barroga, does away with the Aristotelian unities of time, place and action. In the styles of a stereotypical minstrel, cadence-driven preacher and one man Greek chorus, he shines a modern light on century-old events entertaining as well as educating and even blows a pretty good sax. Along the way he subsumes himself into the character of the notorious defector David Fagen and together with Daniel Redmond as the intellectual Woody and Adrian Roberts as the conflicted corporal Linc completes a trio of soldiers who represent the much-abused Negro soldiers of the time. They endure the climate, bad food, separation from loved ones and the scorn of their arrogant white captain (David Arrow) who segregates them and humiliates them with punitive duties. Only their Irish American master sergeant, Connor (Tim Hart), treats them as men.
Jed Parsario (background), Rajiv Shah and Amielynn Abellera in San Jose Stage Company's World Premiere of "Buffalo'ed" by Jeannie Barroga in collaboration with Alleluis Panis. Photo by Dave Lepori
Amielynn Abellera gives a tour de force performance as Doña Luisa, an insurrectionist commander who, assuming the guise of a Manila aristocrat, uses festive soirees to gain useful intelligence by deploying a mixture of charm and alcohol against the Captain. In a dizzying display of linguistic virtuosity, she blitzkriegs the Captain in no less than five tongues while peppering their encounter with coy innuendo. Whenever she is on she commands the stage with power and emotion. Together with the appealing Rajiv Shah as the rebel general Porfirio, she sparks a satisfying and touching moment of doomed, melting passion.
And an enthusiastic bravo goes to Jed Parsario as the young water boy Nading. With beatific eyes and angelic charisma, he charms the soldiers (and the audience) with his wit and honesty even as he, too, gathers intelligence for the rebels.
The theatrical choreography of Alleluia Panis throughout the show adds a counterpoint of emotion to many scenes and the use of elaborate martial arts routines disguised as folk dancing – the rebels honing their fighting skills before the very eyes of the occupiers – was a revelation.
Directory Anthony J. Haney keeps the action flowing and the emotion true in this entertaining, powerful production. Kudos to San Jose Stage Company for commissioning and producing a fine world premiere.
Buffalo’ed runs through April 29, 2012 at The Stage, First and William in Downtown San Jose.