See the OUT & ABOUT REVIEW on the Home Page by Paul Myrvold
BLOG sfgate.com - San Francisco Chronicle
To prepare you for the drive to the 49er games in Santa Clara, you really should take a drive this weekend to San Jose and catch the final performances of BUFFALO’ED, a play by Filipino American writer Jeannie Barroga, with choreography by renown Filipino American choreographer Alleluia Panis.
Both Barroga and Panis are artists who reach new heights with this collaboration, which had its world premier this month at The Stage in San Jose.
I’ve written about the ironies of the Philippine American War for years, the last time earlier this year when John Sayles’ new indy movie on the subject opened. Even Sayles couldn’t believe he hadn’t really heard of the war.
“BUFFALO’ED” is better than reading a history book, or even seeing Sayles’ movie. In a live performance that features multi-media and expressive dance scenes, the play explores a piece of this little known war that is rarely, if ever, discussed: the unique cross-cultural history of the Buffalo Soldiers’ presence in that war.
If you know your African American history, the Buffalo Soldiers were former slaves who were enlisted to fight the Plains states’ battle against Native Americans. But after that fight they were sent to Asia to fight yet another war against people of color.
Barroga did her homework and tells the story of Donald Fagen, an African American soldier who made the front page of the New York Times for answering this question: When people of color are enlisted to fight people of color, whose side can you really be on?
From the Filipino side, Barroga presents a composite character Dona Luisa, as representative of how women were instrumental in the rebels’ fight for freedom.
It’s well acted with a great cast and staging, but its spark is the movement and dance contributed by Panis. The Filipino American choreographer uses her knowledge of Filipino stick fighting to great effect, grabbing you from the first of the production.
Like I said, you could read about the Philippine American War and the Filipino Insurrection, but it’s probably more fun to see this impressive staging in its final week. Emil Guillermo April 25, 2012
The Brutal Philippine-American War of 1899–1902 is a conveniently forgotten chapter of U.S. history, and the role of segregated black Army regiments—Buffalo Soldiers—is known even less. However, a new play from writer Jeannie Barroga and performance artist Alleluia Panis plucks these men from the dust bin of history and drops them at centerstage, where they belong. This play is Buffalo’ed, a colorful, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink experience now running at San Jose Stage Company through April 29.
When the United States, having annexed the Philippines, moves to crush any native resistance, it puts the Army’s black soldiers in an odd position—the most downtrodden of Americans, they are now being used to oppress others. The austere Linc (Adrian Roberts, in excellent form) insists that they keep quiet and follow orders if they want to gain the white man’s respect, even as letters from his wife (Elizabeth Carter) and clashes with a headstrong comrade (Daniel Redmond) pose tough questions about the war.
David Fagen, who was a real Buffalo Soldier and something of a legend in his day, is lightheartedly yet powerfully portrayed by Clinton Derricks-Carroll. The play also features an arrogant white captain (David Arrow) who spews bad Kiplingesque poetry while his subordinates dig latrines and dodge bullets, and a group of Filipino insurrectos, including noblewoman Doña Luisa (Amielynn Abellera), who use dance lessons as a cover for practicing their escrima fighting style.
Buffalo’ed is, in essence, a history lesson, and this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. There are times when it looks like a Ken Burns documentary, complete with sepia-toned background images, but then the escrima dancers emerge, tumbling and leaping through the air while wielding sticks and knives. History, the play seems to be saying, is a living, breathing thing. And as the play makes clear through pointed references to the newly acquired territory of Guantanamo Bay and water torture employed on Filipinos by the U.S. Army, we are still living with what we started more than a century ago.
These are stories that need to be told with honesty and courage, and Buffalo’ed does just that, and if it gets even a handful of people discussing the issues it raises—American racism and imperialism, along with the hope of solidarity across racial and national lines—it will have been a worthwhile endeavor. Sean Conwell www.sanjose.com April 10, 2012
Congratulations to skillful collaborators – choreographer, director, cast, and crew – for a passionately moving experience. “Buffalo’ed” delivers the complex tale of disastrous American imperial ambition as an indelibly clear and personal human story. With great skill, you all have focused on the wrenching moral ambivalence of a brave black cavalry troop employed by their government to conquer, by brutal means, a people of color. Just as the Filipino people are about to achieve their freedom from the Spanish, the United States steps in to subvert their liberation. With great care, you have woven into the tale, the long cultural tradition of the “oppressed” people by making use of the wonderful choreography of the Pilipino martial art of escrima. The all-too human conflict of a military troop with its tradition of service emerges seamlessly in the eloquent arguments between the troopers and their correspondence with their families at home suffering from “jim crow.” These black soldiers are painfully aware of the racist basis for the conflict – the same racist basis for their own subjection at home. Your presentation does not stop there. Through wonderfully intimate scenes, we see that the native people are also besieged by their own ambivalent attitude toward their former Spanish rulers and by their fears and hesitations at the certainty that they will be massacred. Finally you have not neglected the bureaucratic class system of the “white” Americans. The battle between the Captain and his master sergeant makes clear that human oppression is endemic to the species. We leave the theater with a strong sense that we have lived the history of our American heritage and that we are still suffering from the same mortal errors. Thanks for a great theatrical evening. Bill Broder April 8, 2012
Marin Independent Journal
Sausalito's Barroga turns historical footnote into play
ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO, Jeannie Barroga was indulging in her passion, reading about history, when she came upon a footnote about Buffalo Soldiers fighting in the Philippines in 1899.
"And I went, 'Is that all? There must be more," says Barroga, a longtime Sausalito resident.
There was more, as Barroga discovered. She began an exhaustive search for as much information as she could about how the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of African-American men that were formed during the Civil War, ended up fighting in the Philippines where many, faced with conflicts of loyalty and dignity, defected to the Philippine cause.
She ended up with a massive amount of notes, but nothing to do with them.
It wasn't until she and her former student Norman Gee, Oakland Public Theater's artistic director, took a hike in the Headlands to talk about collaborating on a project that she got the idea of turning her notes into a play. That was in 2005.
"I said I want to write a play about the Buffalo Soldiers in the Philippines, do you know about it? He's African-American, and he said he'd never heard of it, which is invariably the answer I get from people whenever I tell them about it," says Barroga, a member of the Dramatists Guild as well as a teacher, director and playwright of more than 50 plays.
Now more people will — her play "Buffalo'ed" runs through April 29 at the San Jose Stage Company.
"Even though it has the background of a war, it's not a war story; it's about the people and how they're dealing with the changes in their lives and how heroic they can be," she says. "It's mostly from the point of view of those people you don't hear from, the ones behind the scenes, the loved ones who are waiting for news."
Barroga had been set to have "Buffalo'ed" produced at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco — and was awarded a Wallace Alexander Gerbode/William and Flora Hewlett Foundation grant to do so — when the theater's founding artistic director, Stanley E. Williams, and managing director, Quentin Easter, died within nine weeks of each other in the summer of 2010. That sent Barroga searching for a new producer; San Jose Stage fit the bill, she says.
Barroga was drawn to playwriting as a response to the death of her father. She often looks to her own Filipino heritage to explore the Filipino-America experience, the tension between tradition and assimilation, and immigrants' quest for identity in her works.
She also has written other plays using war as a backdrop; "Walls," which tells the stories of Vietnam-era soldiers and their loved ones before the unveiling of the Vietnam War Memorial, won a National Endowment for the Arts award.
Like the Vietnam War, the Philippine-American War "was a very controversial war at the time. It was the first imperialist war after the Civil War, and it was the first time they sent Buffalo Soldiers farther than Puerto Rico and Cuba and finally to the Philippines, which meant transport and a whole different way of looking at how to man and resource wars on foreign territory," she says. "So, when it was not as easy to quell the rebels, it took the U.S. three years and they pretty much gave up."
As much as "Buffalo'ed" takes place a long time ago, she believes there are similar themes and issues shaping global politics now.
"There are reasons to question even what you read in the papers, what you read in history books. The curiosity should be to always find about what's behind any story. ... It's worth posing the question," she says. "It's meant to have people think in terms of how it applies today."Vicki Larson
April 12, 2012
Spartan Daily-San Jose State University
Buffalo'ed Over At The Stage
by David Wong
Poetry and dance filled The Stage at 490 S. 1st St. as the San Jose Stage Company put on the play, “Buffalo’ed” on April 7.
“It’s based upon a history that a lot of people don’t know about, it was good to see a production that kind of dealt with it,” SJSU alumnus attendee LJB Hunter said.
Set in the Philippines during the turn of the century, the production, written by Jeannie Barroga and directed by Anthony J. Haney, depicts the lives of men and women living in the midst of a war between the United States and the Philippines.
“I thought it was an interesting point of history to learn about, especially the part that we understand that America’s injustice was carried overseas and it never really changed,” Rob Robinson, an attendee said.
Even though “Buffalo’ed” featured a sizable cast, there were characters that stood out through the actors’ frenetic and committed performances, like the Buffalo soldier Fagen, played by Clinton Derricks-Carroll and the noblewoman Luisa, played by Amielynn Abellera.
The play is accessible to audiences, both young and old, as the humor and choreographed dances serve as enticing interludes sandwiched between lengthy monologues and dialogues that provide just the right of information to entertain and educate audiences.
According to a news release from the San Jose Stage Company, the crux of the plot rests upon the outlawing of public assemblies of Filipinos by the occupying American forces — the natives subvert authority by performing dances that also double as combat training for the oncoming war.
Fagen, who functioned as a narrator and mouthpiece for the actions taking place on stage, encouraged limited audience participation through the frequent breaking of the forth wall, like asking for confirmation to his questions or statements and speaking with an operator in a booth past the audience.
There were modernist elements at play.
For example, cast members blurted out the events of the late 19th Century in America in near unison.
“It (was) a very artistic, very stylistic piece which was done very well, it’s interesting for me (because) the name, (Buffalo’ed”) is a draw in one sense, but the story is very much different than your expectations…but I think it’s a good mixture of the cultural aspects of the Filipino culture that is very well played with the dancing,” said SJSU alumna Viera Whye, who attended the play.
The play was often driven by absurdist and black humor when referencing the deployment of the Buffalo Soldiers to fight Filipinos, when they themselves are still treated as second-class citizens.
The eponymous Buffalo Soldiers were members of four army regiments (9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry) composed of entirely African-Americans, according to the National Park Service.
They were deployed during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th Century after the natives of the island nation grew disenchanted with the United States’ annexation of their islands following the Spanish-American War, according to the Office of the Historian of the U.S Department of State.
Humor keeps the play from becoming too depressing, but it also helps to serve a sobering realization that many of the forgotten events in our country’s history are inglorious and maddening.
“I was impressed and I enjoyed it, it was my first time going to a play by (San Jose Stage Company), it was great, it’s funny and they do a great job of making information relevant,” said junior industrial design major Colin Rickard. David Wong April 8, 2012
Directed down an alternate path - Stockton Record interview with actor Amielynn Abellera ("Luisa") by Lori Gilbert April 12, 2012
San Jose Mercury News
'Buffalo'ed,' in world premiere at San Jose Stage, revisits role of black soldiers sent to fight in Philippines
By Karen D'Souza NOTE: Preview Night April 6, 2012
Fierce women warriors fly out of the darkness with their blades ablaze, ready to fight for their homeland, in "Buffalo'ed."
A legion of dancers, elegantly choreographed by Alleluia Panis, soar through the air, creating a potent mashup of battle and ballet. Ethereal and deadly, the dancers take flight even when the narrative bogs down in Jeannie Barroga's dense historical-political drama at San Jose Stage.
The playwright has a noble aim -- to reveal the untold story of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American men dispatched to fight in the Philippines, who often found themselves at cross purposes with history. Barroga attempts to deconstruct a thorny tangle of issues, including race, colonialism and greed, in her ambitious epic. But the unwieldy narrative overreaches its grasp, and her passionate, compelling point of view on the plight of these soldiers and the people they were sent to subdue doesn't yet come through clearly enough in this world-premiere production.
Director Anthony J. Haney coaxes intensity from the cast, but the complex, intertwined plot threads remain muddled, as the fate of the soldiers, natives and officers unfold. At its core, the show may be more of a history lesson than a play, and Barroga certainly succeeds at shedding light on this little-known chapter in American and Filipino history. But a didactic tone tends to obscure the human tragedy.
The soldier Fagen (Clinton Derricks-Carroll) -- who went on to become a famous insurrectionist, joining forces with the natives against the American troops -- is at the heart of the parable. Clad in a dapper top hat, Fagen often addresses the audience with meta-theatrical speeches on manifest destiny or minstrel shows. It's a bracing technique but doesn't quite fit the tone of the rest of the drama, though the actor attacks each speech with vigor.
Fagen and his fellow soldiers must dig ditches for latrines and take turns as canon fodder, while the entitled white officers carry out the plum assignments. The captain (David Arrow), a racist scoundrel, takes great pleasure in setting one breed of "savage" against another. A pompous cad, he drinks tea and crafts his memoirs while villages are pillaged, children slain and women raped, all in the name of freedom.
Despite his smug sense of superiority, he falls prey to the charms of Dona Luisa (an exuberant turn by Amielynn Abellera), a rebel general posing as an aristocratic lady of leisure. She soon rouses the sympathies of the African-American men serving under the captain. Shocked by the atrocities they must to commit, Fagen and his pals -- the smart-alecky Woody (Daniel Redmond) and the stolid Linc (a formidable Adrian Roberts) -- feel caught between two worlds. They are Americans, but while they never felt welcome in their own country, they feel strangely at home in this faraway land.
Make no mistake, this compelling subject matter illuminates the forces shaping global politics then and now. But the "Buffalo'ed" narrative lacks the emotional firepower it should have. Though buttressed by history truth and fascinating archival photos projected onto the stage, the characters never seem as three-dimensional as they should, and the dialogue falters under the weight of an ornate poetic sensibility. The plot touches on too many themes for any of them to hit as hard as they should.
To be sure, there are some lovely moments: Elizabeth Carter shines as Linc's long-suffering wife Della, who doesn't understand why he is helping enslave foreigners in their own country so soon after his own people were freed. The letters between them provide some of the show's best emotionally grounded moments.
Ultimately the most eloquent images in this tale of revolution are sculpted in muscle and sinew, not language. When the dancers wield their bodies like weapons, "Buffalo'ed" is at its sharpest.
2.5 out of 5 stars
A superior cast. . .well-intentioned – debut production regarding both the Filipino and African American experience in the Philippines in the wake of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Despite the obvious attention to detail in all its design elements, the overly ambitious narrative structure, employing virtually every theatrical device imaginable. . .some effective scenes scattered throughout, , ,emotional resonance is attributable to the truly remarkable ensemble, with strong, polished performances by the inimitable Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Amielynn Abellera, Adrian Roberts, David Arrow, Tim Hart, and Elizabeth Carter – plus superb dancing by Alexandria Diaz de Fato. Undoubtedly its timely themes of recurring U.S. imperialism and the inherent hypocrisy underlying notions of “cultural superiority” was an intriguing concept. . .GREGORY M. ALONZO 04.07.2012
YELP 5 stars
April 4, 2012
"Buffalo'ed", a world premiere, is now playing at San Jose Stage. This is a very powerful and timely production. The acting and dancing were excellent. It is true that The Stage never disappoints--its productions are edgy and thought-provoking. Don't miss this play about a little-known episode in our history. My husband and I and two friends of ours were very impressed by this production. Barbara P.
BUFFALO'ED 5 stars
We know we're in for a rousing performance right from the start of 'Buffalo'ed', when buffalo soldier David Fagen (Clinto Derricks-Carroll) struts front a la black minstrel and engages the audience in a rollicking song, dance and monologue on the life of the American soldier in the jungles of the Philippines and the irony of carrying out the US manifest destiny of bringing freedom and democracy to a faraway culture while denying it to black citizens like Fagen himself.
Are we in for another bleeding heart polemic by that cadre of 'I hate America and its terrible flaws but hell, why would I live anywhere else?' artists? It turns out the answer is NO. 'Buffalo'ed' is a really terrific play that features great writing, great directing, great acting and entertaining weapon dances about a little known true incident about the buffalo soldiers and the story of the real David Fagen, who deserted the expeditionary force and joined the rebels. There are plenty of applications you might think of regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. Playwright Jeannie Barroga, thankfully, doesn't go there. She just tells her great story.
Ms. Barroga advances her story in four overlapping layers. First there's the buffalo soldier layer, three African-American soldiers and their white captain and corporal who march onstage in their 1898 expeditionary uniforms carrying in their rifles, cots and trunks. One soldier, the volatile but loyal Linc (Adrian Roberts) breaks away from the group and carries on a verbal back and forth of letters to his attractive and very pregnant wife Della (Elizabeth Carter), who appears on a dais above the stage.
A choreographed dance pair, presumably Filipinos, portray the feelings expressed by Della and Linc, such as their passionate love for each other. Then the buffalo soldiers grab all their belongings and fade back through the many-opening stage curtain while more bolo and sword-carrying dancers come forward and we realize they represent Filipino society and more specifically, some of them are rebels intent on chasing the Americans out. Porfiro (Rajiv Shah) and Luisa (Amielynn Abellera) break out of the dancers and express their plans for Filipino independence.
The fourth layer is represented by the periodic full-stage slides that gobo light the backdrop curtain with scenes from the actual 1898 war.
Dona Luisa steps out of the Filipinos and approaches the American captain (David Arrow). Luisa is all charm, banter and bravado initially and it's not clear what she intends with that little stiletto that she hides under her wrist wrapping. She invites the Captain to a 'soiree' where he can meet Filipino society. It becomes clear that she wants more than international friendship. At heart, she is a nationalist. Ms. Abellera's passionate performance is one of the great strengths of this performance.
As the story progresses, we watch the buffalo soldiers turn sour over their treatment by the American military and Linc's letters to Della grow scarcer. What else can I say without giving away the whole plot? Even as the Captain is getting a promotion and new stripes for his success in taking Filipino territory, Luisa and her insurrecto colleagues plan to dilute the strength of the American forces by luring the unhappy buffalo soldiers to the rebel cause.
The gifted actors, director and choreographers of the San Jose Stage Company somehow make these four layers and simultaneous stories work. The only part that limps is the full-stage slides, which don't really do well at the role I think they were intended for, which is providing scene breaks--marking the passage of time. It might work better if scenes were listed in the program. The dialogue was sometimes overloaded and my sixty-something brain couldn't make sense of an interchange. However, the action carried the story along.
If only the playbill synopsis writer had shown the same discipline as the playwright. Carried away by his responsibility perhaps, Norman Gee (listed as the Assistant Director) confuses us all as we sat down to begin the play with a liberal polemic and long-winded explanation of the story's setting that makes some sense when you read it the day after but is better left unread before you watch the performance.
My wife and I spent a good thirty minutes talking about the performance afterwards and we noted that lots of people stuck around to fill out the questionnaires. Perhaps the Company is seeking feedback to decide how to position this 'World Prermier Performance' for a roadtrip. (The show continues until April 29). We met Ms. Barroga as we headed out (she'd been in the audience behind us). She credited the Company with the success of 'Buffalo'ed' but we know better. She's created one great story here that should grow legs and see more cities.
--Ken Yoder Reed
September 2009 on directing MONDAY GOLDEN SUN: "Brava, Bravo, Bravissimo...Congratulations on a magnificent production...the most rivetting theatrical event I've ever experienced. You and your performers had your audience mesmerized...Amazing and very painful, leaving one with a measure of hope...a cathartic applause...I'm standing right now and applauding! Congrats!...theater as therapy as theatrical experience for the audience, too..."
BANYAN the sold-out run produced by the Asian American Theater Company at New Langton Gallery Theater, San Francisco, CA: Directed by Francis Tanglao-Aguas: Michael Dorado, Ryan Morales, Victoria Mejia; Shelene Atanacio, Roberto Divina, James Lontayao, Jose Saenz, and Vicky Zabarte.
A Filipino Dorothy -- The Wizard in a tree
By Michael Leaverton, Frako Loden, Karen Macklin and Hiya Swanhuyser
The Wizard of Oz meets the dreaded Filipino fiend the aswang: Does this sound weird, even for a high-concept play? Maybe, but Banyan, by Bay Area playwright Jeannie Barroga, now enjoying its world premiere after a three-year workshop run, is as eccentric as San Francisco theater gets. The aswang is a creature from the rich folklore of the Philippines, a terrifying liver-, soul-, and fetus-sucking spirit that assumes different shapes and stalks the jungle with its feet pointing backward. How do you spot an aswang masquerading as an ordinary human? Ignore, for a moment, its nasty protruding tongue, which can manifest in any friend. The thing to notice is that your reflection in its eye will be upside down, as the beast follows you down the yellow brick road.
Banyan is no traditional Wizard production, journeying not to Oz but into the heart of corporate America, where a young woman who works in the shredding room of a business gradually wakes to the corruption all around her. On a vacation back to her cultural homeland in the Philippines, she's joined by a cast of characters that includes the nefarious aswang and terrorist guerrillas, who may or may not prompt a relieved "There's no place like home!" from the heroine as she tackles the jungles. As an Asian American Theater Company production, Banyan promises a level of political awareness that should balance your minimum daily camp requirement…Frako Loden
Theatre Bay Area, November 2005:
If Dorothy was a modern Filipina American with a soft spot for corpse-eating devils instead of small mutts, she might sound like Ona from Jeannie Barroga’s BANYAN. Trapped by the banalities of corporate corruption and strip-mall Americana, Ona longs to reconnect with her Filipino roots. She years for the simplicity of a people who rely on charms and spells instead of guns to ward off evil. Armed with a slightly off-color EBay-purchased travel guide, Ona embarks on a “trip toward truth” through the land of her cultural origin. But instead of discovering succor and homecoming, Ona finds herself on an allegorical journey marked by hostages, aswangs (soul-sucking witches) and symbolic terrorism. But the friends she meets help her discover the Filipino jungle version of clicking her heels three times to find home—which is, of course, right where she left it. “…In this lovingly crafted world premiere, Barroga uses influences from Filipino folklore and The Wizard of Oz to etch a modern homecoming that first requires confronting a few lions and tigers and bears, oh my. -Amber Adrian
“…Yelp favorites have new plays that have some folks going batty... the Asian American Theater Company's production of Banyan, a modern-day, multicultural variation on The Wizard of Oz that incorporates Filipino fantasy, folklore and humor…”
"...ambitious and fascinating attempt to make some overarching sense of the chaos of the last five years...re-articulating the war on terrorism and the Philippines and the fiscal malfeasance of Enron into a grander and more spiritually resonant narrative...
Barroga's play gestures to something bigger than Oz; it wasn't a dream jungle but a place. (And you, and you, and you, and you, were there.) Ona's whirlwind journey may be in her head, but real corruption, and a very real war, is still happening in a real, truly live place."
Acclaimed playwright Jeannie Barroga must have done her background research in my Lola's living room, because "Gadgets" had me laughing and crying like I was at home. This story of a Filipino family struggling with love, loss, memories and loyalty spoke to me and touched a chord that left me in struggling through tears throughout the play. The play features some of the best of the area's Flip actors, and the love and care brought to the production by TnT (direction, set design, etc.) is evident. I can't stop raving about it.
Don't miss this!
Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, PhD Candidate, Dept. of History, Stanford University
Barroga's "Gadgets" displayed honestly, grace, with grit and humor. The complexities of each character/spirit/gadget was brilliantly intertwined with intergenerational conflict and resolution. Gadgets challenged many traditional notions of the Filipino American family structure yet it made many of us feel right at home. –
Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Professor, S.F. State University
“. . .my mouth was wide open half the time the other quarter was laughing and the other quarter - well, that was my right eye fighting to get the rivers out that I didn't even know were there, all of this from the pockets of talent from each...I saw spirits, children, adults, women, tatay, a family. . .sisters . . .”
Olivia Malabuyo, Producer
I saw GADGETS. Great production - compact, intense,
funny and sad and real. I want my mommy.
Joey Ayala, International Musician/Performer
Honolulu Advertiser January 17, 1995
by Joseph T. Rozmiarek [Kumu Kahua Theatre]
VIBRANT FILIPINO-THEMED 'TALK-STORY'
'Talk-Story' by Jeannie Barroga focuses on the Filipino immigrant experience -- a group she describes as Asian, but not Chinese or Japanese, and who want to be known for something other than the color yellow or a thousand pairs of shoes.
The central character is Dee Abano, a first-generation American daughter in love with old movies, but caught up in an identity crusade. She is also a newspaper copy assistant beginning a series of articles on the Filipino experience, most of which are based on her father's colorful and often-told stories.
The situation gives Barroga the opportunity to rapidly bounce between Dee's contemporary experiences and those of her father and uncle in the Philippines and California. Simultaneous histories unfold: the men confronting discrimination with pride and humor, and Dee challenging lingering prejudice and ignorance with fierce determination.
What evolves is the clear message that all coping methods come with a price. The older brothers drift into bitterness and denial, while Dee exhausts herself defending against unintended slights.
Eventually Dee learns the real truth behind her father's stories and discovers that both of them have used fantasy to escape from a reality that is often imperfect.
Barroga's success is that her play is both revealing as a racial experience and a vivid character study -- with strong performances that keep it from becoming a treatise.
Director Kati Kuroda gets good work from her small cast, keeps a lively tempo, and assures that the melange of times and places remain distinct, but blend into an integral whole.
Maria Quiban is vibrant as Dee, showing her complicated mixture of bravado, yearning, and fantasy. She's alternately a young Katharine Hepburn, hopeful child, and daydreamer -- a too-tightly wrapped a modern woman who convincingly comes a bit unraveled.
Lito Capina is excellent as Frank Abano, her father. Capina brings abundant, spontaneous humor to the role, rattling away in a mixture of languages with a melodious voice and wonderful expressions. But there is always a clear dignity in the man that keeps Frank from becoming merely a clown. Rather, Capina correctly makes him intelligent and creative, but also a bit of [a] irresponsible rascal.
Warren Fabro is good contrast as the sober Uncle Pedro, aging from a suave young buck to a scolding and abrupt, old man. Brian Messner is appropriately worn down as Dee's boyfriend, Eric Seabury successfully takes on a series of small parts that all reflect a similar intolerance. Sheri Wilson has the least developed role as Dee's friend, largely a plot device to manufacture conversation rather than monologue.
The actors work on Joseph Dodd's stark, but creative, stage set that allows for rapid scene changes and memory vignettes behind a dark scrim.
"Talk-Story' bring an excellent new voice and perspective to Kumu Kahua's repertoire of plays relevant to Hawaii's audiences.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin January 17, 1995 by John Berger [Kumu Kahua Theatre]
CHALLENGING 'TALK-STORY' RECEIVES EXCELLENT PRODUCTION
There's some unintended irony involved in the local premiere of "Talk-Story," but don't blame Kumu Kahua or playwright Jeannie Barroga. It's just a matter of timing.
First, much of the story focuses on the racial prejudice Filipinos encountered in California in the 1930s, but Dee Abano (Maria T. Quiban) seems to find it alive and well in contemporary San Francisco when she's kept waiting for restaurant table. Do conditions today really equate the institutionalized legally enforced racism of the '30s -- even in California?
It's also ironic that "Talk-Story" comes here shortly after Frank DeLima again took hits from people who find his portrayal of Filipino culture and mannerisms offensive. "Talk-Story" illuminates the tenuous line separating character from caricature.
This is an entertaining and challenging production. Barroga and director Kati Kuroda freely scramble time and space, reality and fantasy in following fledgling journalist Abano as she uses the stories her father told her as material for her newspaper column.
Quiban is good in a demanding role. Lito Capina is excellent as her father, Frank.
Capina's characterization is as rich and fully detailed a portrayal as is likely to be seen anywhere this theater season. There's no sense that Capina is working at acting, yet he covers a range of emotions. Warren Fabro likewise gives an exceptional performance as Frank's older brother, Pedro.
Frank's stories recall his childhood in the Philippines, his experiences as a bachelor in pre-war California, and his wartime adventures back in the Philippines. Other subplots involved Dee's alienation from traditional Filipino culture, her childhood relationship with her often-absent father, her feelings as an American-born Filipino visiting the Philippines, and her reaction to contemporary anti-Asian racism.
At heart she's a romantic. Among her interests are Hollywood film classics from the 1930s and '40s -- ironically, an era not known for sensitivity in its portrayals of Asians and African-Americans. She's also prone to exaggerate when recounting her experiences to her friend, Clara (Sheri "Squirt" Wilson). Did she really dazzle her editor (Eric Seabury) and handsome reporter Lon Quinn (Brian Messner) with a '40s-style hard-boiled proposal for a column on Filipinos? Or did the paper simply need something to fill space, or pick her to fill an affirmative action quota?
Quiban is bright, spunky, and occasionally strident as Our Heroine -- insecure men might find it comfortable to take the easy way out and label Dee Abano a "bitch." It's not that simple.
This isn't the first time Kumu Kahua production in which white characters tend to be either foaming racists or well-intentioned bumblers. Quinn fits the latter category; he obliviously refers to Akira Kurasawa as a "Jap" director, and is generally clueless in relating to Dee's concerns either as a Filipino or simply as a woman, Messner carries off that thankless assignment; Seabury plays a number of cookie-cutter [sic] racists as well as two more sympathetic roles.
Hawaii residents are probably more aware than most mainlanders of the daunting conditions Filipinos faced before World War II. American race laws made it almost impossible for Filipino women to immigrate; Frank isn't exaggerating when he tells his daughter of the 20-1 male-female ratio. Barroga also mentions that American laws prohibited marriages between whites and other races years after Hitler was dead, and that the United States invaded the Philippines in 1898 and crushed the Filipino government.
The staging of "Talk-Story" is as striking as its content. Joseph D. Dodd's minimalist set is stark and adequate; titles projected on a screen announce each change of locale. Laura Keaunui's costumes and Keith Kashiwada's choice of music contributes further in the establishment of time and place.
As usual, the Kumu Kahua playbill doesn't include a glossary. The performance of Capina and Fabro go a long way in transcending the language barrier.
Hawaii residents should be familiar with Frank's tales of hard work, frugality, racial prejudice and taxi dancers. Anyone who isn't should be sure to see "Talk-Story."
Asian Week (San Francisco, CA) May 17, 1991 by Don Lau
[Brava! For Women in the Arts, San Francisco, CA]
"Kenny Was a Shortstop", But Is Still a Hit
How would you feel if your son was accidentally killed during a youth gang shootout which was detailed in a newspaper story taking up about 1/6 of a page?
The legacy of such grief is explored in Jeannie Barroga's "Kenny Was a Shortstop" at San Francisco's Brava! Studio Theater. The one act play is based on a true incident.
On July 15, 1990 in Stockton, California, Leobardo Barajas, an 18-year-old Filipino youth, was accidentally gunned down with another person during a gang war shootout. Five other people were wounded. The accused are 12 members of a Filipino youth gang, Bahala Na ("Anything Goes"). The accused face 348 criminal counts. The defendants entered their pleas on April 15, 1991.
Relatives and friends of wounded victims are usually overlooked by the media in its reportage of these unfortunate events.
"Kenny" gives the audience a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the parents who continue to mourn the untimely death of their son, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cora (Janis Chow) is a reporter who interviews Tommy (Ron Muriera) and Nan (Wilma Consul) over a period of time for an indepth article on the aftermath of their son's murder. Michael Ordona portrays the late Kenny in flashbacks which build a jigsaw portrait of a youngster frustrated by racism that blocks both his career choices ("I'm not a g--k[y] geek!") and his pursuit of an Asian girl who prefers white Americans because "I have to have standards." The boy feels like "leftovers instead of prime beef" and decides to become a rebel with a cause: To strip off the barnacles of the so-called "model minority" image by being a bad boy.
Kenny's one fleeting moment of glory was a double play when he was a shortstop on the school baseball team. The irony, of course, is that an Asian American kid, who vainly tried to assimilate in White America, was able to achieve a nanosecond of distinction in baseball, an all-American sport. Kenny's mom wants that one bright instant of happiness to be described in Cora's story to counterbalance the negative press. It isn't.
"[H]eart, mind? Where is it? Not in this 'sixth of a page'. . .[He looked like them, and they killed him. They gang together because that world out there MAKES them! And THAT's the real enemy . . .That's what makes the war,]" Nan cries out.
The only major problem with "Kenny" is that it's only one act. Ron Muriera does a credible job as the aloof fisherman father who wonders what went wrong with his son. Wilma Consul gives a good performance as the mother whose grief boils just beneath the surface. Michael Ordona is a Filipino James Dean. Finally, Barroga handles both the subject matter and the cast with just the right amount of sensitivity to effectively dramatize the anguish of the forgotten victims of gang violence without fortifying the stereotypes that the mainland media foster about so-called "Asian gangs."
"Kenny" may have been a shortstop, but it's definitely a hit.
["Kenny" was part of a "Woman Times Three" series of one act plays which showcase San Francisco women directors.]
by Rene M. Astudillo, Contributing Editor
Kenny Was a Shortstop – Short Filipino Play Says A Lot
[Brava! For Women in the Arts, San Francisco, CA]
“Kenny Was a Shortstop,” by Filipino writer Jeannie Barroga, is based on a true story. On July 15, 1990 Leobardo Barajas, 18, was killed with one other person in Stockton, California. The 12 accused are members of a Filipino youth gang called Bahala Na (“anything goes.”).
This one-act play is about the past and present. It reminisces significant facets of Kenny’s life before he was fatally shot. Occasional flashbacks paint a vivid picture of Kenny (played by Michael Ordona) as lacking in self-confidence and unable to deal with failure and frustration. When he gets jilted by the girl he likes, he slips into a non-conformist personality as a way of getting the attention he wants.
However, the flashbacks merely provide the basic scenario for the play. The real setting is about a Filipino Chinese journalist (Janis Chow as Cora) who interviews Kenny’s parents (Wilma Consul as Nan and Ron Muriera as Tommy), hoping to interject a “human interest” twist in the murder story. In the beginning, Nan volunteers all information, complete with Kenny’s scrapbooks. She goes all out, including pressuring Cora to stay for dinners, to make sure that the newspaper story will be the “perfect” one last memory of Kenny. Tommy, on the other hand, was more aloof, hardly responding to Cora’s questions.
Nan was not pleased with Cora’s first article and demands that a proof of succeeding stories be first presented to her.
In her last visit to the couple’s house, Cora was treated to an interesting twist she had not expected. Cora accuses Tommy of not having given enough attention to Kenny. Tommy, in turn, says that he himself needed some attention for Nan. Like Kenny, Tommy says he was also a baseball player. “But you never asked,” he says to Nan. Embarrassed by what she was hearing, Cora begged to leave, but only after Nan had asked her to “leave out” from her newspaper story the “new information” that had surfaced.
The play ends with Nan asking Tommy to pick just one bitter melon from the garden. It will just be dinner for two.
Barroga’s script is an effective mix of the past and the present, being able to tell Kenny’s story while dramatizing the couple’s own. It is a realistic mix of Filipino culture (of hospitality, backyard gardening, and adobo – the popular dish) and the American way of life (baseball and fishing for leisure, among other things). It depicts a Filipino American household of conservative parents and “Americanized” children. It speaks of the Filipino pride that shuns damaging “scandals.”
Ordona as Kenny is believable as a Filipino growing up in America. Consul (with a curly wig) and Muriera (with that baseball cap), faking a strong Filipino accent, are almost real and certainly funny. Chow could very well be the journalist of Channel 7. It was a cast efficiently put together, under the able direction of the scriptwriter herself.
“Kenny Was a Shortstop” is a short play that mirrors a lot.
WALLS Review by Jim Carnes, Sacramento Bee, January 27, 2004
"Walls," a presentation by the new Ethnic Theater program at Sacramento City College, is a play about the design and building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the controversy surrounding it and its designer, Maya Lin, a 21-year-old Chinese American student. Error! Unknown switch argument.But the drama, which concludes with three performances this week, is about other walls as well -- the walls that separate us individually and racially, walls of bigotry and fear and misunderstanding.
Bay Area playwright Jeannie Barroga, a Filipina, has written a challenging and provocative play, which she describes in the program as "a woman's viewpoint on a male war. Specifically, a woman of color's viewpoint on an essentially racist war which to this day ... people (don't) want to recognize." Barroga's attentions are split between two main story threads -- the controversy over the design and the designer, and the stories of citizens and former soldiers who come to the Wall seeking solace. The former, surprisingly, is the more interesting.
Although her design was chosen unanimously by the board appointed to select a fitting memorial to those who died in the Vietnam War, Lin faced almost immediate resistance. Veterans, primarily, didn't like the stark design, with its flat walls and simple name and date inscriptions "like a big, black tombstone." They wanted a flag and a statue. Lin demanded that the memorial be implemented as designed. Changing it, she said, would be like "drawing mustaches on other people's art." Once the walls were installed, however, most veterans admired the memorial and admitted that it made a powerful statement.
Bria Marie turned in a solid performance as Lin, going from reticent student to confident and adamant artist. John Crabtree was equally fine as Jan Scruggs, one of the veterans behind the movement that raised more than $8 million in private funds to build the memorial. He brought believable passion to the role.
There are several stories of visitors to the Wall, including a soldier who lost 12 members of his battalion, a former war protester who mourns two dead friends, a nurse who tended injured soldiers upon their return to the States, a soldier whose mind is damaged from the carnage he saw and another soldier who expected to march home a hero but came back in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, most of these stories weren't convincing.
Only the scenes of Sarah, the nurse (played by Chenelle Doutherd), and Morris, the disabled vet (Quarmaine Bogan), resonated. Doutherd seemed particularly at ease, speaking in a free and natural rhythm. Bogan began with seething anger but, through his exchanges with the nurse, started to understand that not all war wounds are as immediately evident as his but that they can be just as crippling. The actor revealed surprising depth.
The City Theatre production, directed by Angela-Dee Alforque, features a multiethnic cast reflective of those who actually fought the Vietnam War and those who ran it or protested it from afar. It's a commendable effort. The play is episodic and runs long, at a little more than two hours, yet at Friday's performance the audience of approximately 60 remained seated after the final bows to watch a newsreel-like film clip of the current war in Iraq that eerily echoed the Vietnam-era footage that had introduced the play.
Entertainment (Stockton, CA) [Asian American Repertory Theatre, Stockton, CA]
"Walls" recreates special moments --
On June 18, 1993, at Stagg High School, Manlio Silva auditorium, Stockton, California, the Asian American Repertory Theatre presented the fourth production of WALLS by Jeannie Barroga, a young Filipina playwright. The inspiration for the play was a notable group -- a whole generation from the '60s and '70s -- that came together on a long narrow peninsula in Southeast Asia called Vietnam.
The story WALLS, which received two standing ovations at its opening Friday night -- one for the play and one for the playwright -- carries the audience through the historical two-year background of the controversy behind the building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and moves the audience forward to the day of its dedication in 1984 -- all the time painting a human canvas of the American affected by that war, both living and dead.
Controversy surrounding the building of the memorial hinged on not only the reason for it and design of it, but also on the 21-year-old architecture student, Maya (played by Kerry Ito) who happened to be a Chinese-American, and whose design entry won over those submitted by other candidates.
Ray Newman, the Director, said, "The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, a black granite wall with more than 58,000 names carved on it began a healing process that is still going on today. The play is not just about that wall. It's about other walls: walls of fear, prejudice and hatred, walls to keep out those thing which cause us pain, to protect us from things we would rather not face; walls that keep us apart. I have enjoyed watching this cast, as fine a group of actors and technicians as I have ever worked with, building their characters and develop a passion to present a play that will honor all those who served in Vietnam." The background to the Stockton production is varied and dramatic. There were 21 roles portrayed by 18 actors. The Artistic Director, Val Acoba, had solicited scripts from playwright Jeannie Barroga of the Bay Area and chose WALLS which, since 1987, had three productions and is scheduled for publication this September.
The local Filipino-American actors were Fel Tengonciang, who played Stu, a veteran who found he no longer shared a life with his buddy who didn't go to war and couldn't understand him; Ken Alfonso played Rich, a newsman; Alfonso Cabrera, a parent who visits the Wall with his wife to see their son's carved name; and Alex Hernandez, who stepped in two nights before opening after a full day of cramming for the role of Jerry, one of the ghosts.
To set the mood for the play, memorabilia such as photos of veterans in Vietnam, letters, poetry, flags, etc., some gathered from as far as Sacramento, were displayed in the lobby by Terry Andree and other VV's. Andy Rallojay, Jr., a Filipino-American Vietnam veteran helping with the lobby display, heard the rehearsal and went home inspired and wrote a touching poem recollecting his experience, framed it and placed it in the lobby for all to read. On opening night, the audience, resembling much of the cast itself, saw a play unfold telling finally their stories and/or expressing some of their feelings about the war. By the end of the play, the 'tolling of names like a bell in your head' brought tears to Andy and the twenty or so vets and audience members and even to the cast itself, as some of the names called were those of sons, brothers and friends who were Stocktonians and former students at Stagg High School.
A special night had happened; a special moment was re-created that accomplished the same thing as in Washington, D.C. before the real WALL.