Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Milestones and Making Connections: Tanghalang Pilipino Stages Korean-American Family Drama
We may say we have a glut of things Korean—Korean telenovelas, Korean pop groups, Korean tourists—but how much do we know about them? Despite their prevalence, do we really understand them? Is there a need? As our encounters with them become more frequent as well as closer, yes, there is. At the same time, by understanding them we will see our connectedness. In the process, we also understand ourselves more. Art and culture facilitate the way for understanding and appreciation. Though Korean pop culture is accessible to us, art and traditional culture, which provide deeper insight and make us celebrate uniqueness and see universality, are rare occurrence, if not none at all.
Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) upcoming play is to be anticipated. Although it is not totally Korean, Lloyd Suh’s American Hwangap offers us a glimpse of their culture as well as experiences that all of us can relate to.
According to Chris Millado, who directs the Korean-American play, it is basically about a family who decide to live in another place and is coming to terms with separation and distance. This is experienced by lots of families of any nationality, especially Filipinos. Thus American Hwangap is universal.
The play follows Min Suk Chun, who is turning 60 and returning to West Texas after leaving his family almost 15 years ago. While celebrating his hwangap, a 60th birthday ritual celebrating the completion of the Eastern zodiac, he faces the many questions and pains of his ex-wife Mary and three adult children Esther, David and Ralph as well as his past, dreams and choices.
Incidentally, the staging of play coincides with the 60th anniversary of Korean-Philippine diplomatic relation, but TP, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), has been working with the Lark Play Development Center to bring American Hwangap to the Philippines.
The play was first staged in New York in May 2009 by the Play Company and the Ma-Yi Theater Company, which concentrates on Asian-American works. The relationship with Ma-Yi enables TP to bring these works to Filipino audience. Eventually, Ma-Yi will be introducing Filipino works to the United States. It has its world premiere on March 2009 in San Francisco.
Currently Artistic Director for Second Generation and co-director of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, the largest resident company of Asian American playwrights ever assembled, the playwright, Suh, author of many plays including The Children of Vonderly, Masha No, The Garden Variety, Great Wall Story, and Happy End of the World, and recipient of several grants and awards, developed American Hwangap at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, and it was produced as part of the Lark Play Development Center’s Launching New Plays into the Repertoire Initiative and was originally presented by the New York Stage and Film Company and The Powerhouse Theater at Vassar on July 2007.
TP’s production serves as the Asian premiere of the play, which will be presented in original English and Filipino translation by prominent poet and playwright Joi Barrios-LeBlanc, who is currently based in the West Coast.
TP’s American Hwangap features a formidable cast of veteran and respectable actors. The lead role will be played by Bembol Roco in the English version and renowned director Mario O’Hara in the Filpino, both respected actors. Stage and music veteran Celeste Legaspi returns to the stage after a long absence as Min Suk’s wife Mary in the English version. For the Filipino version, she will be played by Gina Pareno, a veteran actress who experienced a respectable revival career via independent films. American Hwangap will be Pareno’s debut to theatre.
Pareno was hesitant in tackling stage until Millado and film director Jeffrey Jeturian finally convinced her to take the project. Like any film and television actors and celebrities stepping into the stage for the first time, she was amazed and delighted with the display of passion for the art by her co-workers as well as with the new learning. She is joined by Liesl Batucan, Jeremy Domingo and Nicco Manalo, all dedicated theatre artists.
American Hwangap shows at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Sept. 10 to 12, 17 to 19 and 24 to 26, and Oct. 1 to 3 at 8 p.m. (for performances every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and 3 p.m. (for performances every Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Tickets are at P600 (regular), P300 (student) and P480 (senior citizens). For inquiries, contact Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661 or 832-1125 locals 1620 or 1621; the CCP Box Office at 832-3704; or TicketWorld at 891-9999.