There are many reasons for theatre. There could be as many cases for the viability of theatre as there are people who love theatre, do theatre, watch theatre. And these cases are varied. Theatre for entertainment above all else. Theatre as enlightenment. Theatre to provoke or shock. I’ve spent years pondering the case and reasons for theatre, and just when I think I’ve got it figured out, I see something new that broadens my view. Expands the case for theatre in my mind.
Criers for Hire. East West Players (celebrating 50 years, by the way) presents the world premiere comedy, Criers for Hire. In the pre-show announcement, it’s stated that the dialogue will be in English and Tagalog. Some of the phrases in Tagalog would be repeated in English, and one could find a glossary of terms in the program. Gulp. I started to panic and look around. Was I the only non Tagalog speaking person in the joint? I was wondering if I’d made a big mistake as I fumbled for my cheat sheet.
It’s the 1990’s in Los Angeles. Aurora aka Baby (Joan Almedilla), Eugenia aka Henny (Samantha Cutaran) and Remdios aka Meding (Giselle “G” Tongi) are professional criers. The three ladies cry at Chinese funerals in order to ensure proper send off for the dead, for a paycheck. Baby has always worked multiple jobs to send money back to the daughter she left in the Philippines in the care of her Grandmother. Over the years they stayed in touch mostly through letters. In them, Baby told her daughter, Gaya, about life in America. About how things will be when she could join her mother, highlighting the glamorous aspects while skipping the less attractive details. We find Gaya at the age of 14, coming to join her mom. She tackles the difficult job of fitting in with the help of a new school friend Narcisco (Rudy Martinez). He helps her with her English pronunciation while introducing her to Morrissey, Tears for Fears and other normal American teenage things. Criers for Hire is a story of working through parent/teen conflict while BOTH seek to find cultural identity after arriving in a new country.
So…why see it? Why not?
This is a heart warming show. It’s sweet. It’s lovely. It’s funny! Really, yes, funny! Giovanni Ortega wrote a nice show. The fantastic news is my concern of the english/tagalog mix being a problem was unfounded. I followed, no problem. The cast makes a fun ensemble. The acting is across the board a notch or two over the top, but they are all in the same movie, which makes it work, more or less. I think it’s fine to say it was well directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera. It’s solid. The sliding panels designed by Christopher Scott Murillo that brought the audience simply from place to place, worked well.
Now, if you read my reviews on a regular basis, you’d probably recognize that sweet, nice, heartwarming shows aren’t necessarily my jam. I always say that theatre needs to pass the “so what?” test to be good and worthy. Well, I had to think about the “so what” and you know, this show exposed me to something I hadn’t necessarily been exposed to before. I’m not an idiot, I’d like to think I’m a relatively culturally enlightened person. But Criers for Hire shed some new and delightful light. The audience members surrounding me were touched by things I hadn’t noticed. Because it was their life they were seeing. They saw truth and through their reactions, I saw truth. People nodded their heads to the Filipino song Baby sang to her daughter. I’m not a new book of knowledge about the experience of coming to America after seeing this show. Nor do I have a totally different understanding about the Filipino culture. This show didn’t change my life. But it did shed some new light. Some soft, natural, easy light in a world of spotlights. I found it refreshing, and perhaps, a new reason to see theatre.
There’s a reason East West Players has been around for 50 years. If you haven’t been, I’d say it has the potential to expand your case to see theatre. It’s the longest running theatre of color in the country and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work. EWP are worth a look and worth the expansion. And this show, specifically, is too.
David Henry Hwang Theatre @ The Union Center for the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso St. Los Angeles
8 pm Wednesdays through Saturdays
2 pm Sundays
Thru March 13
213-625-7000 or www.eastwestplayers.org
Running time: 90 min