Filipinos TOOK OVER Next Stage Festival!
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The Next Stage Festival is the winter offering of the Toronto Fringe. It just wrapped up January 17th. Generally theatre isn’t something Filipinos in Toronto, nor anywhere, else really pay attention to. Unless it’s a musical starring a helicopter. The thing is, Filipinos should be paying attention to theatre because Filipino talent took over this festival. And hello, the president of the board of directors of The Fringe Festival is Toronto’s theatre king, Chinoy, Derek Chua. Then there were three productions featuring Filipino talent: The Making of St. Jerome, Just East of Broadway (a musical! Filipinos love musicals, right?), and Gas.
I think that in terms of the arts, Filipinos are so used to accepting sub-standard productions, that when there are high quality productions out there that actually garner attention outside of the Filipino community, Filipinos don’t pay attention, nor do they support it much. It’s really so weird. Like, “Ok mga anak, we are going to watch bad karaoke competition of 6 year olds and the final round of some Miss [ Enter name of GTA Suburb] Manila competition, and get a FREE sandwich bag of lechon scraps!!” Yeah! That’s my idea of good family fun and Filipino “culture” to be proud of! Not.
Anyway, I am writing to talk about the Filipino offerings at the Next Stage Festival, not complain about this city’s sad Filipino festivals. Totally got distracted…
Ok so, The Making of St. Jerome, by Mary Beath Badian (Scarborough stand up!), and directed by Nina Lee Aquino did really well this run. Mostly sold out shows. Based on the real life story of Jeff Reodica, 17, who was shot by a plain dressed officer in the back in 2004. The actors were amazing. The direction is always great by Lee Aquino, who by the way is “changing the face of theatre in Canada” — so someone says, and I wholeheartedly agree. Very well, written, except it was a little bit heavy on the expository monologue. But who am I to say anything, I am not a writer. Although I will say the movement was pretty corny. Like fake hip hop moves, kinda ruined the cool sound design for me. Overall, a B+. I was bawling for most of the show. This is a real Toronto Filipino story, you know. And it was there on stage. And I watched it. Awesome. And yes, the Filipinos in the city actually came out to watch this one. Stand up Pinoys, and give yourselves a round of applause!!!
Just East of Broadway was written by Nicholas Hune-Brown and Ben King, who are super talented local cats. And the cast featured our community’s return of the come-back queen Ma-Anne Dionisio of Miss Saigon fame, Darrel Gamotin, and Lana Carillo among others (simpre I am only mentioning the Pinoys, no!)…. I saw this production last summer, and Lana was the lead. I have to say I preferred that production. Ma-Anne was a little too winsome and sad to be funny and charismatic. The chemistry between Darrel and Lana’s characters was too cute! And of course, seeing how it is a musical, yes! The music is very classic musical theatre, with very clever lyrics. So the verdict on this, the summer Fringe production gets an A, while this Next Stage production only gets a B-.
And then there’s Gas, written and directed by Jason Maghanoy. There’s no Filipinos in the cast, but Maghanoy is, though I get the feeling he avoids talking about being Filipino…though he is did do The Corner, a few years ago, and that was his version of the Jeff Reodica story. It didn’t make too much noise that one. Wow, what can I say about this one? It’s about status quo middle Americans in Iraq, you know, going “postal” over there and all the dark stuff soldiers at war go through… This play has gotten Maghanoy critcal acclaim. Like I mean, critical acclaim. But when I watched it, hairs stood up on the back of my neck. There was this weird rap by the entire ensemble cast that came out of nowhere, and ended with, “we will fucking erase you!” repeated like 5 times. And it just felt like Maghanoy was writing his lack of expereince or knowledge of what an actual soldier at war actually feels, into these characters who were supposed to be soldiers. There was attempt at poignancy. But it just felt so forced. The actors were pretty good, but their American accents sucked, so it pulled me out of the story. And to be honest, I thought it was very poorly written. But then again, I am not a writer.. Overall, the story lacked authenticity. I think Maghanoy should write about what he knows. Like about suburban life in Scarborough, and what it was like to move away from home for the first time, and go to National Theatre School. Audiences and critics definitely do not agree with this one. People tend to not like it, but critics love it. I just don’t get it. Gas gets a C- But…
GO PINOYS! For going where no Filipino parent ever wanted you to go…to the theatre (say theatre with a British accent, makes it more…real lol)!