COURTESY BRAD GODA / KUMU KAHUA
Reno David, left, Cheyne Gallarde and M.J. Gonzalvo portry three local Filipino boys taking a trip of self-discovery to the Philippines.
Ethnic identity quest never reaches goal
Three Filipino Americans on a trip to the Philippines learn a lot about themselves, but little about their heritage, in Kumu Kahua's world premiere of Troy M. Apostol's comedy/drama "Who The Fil-Am I?"
'Who the Fil-Am I?'
On stage: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 10
Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Tickets: $16; with discounts for seniors and students
This failure to address issues of ethnic identity, let alone the issues of "oppression and choice" mentioned in the playbill, leaves the show like a doughnut -- empty at the center. The "hole" is created by what is said -- and not said -- about the protagonists and their perceptions of identity. None has anything to say about being Filipino American in Hawaii. A few stereotypical ethnic jokes are as deep as they get.
The story, inspired by Apostol's own first visit to the Philippines, is successful as a road-trip story in which people with major personal conflicts are forced to come to terms with their differences, but their experiences are those of contemporary Americans in almost any Third World country.
Although Tomas (Cheyne Gallarde) has been there before and knows what to expect, Ronald (Reno David) and Malcom (M.J. Gonzalvo) are shocked by the humidity, the smog, the beggars, the shantytowns illegally built on public property by hordes of squatters, and by the kids happily playing in overflowing sewage. They dismiss Manila in general as "so ghetto."
That turns out to be almost the only thing they agree on.
Tomas believes that education is essential for success in contemporary America, but his cousin, Ronald, isn't interested in education and takes offense when Tomas raises the issue with him. Ronald likes to surf, and apparently relates more to Hawaiian culture; it turns out that he can chant in Hawaiian.
Ronald's best friend, Malcom, affects the attire and belligerent attitude of a stereotypical inner-city African-American "gangsta." This includes frequent use of the "n-word" in almost every possible context, and all standard variations of basic ghetto obscenities. It is mentioned in an early scene that he is going to write a paper about the trip, with help from Tomas, and thereby "salvage" a grade from a class he's taking, but nothing he says or does thereafter lends credence to the premise that he is a college student.
The ridiculousness of Malcom's black-wannabe affectations seem obvious, but most of the conflict revolves around the idea that a nonwhite person of any ethnicity who speaks standard English and studies hard is "haolefied" and needs a good slap. The problem with that attitude here is that Tomas never comes across as a snob or a prig, and certainly not deserving of the abuse he takes for having a college degree.
Gallarde is convincing as a guy who is well-educated but not a wimp. David is a solid comic presence as the good-hearted, slow-to-anger "local boy" and Gonzalvo extracts every possible laugh from the role of Malcom.
The opening-night audience quickly embraced the three protagonists, laughed at the jokes and insult comedy, and howled with laughter when all three suffered disabling blows to the crotch.
A visit to a Manila strip club introduces a young woman named Filomena (Jaedee-Kae Vergara), her violent, unemployed husband (K.C. Odell), her mother (Kiana L. Rivera) and a sinister gangster (Stu Hirayama). Filomena's husband and mother don't want her to be a stripper, but neither is helping support the family. Filomena continues to work at the club while hoping that her daughter will have a better life.
Vergara, who dominated Kumu Kahua's production of "Age Sex Location" last year, changes the mood of this show from farce to drama with her first few words of dialogue. Her performance makes the fate of Filomena and her daughter of greater dramatic interest than the outcome of Malcom's interminable badgering of Tomas.
Hirayama exudes an evil aura as a man apparently so dangerous that even the wife beater fears him.