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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

By David Avery

Someone always laughs, someone always cries, someone always dies.— TV announcer Nestor Noralez

Natsuko Ohama and Nick Salamone in &Dogeaters"
Natsuko Ohama and Nick Salamone in Dogeaters
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Jessica Hagedon's Dogeaters is a whirlwind pastiche of life in the Philippines in the early eighties, just before the Marcos regime began to crumble. The term itself is a pejorative indictment of less "westernized" culinary practices that became infamous with various Pan-Pacific Asian cultures, and addresses the value system that it implies.

The plot is too sprawling to summarize. Twenty actors perform a myriad of roles but the play does have the locus points of Joey Sands (Ramon de Ocampo), Rio Ganzaga (Elizabeth Pan), and Daisy Avila (Esperanza Catubig). The only actors who don't double up in other roles, these three are respectively a drug-addicted DJ, an ex-patriot visiting family, and a national beauty queen competing in the Miss Universe pageant who also happens to be the daughter of a reform-minded senator. Most of the other characters swirl around the events in the lives of the pivotal three.

The play announces its satirical tone as soon as the lights come up, with media personalities Nestor Noralez and Barbara Villanueva acting as "novella" style commentators to many of the scenes. This has a twofold affect: it gives the audience a tonal context for the action, and it reflects on the role of the audience. The United States was, after all, central to the political upheaval that occurred in the Philippines, yet we as citizens mostly saw the proceedings as "entertainment."

Dogeaters is truly an ensemble piece, with the multi-tasking cast members even doubling as stage hands for set changes. The set itself is a two level affair, with no props save a few long benches which are used with amazing versatility to create different locals as we drift through the various echelons of the society depicted.

Hagedorn's play is ultimately a commentary on the way "western" society influences the shaping of the rest of the world. Rio Ganzaga, who is a stand-in for the author of the play, provides the perspective on how powerful that society is — she barely recognizes the place she grew up. Her cousin comments incessantly about how things are "much better" now that capitalism and "culture" have arrived. These sentiments are belied by the obvious corruption that exists both in the common and wealthy classes. I think the author would agree that the soul of a people is not a fair price for the good graces of the "civilized" world.

Some of the characterizations are a bit broad (the wealthy disconnect of Imelda Marcos and the portrayal of a drag queen come to mind), but perhaps that is forgivable when considering the plethora of characters and immensity of the time that Dogeaters is attempting to capture. Considering recent events the United States has experienced, it may not be a bad idea to revisit some of our previous attempts to democratize "backward" nations.

For the review of Dogeaters at New York's Public Theater, see this link.

Director: Jon Lawrence Rivera
Playwright: Jessica Hagedorn
Cast: Robert Almodovar (Freddie Gonzaga/Severo Alacran/Military Man #2/Ka Edgar), Gina Aquino (Santos Tirador/Lt. Pepe Carreon/Tito Alvarez/Young Man), Christine Avila (Leonor Ledesma/ Lola Narcisa), Esperanza Catubig (Daisy Avila/Young Woman), Ivan Davila (Andres Alacran), Fran de Leon (Trinadad Gamboa), Liza Del Mundo (Barbara Villanueva/ Ka Lydia), Ramon de Ocampo (Joey Sands), Antoine Reynaldo Diel (Romeo Rosales/ Ka Pablo/Doorman/ Kalinga Tribesman), Golda Inquito (Pucha Gonzaga/Jingle Singer/U.S. Embassador), Alberto Isaac (Senator Avila), Kennedy Kabasares (Man with Guitar/Waiter #2/Steve Jacobs/Pedro/Boomboom Alacran/Kalinga Tribesman), Dom Magwili (General Ledesma), Natsuko Ohama (Imelda Marcos), Giovanni Ortega (Chiquiting Moreno), Orlando Pabotoy (Nestor Noralez), Elizabeth Pan (Rio Gonzago), Ed Ramolete (Mang Berto/ Waiter #1/Shooter/ Kalinga Tribesman), Nick Salamone (Rainer Fassbinder/Father Jean Mallat/Bob Stone), Minerva Vier (Lolita Luna/Jingle Singer)
Costume Design: Dianne K. Graebner
Lighting Design: Steven Young
Composer/Sound Design: Bob Blackburn
Running Time: Two hours,thirty minutes (including one intermission)
Running Dates: January 14th through February 11th
Times: Tues. through Sat. @ 8pm, Sun @ 7, Sat. and Sun matinees @ 2pm
Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.

Reviewed by David Avery on January 27, 2007.
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