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Reviewed by:
  • The First National Asian American Theater Festival
  • Dan Bacalzo, Christine Bacareza Balance, L. M. San Pablo Burns, Yuko Kurahashi, Josephine Lee, Sean Metzger, Angela C. Pao, and Karen Shimakawa
The First National Asian American Theater Festival. New York City. 11–24 June 2007.

The first National Asian American Theater Festival's broad spectrum of productions illustrated Asian American theatre and performance's continued vitality. Aided by Asian American theatres around the country, the New York–based companies of Ma-Yi Theater, the National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO), and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre brought together works that diverged greatly, yet also demonstrated some common purpose and design.

The kickoff event at the Public Theater demonstrated Asian American theatre's many significant contributions to contemporary American drama. Oskar Eustis and David Henry Hwang's addresses referred to the Public Theater's first Asian American productions as well as a 1979 protest, led by actor David Oyama, of the Public's yellowface casting practices, both of which exemplify the fights and struggles that Asian American theatre artists have gone through in the past forty years. The readings, directed by Chay Yew, consisted of excerpts from David Henry Hwang's Dance and the Railroad, FOB , and Golden Child, Diana Son's Stop Kiss and Satellites , Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters, Philip Kan Gotanda's Ballad of Yachiyo, Han Ong's Chang Fragments, Julia Cho's Durango, and Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views. Some plays in the festival indeed echoed the preoccupations of these excerpts: the connections between larger social upheaval and migration; the inexorable link of past and present; the mark of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality on human identities and relationships; and familial relations. The best examples were a revival production of Velina Hasu Houston's Tea (Pan-Asian Repertory) and Aurorae Khoo's new Happy Valley (Mu Performing Arts). Houston's now-classic Tea presents the struggle of Japanese war-brides to adapt to a difficult new life in the United States. Happy Valley, set during the months leading up to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain to mainland China, presents a complex treatment of the anxieties that proliferated at that time as seen through the experiences of one family.

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Ching Valdes-Aran and Kati Kuroda in The House of Bernarda Alba. Photo: Bruce Johnson.

Other plays in the festival moved away from the predominantly realistic dialogue and narrative of Houston's and Khoo's works to offer a synthesis of story, music, movement, and stage design. The dance-drama Parang Sabil (Sword of Honor), co-presented by Kinding Sindaw and New World Theater, shifted among indigenous Filipino dance forms and rituals, Mark Twain's speeches, and racist songs to comment memorably on the abuse of military power by Americans during the Philippine-American War. Ma-Yi Theater's re-staging of its Obie-winning Romance of Magno Rubio used balagtasan (a nineteenth-century Filipino folk-lyric form), songs, poems, and the Filipino martial art eskrima. Based on a short story by Carlos Bulosan and adapted for the stage by Lonnie Carter and Ralph Peña in 2002, Magno Rubio is a bittersweet tale of unrequited love, male camaraderie, and diasporic longing. This production reunited not only the creative backstage team but also several of the original cast members, including Jojo Gonzalez, Art Acuña, and Ramon de Ocampo, as well as newer cast members Paolo Montalban and [End Page 283] Bernardo Bernardo. Director Loy Arcenas's production was at turns a joyous celebration of love and lust, a nostalgic paean to the manong generation of Filipino workers, and an introspective meditation on the toll of migration.

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Jason Ma (Marvin) and Manu Narayan (Whizzer) in Falsettoland. Photo: Bruce Johnson.

Filipino music also embellished Three Filipino Tenors, a song-and-story piece presented by the oldest Asian American theatre, East West Players. This show, co-created by Antoine Reynaldo Diel, Randy Guiaya, and Lito Villareal following the popular format originated by Domingo, Carreras, and Pavarotti during the 1990s, also provided Asian American performers with new opportunities to showcase their musical talents. Its combination of...


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