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Reviewed by:
  • Savage Stage: Plays by Ma-Yi Theatre Company
  • Kathy Foley
Savage Stage: Plays by Ma-Yi Theatre Company. Edited by Joi Barrios-Leblanc. New York: Ma-Yi Theatre Company, 2006. 441 pp. $25.00.

I opened this book envisioning a retrospective on the first seventeen years of an Asian American theatre company. In reading the text I realized I was getting three books in one: a short history of socially motivated theatre in the Philippines, a sense of current Filipino diasporic performance (in the United States, Southeast Asia, and Japan), and a look into the transnational collaborative work being done by the Ma-Yi's authors in New York. This Asian American theatre company, founded in 1989 by Filipinos in the United States, has been headed since 1995 by artistic director Ralf Peña. Those of Filipino nationality who have worked with the group are a who's who of contemporary Filipino performance and scholarship, including directors Chris Millado, Ben Cervantes, Rudy Vera, Marina Felio-Gonzalez, and Benivedo Lumbera; scholars Nicanor Tiongson and Roland Tolentino; and editor Joi Barrios. The book has an extensive introduction by Barrios and nine plays by diverse authors—including Chris Millado, Ralph Peña, Lonnie Carter, Han Ong, Linda Faigao-Hall, Sung Rno, Qui Nguyen, Kia Corthron, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, and others. [End Page 395] Additional essays by Barrios contextualize the individual play projects and consider Filipino performance in an international context.

The introduction gives a focused overview of the theatre's history. Unlike many Asian American companies, which have been founded by second or third-generation artists of Asian ethnicity who are concerned with issues often quite divorced from Asia, Ma-Yi is a direct offshoot from the political and socially motivated Filipino theatre that struggled against the Marcos government. The agenda of the company is more ambitious than to find a place and image of one's own on the American stage—a directive for at least a modicum of Asian American work. The combination of brains, political analysis, and energy that created a revolution in both performance and politics in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s has given birth to a theatre that is both Asian and American. Paths and plots may end in America, but the stories go deep into the history and politics of the Philippines and other areas of Asia. These are tales of migration in which the past is present and transnationalism marks the work. Productions go touring back to the Philippines. People such as Chris Millado and the editor are at home in both the Philippines and United States. Colonialism is dismantled, and the theatre of people that circulate internationally is highlighted. The company's name, Ma-Yi, was a Chinese term for the Philippines in the fourteenth century. The company has adopted it as a way of pointing that indigenous culture long predates European arrivals in the area. "The 'naming' of the company using a 'precolonial' term was thus an act of decolonialzation [. . .] [and] part of the 'nationalist' project' of which the cultural movement is a part" (xvi).

The plays and essays are not a just dialogue between the United States as a colonial or cultural force and Filipino subjects in the Philippines or United States, but rather a "multi-logue": the issues of Filipino maids in Hong Kong and Singapore and the festivals of the Filipino community in Japan are treated in essays. The experience of the Vietnamese boat people is presented in the play Trial by Water, by Qui Nguyen. Histories of discrimination that cross ethnic boundries are reflected in the play The Romance of Magno Rubio, by black writer Lonnie Carter (the work is based on a short story of Filipino American author Carlos Bulosan). As the title Savage Stages advertises, the plays are sometimes more raw than cooked: murder and massacre may be part of the plot, political and social critique are hard-hitting, but the concerns are deep—for this company performance is a border-crossing act.

Barrios's opening essay articulates the theoretical base of the company, citing the anticolonial struggle that is part of the work. Barrios cites national hero and novelist Jose Rizal's...


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pp. 395-397
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