Sunday, June 19, 2016

tot: THE UNTOLD, YET SPECTACULAR STORY OF (a filipino) HULK HOGAN - Mu Performing Arts at Boss Thrust Stage / Park Square

Photo: Keri Pickett
Wow - what a long title! Mu Performing Arts is celebrating the 50th World Premiere with this work, as well as helping to celebrate 50 years of Asian American Theater.  In 1965 the East West Players was founded in Los Angeles. It started as a place where Asian American actors could explore parts outside of the stereotypes that were prevalent in the 1960's Hollywood. This theater company ended up becoming a major player in Asian American Theater along with Seattle's Theatrical Ensemble of Asians, San Francisco's Asian American Theatre Company, and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York City. Mu Performing Arts has continued the work that these four companies has started.

tot: THE UNTOLD, YET SPECTACULAR STORY OF (a filipino) HULK HOGAN is the latest of 50 World Premieres that Mu Performing Arts has produced, as well as being the final production of this season. It is the first full-length play by Victor Maog, and is directed by Artistic Director Randy Reyes. It tells the story of a young boy who travels from the Marcos-era Philippines to the San Francisco Bay Area to meet his long lost parents. He travels from a country full of strife and military rule only to find himself in America, lonely, hiding in his bedroom and conjuring a pro wrestling fantasy to escape his new life.

Photo: Keri Pickett
The work sounds fascinating on paper, and was interesting to watch on stage. The raised stage is set as a Wrestling Arena, with a single rope surrounding all four sides, audience on all four sides, and a sunken space in the middle of the stage. Lights are set under the two steps leading up to the top level. The action starts with tot (Randy Reyes) talking to his lola - grandmother (Mary Ann Prado) about wanting to see his parents, while at the same time not wanting to leave his home and all his friends. Quite a bit of the dialogue during this time is in a patois mix of English, Spanish, and Tagalog (I think - there is no information, nor translation provided). He asks at this time, and often through out the show, why his parents left him in the Philippines, and why he has to go to America. When he arrives in America, he finds that his parents Hope Nordquist, and Eric "Pogi" Sumangil) are not as he had expected or hoped. He also has to contend with a new sister (Stephanie Bertumen - Reyes's actual sister). The parents disagree often, and seem to have little regard for the bullying that tot deals with at school and in the neighborhood. tot falls in to his imagination and creates a pro wrestling fantasy to help him escape his troubles. These fantasies are filled with Mother Superior (Prado), The Dame (Nordquist), The American Dream (Bertumen), The Announcer (Sumangil), and the hero - The Orbiter (Torsten Johnson). Michelle De Joya and Kyle Legacion fill out the rest of the cast playing the chorus, as well as two "ring announcers" who carry signs around the ring telling the audience where the scene is set and/or what it is about.

Photo: Keri Pickett
The cast, and the performances are solid and good. All the various characters are singular and distinct. It is interesting to watch the various relationships and see how they play out. The difficulties I had were mainly with the script. When the wrestling aspects began it was not clear that these were fantasies, or something that the father in America was working on as he also played the announcer. I also didn't see the character of tot changing or growing during the show until the resolution at the end when they show him as a grown-up. The character, as I saw it, remained as a child - petulant, self-absorbed, and not worrying about who he may hurt when he fights with his sister, or wrestles with her. Towards the end of the work there is an extended scene of domestic abuse that I found very troublesome to watch - to the point where I turned away. So, let this be a trigger warning to some of you. The director's notes state that tot explores "immigration, imagination, domestic violence, the American dream, bullying, and misogyny, all through the theatrically violent professional wrestling world." I felt that the showed all these things but didn't go much deeper. Though thinking back I could see where some of the "wrestling" moments could be understood as a metaphor for what tot was going through - but it wasn't clear to me.

I think work like this is important. All of our stories should be told and shared on the stage. I love that Mu Performing Arts is here in the Twin Cities providing a different perspective, while also being a big part of our community here. While I may not have liked this show, I still am looking forward to seeing more of their work.