Review: World premiere of two one act plays — ‘Remember the I-Hotel’ and ‘Presenting . . . The Monstress’ (***)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: *****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Monstress

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Based on short stories by Filipino-American San Francisco author Lysley Tenorio, Monstress is an evening of two one act plays (“Remember the I-Hotel” by Philip Kan Gotanda and “Presenting . . . The Monstress” by Sean San José) exploring Filipino-American experience. The plays are both humorous and touching, skillfully directed by A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff, with excellent performances from the actors.

The International Hotel was, for many years, home to generations of Filipino immigrants in San Francisco. In the 1970s, there was an infamous eviction of nearly 200 tenants when a new owner purchased the building. In “Remember the I-Hotel,” a story is told that imagines the lives of two roommates in the hotel over many years. Their lives reflect the shared experience of Filipino Americans in San Francisco, as well as their highly personal love stories. One is gay and in love with the other (who allows one drunken kiss when they first meet); the other falls in love with a white woman with disastrous consequences. As the two very different roommates, Olgie Zulueta as Vincent and Jomar Tagatac as Nado, give outstanding performances. Zulueta captures the fire of handsome Vincent whose charismatic courage leads to his downfall and Tagatac does an excellent job of communicating Nado’s secret longings, his struggle with a surprising betrayal, and his deep sense of loyalty. These two are well supported by Kelsey Venter as Vincent’s girlfriend, Althea, and fine ensemble work by Melody Butiu and Nick Gabriel.

Ogie Zulueta is outstanding as the charismatic Vinent in
Ogie Zulueta is outstanding as the charismatic Vincent in “Remember the I-Hotel.” Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

“Presenting . . . The Monstress” is a comic contrast to the seriousness of the first play, and it’s very funny, indeed, though with serious underlying themes on the nature of marriage and the importance of one’s self image. Checkers (Sean San José), a charming and lovable loser, is a passionate maker of B horror films in Manilla, whose trashy pictures — always starring his beautiful wife as various monsters — are facing competition from Hollywood and putting his barely sustainable career at stake. Checkers is astounded when a Californa filmmaker (Gaz Gazman, played by Nick Gabriel) offers him money for footage and even invites him to come to California — not Hollywood but just north of San Jose —to collaborate on a new film. The excited Checkers persuades his wife to accept the offer. The resulting amateurish efforts at filmmaking in the basement of Gaz’s mother’s suburban home lead to some very funny stuff. It’s a sweet and funny story, with a nice touch of romance. It is a special treat to see Olgie Zulueta and Jomar Tagatac from the previous play reappearing among a chorus of goofy narrators, playing parts that offer a striking contrast to their appearances in “Remember The I-Hotel.”

A game Melody Butiu is very funny as in the role of put-upon movie wife Reva who finds herself playing
A game Melody Butiu is very funny in the role of Reva, cast by her movie-making husband as “The Squid Mother of Cebu.” Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

Lesley Tenorio’s short stories give themselves well to the stage, and playwrights Philp Kay Gotanda and Sean San José have brought them to life effectively. Nina Ball’s beautifully realized set and Lydia Tanji’s fine costume designs (especially the ridiculous monster outfits in “Presenting . . . The Monstress”) add a lot to the proceedings.

“Remember the I-Hotel” and “Presenting . . . The Monstress” play at A.C.T.’s Strand Theatre through November 22, 2015. For futher information, click here

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“Remember the I-Hotel” by Philip Kan Gotanda and “Presenting . . . The Monstress” by Sean San José, based on short stories by Lysley Tenorio. Director: Carey Perloff. Lighting Design: Robert Hand. Costume Design: Lydia Tanji. Set Design: Nina Ball. Sound Design: Jake Rodriguez.

Cast: Tala/Ensemble: Rinabeth Apostol. Riva/Singer: Melody Butiu. Gaz Gazman/Ensemble: Nick Gabriel. Ensemble/Understudy: Melissa Locsin. Checkers/Ensemble: Sean San José. Mata/Fortunado: Jomar Tagatac.Ensemble/Althea: Kelsey Venter (after October 18, Danielle Frimer). Dala/Vicente: Olgie Zulueta.

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