Review: ‘Dogeaters” at Magic Theater (***1/2)

by Barry David Horwitz
Rating: ***1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Imelda (Beverly Sotelo) grants an interview to Bob Stone (Lawrence Radecker). (photo Jennifer Reiley) in Magic Theater's production of "Dogeaters" by Hagedorn.
Imelda (Beverly Sotelo) grants an interview to Bob Stone (Lawrence Radecker).
(photo Jennifer Reiley) in Magic Theater’s production of “Dogeaters” by Hagedorn.
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)

Jessica Hagedorn’s “Dogeaters” was first published as a startling revolutionary novel in 1990. Then, in 1998, she turned it into a satirical play at La Jolla Playhouse, directed by Michael Greif, and the show moved on to the New York Public Theater in 2001. It’s a play on the political and popular scale of “Angels in America,” even before Kushner. The novel has been much acclaimed for capturing the spirit of the rise and fall of the murderous Marcos regime in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s. Ferdinand Marcos, the repressive dictator, was known for jailing and murdering his opponents, all the while under the protective eye of U.S. bases and U.S. military aid. Marcos fits the type of the typical tin-pot puppet aka President with he and his flashy wife, Imelda, playing king and queen to an impoverished and colonized nation.

“Dogeaters” distills for us the indelible assassination of Begnino “Ninoy” Aquino, a popular Senator, who returned to the Philipines and was killed as soon as he stepped off the airplane in Manila, in 1983. Over the next three years, a guerilla war raged until a dramatic palace coup in 1986 forced Marcos and his former beauty queen wife, Imelda, to flee into exile in Hawaii. Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the widow of Ninoy, was then elected President.

Hagedorn puts on grand display the horrific tides of imperial skullduggery and torture that turned the Marcos-ruled Philippines into a drug-infested criminal haven, and made it a by-word for colonial exploitation and military rule for decades. “Dogeaters” features drag queens, junkies, movie stars, beauty queens, sex clubs, film festivals, and a wild disco beat. Hagedorn presents a kaleidoscopic vision that writers have compared to Bogota, Kingston, Mumbai and other capitals which are trying to shake off decades of colonial occupation.

“Dogeaters” begins with two brash Las Vegas style personalities as a lively Chorus for the action. Nestor Norales (Melvign Badiola) and Barbara Villanueva (Esperanza Catubig) deliver flamboyant performances roles as “media stars.” She plays “the ever-lovely and everlasting” soap opera diva, Barbara; and he the raucous American-style radio talk show host. They pop up repeatedly, highlighting the glitzy and the glamorous in Manila’s militarized madness. They stand for the mingling of fantasy, glamour, and propaganda that ruled the Philipines in the 70s and 80s.

Hagedorn’s play celebrates and satirizes the titillating soap opera actors and beauty pageant stars, with Imelda Marcos (the elegant Beverley Sotelo) smiling and lying her way through interviews with western correspondent Bob Stone (the multi-faceted Lawrence Radecker). Characters include a faux-innocent Miss Philipines beauty pageant winner, Daisy Avila (lovely, versatile Christine Jamlig), who clearly wins by virtue of being the daughter of Senator Domingo Avila (Ogle Zulueta), a character clearly modled after the real life Senator Ninoy Aquino, who was gunned down in the streets, causing panic, mayhem, revolt, and a military crack-down.

It’s a wild ride, punctuated by film, video, revolution, music, disco, and orgies — nothing’s missing —except maybe a single plot line to tie all these disparate parts together. Perhaps the attempt to get the sprawling novel shaped into a drama could use more dramatic focus. With so many figures and themes and shocks, we may get lost in the wonder of it all, flashing by. What we have here is a wild Brechtian ride — not unlike a proto-Mother Courage, but lacking a strong main character. Devoted Director Loretta Greco has choreographed all the elements of a night club, gambling casino, karaoke bar, cocktail party, military junta, and star-struck third world Hollywood arts to whirl us into the novelistic narrative of “Dogeaters,” the play. Greco brilliantly presents the causes and results of an imperialist dominated country. “Dogeaters,” clearly a labor of love, makes a significant political statement—especially for those who missed the political upheavals of the 70s, at home and abroad.

Manila and its colonial oppression are the real stars of this panoply of horrors and wonders, We would like to dwell longer with Perlita, with Daisy, with the young lovers, the vicious general, the stoned out DJ — in this panoramic picture of Filipino history in motion. But they all move on in a flash of beauty, terror, and fear. 

Well, you get the sparkle, don’t you? Flash and dash and glitz and glam — and a revolution in progress — dungeons and dance, tableaux and the First Annual Imelda Marcos Film Festival — a veritable “Angels in Manila” extravaganza — Brecht would be proud.

See for yourself at the real true Magic Theater.

“Dogeaters” by Jessica Hagedorn plays at the Magic Theatre through February 29, 2016. For further information, click here.  

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“Dogeaters” by Jessica Hagedorn, produced by Magic Theater. Director: Loretta Greco. Set and Projection Design: Hana Sooyeon Kim. Costume Design: Brandin Baron. Lighting Design: Ray Oppenheimer. Sound Design: Sara Huddleston. 

Cast:

Rio Gonzaga: Rinabeth Apostol. Nestor Noralez/Chiquiting Moreno: Melvign Badiola. Barbara Villanueva/Ka Lydia: Esperanza Catubig. Daisy Avila: Christine Jamlig. Joey Sands: Rafael Jordan. Pucha Gonzaga/Mang Berto: Julie Kuwabara. Freddie Gonzaga/Severo “Chuchi” Alacran/Boomboom Alacran: Chuck Lacson. Lolita Luna/Stephanie Jacobs/Lola Narcisa Diving: Charisse Loriaux. Romeo Rosales/Pedro/Ka Pablo/Waiter: Jed Parsario. Rainer Fassbinder/Bob Stone/Father Jean Mallat: Lawrence Radecker. Lieutenant Pepe Carreon/Santos Tirador/Tito Alverez: Mike Sagun. Trinidad “Trini” Gamboa: Carina Lastimosa Salazar. Imelda Marcos/Leonor Ledesma: Beverly Sotelo. Andres “Perlita” Alacran/General Nicasio Ledesma: Jomar Tagatac. Senator Domingo Avila/Uncle: Ogie Zulueta. 

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