A ReviewCHICAGO (jGLi) – Except for a Philippine nationally known actress Cherie Gil, the rest of the cast of Bienvenido Noriega’s “Bayan Bayanan, Letters From Home” play, were unknown outside the Filipino American community in Chicagoland. Yet its three-day debut last weekend at St. Scholastica Academy Theater at Chicago’s Roger’s Park neighborhood, played to a full house.
I would say the 1,000-capacity theater became a virtual classroom laboratory, promoting the Tagalog language when the play directed by Dr. Anton Juan, Ph. D., was delivered in Tagalog with snatches of English and French to educate the audience that its setting was in Europe – Geneva, Switzerland.
But one of those who watched the play, Gordon Hannon, an educator and CEO of The Catalyst Schools, a Chicago private elementary school, was so fascinated by the play, he watched it twice “because I wanted to understand what the play was all about despite my difficulties in understanding Tagalog.”
Mr. Hannon said that in the directorial debut last September of Dr. Juan’s “Rizal’s Sweet Stranger, the Untold Stories of Josephine Braken, The Musical,” it was easy for him to understand it because the dialogues were delivered mostly in English, saying “it carried a universal theme.”
Mr. Hannon was also there to support a friend of his, Mr. Chip Payos, who played the role of “Pol” as the ill-fated overseas Filipino worker. Pol left his family behind in the Philippines but had no luck in finding a job overseas. This was a perfect reason for him to return to the Philippines. But he did not want his homecoming to be a failure. So, he died away from home.
But the sickly Pol’s death was hastened by the news brought to him from Manila by his friend, Emilio M. Nicolasin, Jr. (Manong) and wife, Evelyn Masbaum (Manang), who could no longer locate his family. Missing badly his seven-year-old son, Leo, played by Dylan Angel M. Lainez, broke Pol’s heart.
But Pol’s death was anti-climactic to the difficulties of Tessie (an OFW nurse played by Cherie Gil) for not finding the right Italian boyfriend to marry, a common cultural struggle faced by OFW’s getting to be involved in mixed marriages.
But for Roger Maslon, a Polish American, an English-Spanish translator married to a Filipina, watching Bayan Bayanan meant Tagalog “is the most beautiful language (for him), regardless of how some would be inclined to dispute it, citing some ‘classic’ languages as French or Italian.”
Mr. Maslon added, “I can pick just a few words off the air, that I know. On the other hand, the intonation and body language are sufficient for me to appreciate and enjoy a situation. It is the same when I am in the company of my friends and everybody is speaking Tagalog or Ilocano, etc. I enjoy just to be listening to it.”
Fides Herrera-Lim, the wife of Chicago Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, who played her role as Gng. Del Castillo, felt that understanding the play will not be a problem for Anglophones because it had English subtitles, which Mr. Maslon calls “supra titles” because the English translations could be seen high above the upstage.
The choice of Ms. Cherie Gil to be part of the play under the Dr. Juan, a veteran Regal film director, was an offer from her friend, Randolph “Andoy” L. Ranay, her director and fellow actor who played the role of Dino, (which was also played by Patrick Martinez Viray) that was hard to refuse. The offer came from Dr. Juan whom she admires as an “iconic stalwart of the theater.”
The timing of the offer could not be more perfect as Cherie was just winding down with the soap for GMA Network, “Time Of My Life,” directed by Andoy when her Bayan-Bayanan role came calling. But with the start of “Legacy,” an upcoming family-oriented TV series with GMA Network in January 2012, the husky-voiced star’s oft-postponed throat operation in the Philippines is going to be put on hold again.
Local community TV diva Jovie Calma had meaty role as a call girl for her seductive role as Connie mirroring “Japayukis” while Je Nepomuceno had a comical role of single pregnant Aling Pia, who was abandoned by several “Seamen” – “Si Manluluko, Si Mangagantso at Si Mangbubuntis” – a pun that easily brought down the house.
Businesswoman Nina Mae Vidal, who played the role of Anna Marie, was a face of an OFW, looking for a rich prospective husband to find stability, instead of finding a stable job.
“Rizal, Sweet Stranger” stars Ariel Dayanghirang and veteran Bert Matias alternated for the role of G. Luz while Daniel Estorco played the role of Ricky while theater, TV and film actor Cesar Conde played the role of G. Del Castillo.
“Bayan Bayanan,” which will help raise money for the building of Teddy Rey Healing Place for the indigent patients of the University of the Philippines Philippine General Hospital, was co-produced by Atty. Mary Carmen R. Madrid-Crost, Vicky Silvano and Sheila C. Ferrer-Estor of the Education Resources, Inc. and the Migrant Care Foundation & Migrant Moon Theater.
The box-office success of the play has inspired Dr. Juan to plan to direct next year his work, “Tuko! Tuko! The Princess of the Lizard Moon,” which raises the memories of comfort women and murdered sex slaves, and another musical, “Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)