LIFESTYLE | THEATRE

Play review: Adobo Aussies unite

Michelle Baltazar

The Filipino terms 'Magic Mic' and 'adobo' are officially in the record books of contemporary Australian theatre thanks to the chutzpah of two playwrights who dared to stage a play about Filipino-Australians - warts, wobblies and all.

Rosary Coloma and Erica Enriquez are the writing tag-team behind 'Aussies of the Magic Mic and Adobo Kind'. As the title suggests, the play invites you to a typical Filipino-Australian household, except what may be typical to Filipinos may not necessarily be typical to mainstream Australia - and that’s when the fun and mayhem begins.

You’d expect a play written by two Filipina (sense of humour embedded in DNA) to deliver some laughs, and deliver it did. By splitting the show into several vignettes, Coloma and Enriquez showcased skit after skit of all things endearingly Filipino, from the type of conversations you have during family parties to that first meeting between the in-laws, specially when one-half of the loved-up couple is not Filipino.

Then there’s the national past time that successfully made its way to Aussie shores thanks to TFC (The Filipino Channel cable program): Filipino TV game shows.

Anyone who’s watched a Filipino TV game show knows what to expect, cue the host in an outlandish outfit and the Colgate smile, with at least two sexy and way-too-cheery provocatively-dressed girls in tow.

The audience definitely enjoyed the Wowowee send-up, not least because the actors on stage played their parts deliciously well: special mention to actors Ala Paredes and Kim Shazell hamming it up as the TV host sidekicks. After all, what's a Filipino play without a nod to the boom-tarat-tarat girls known to Filipinos worldwide?

Given the differing experiences of the Filipino-Australian diaspora, Coloma and Enriquez had plenty of material to work with. But how they managed to  squeeze in skits on boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, a blossoming love story set in the ‘70s and a ‘pasalubong’ scene, to name just three of the various vignettes, was an impressive feat. Anyone from the crowd who did not know much about the Philippines and its people would have certainly experienced what was close to a cultural immersion.

An ingenious twist took place halfway during the play, when a large stage screen switched on as if it were a computer screen, and from it appeared a guest performance from none other than Cherie Gil, an award-winning actress in the Philippines. Later in a similar scenario, Jim Paredes, one-third of musical legend Apo Hiking Society, also gave the play that extra star power playing the Philippines-based dad of a Filipino bachelor (played by Jemwel Danao) who came to Australia just to study, a move that trigerred a host of other life-changing decisions.

But for all the light entertainment and laugh-out-loud scenes, the play took one serious turn in the vignette titled ‘Mail-order Bride’. Credit goes to Coloma and Enriquez for not shying away from this blot in the Filipino-Australian migrant history. However, the tone and feel of this vignette was jarring in an otherwise seamlessly woven production.

Still, "Aussies of the Magic Mic..." wouldn't have been complete without it. The scene of the mail-order bride stifling her tears as she talked to her mom back home gave the play some texture and shadow. Although the play could have done without the slide showing detailed statistics on Filipino mail-order brides. The dialogue and images sufficed.

Barring that, two vignettes stood out: the one about the wedding preparation and the meeting between a Filipino and an Aussie guy back in the ‘70s.

Showing how close-knit the Sydney Filipino-Australian actors community is, the wedding preparation scene featured Kenneth Moraleda, one of Australia’s award-winning actors who is pinoy. He gave a hilarious and faithful rendition of the typical stoic, no-nonsense father of a Filipino bride-to-be.

Not to be outdone, Aussie actor Julien Perrottet (who gets extra points for being good-looking, hah!) was superb as the nervous groom-to-be.

There were too many unforgettable and entertaining scenes to mention on here, which is again a reflection of a great script backed by a strong ensemble of actors. Daniella Serret, who played multiple characters, and had the enviable task of drawing the audience at the start, is one of the artist community’s best-kept secrets. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we’ll see her at a Hollywood blockbuster or, at the very least, be among the famous faces in the local scene.

Also deserving of praise, seasoned actor Felino Dolloso played the 'usyusero' (inquisitive) and sometimes-overbearing uncle to a tee while Valerie Berry, fresh from the performance art/show 'Within & Without: Portrait of a City', added to the cadre of Filipino-Australian talents featured in the play.

The Magic Mic in question didn’t appear until the second last scene called 'Pasalubong' (presents given on arrival from a trip or from overseas). But by this time, no explanation was needed. The term 'adobo' was already introduced earlier as "like chicken teriyaki except it isn't" so at this point, the audience already had a good inkling of the rich tapestry that is the Filipino-Australian identity.

All in all, the cast and crew deserve credit for a beautifully executed play that tackled a subject rarely seen onstage: the Filipino soul swaying to a distinctly Australian beat.

Photos courtesy of Robin Mayo.

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