The short play 'Coming to Dinner' is a delicious serving of home truths.
Last month I watched a short play titled 'Coming to Dinner'. It was part of the 2018 Sydney Fringe Festival’s program titled “Women in Australia: Stories of Courage”, a series of short plays about the lives of women in Australia from early European settlement to present day.
The hook for me was that it's written by Elaine Laforteza, the Filipina-Australian author of an academic book with a rather intimidating title, The Somatechnics of Whiteness and Race: Colonialism and Mestiza Privilege. In technical terms, she is scary smart when it comes to culture talk.
To see her wear a different hat - penning a comedy sketch - piqued my curiosity. At first I was apprehensive when I found out that the play revolved around homosexuality. I grew up watching a lot of Filipino movies where gay characters are often reduced to caricatures of themselves.
They are either the laughing stock or the loud-mouthed sidekick, a start-to-finish source of clichés and tropes. I half-expected (incorrectly so) that this play will be in the same vein.
Coming to Dinner
Emerging playwright Elaine Laforteza invites the audience into a typical Filipino-Australian household to discover a heartwarming story rarely told.
I was wrong. The play did kick off with Carlo (Filipino but raised in Australia) telling his mom that he’s gay. But his coming-out moment was just the opening gambit. A few minutes in, the audience finds out (spoiler alert!) that his mom, too, is gay – and that’s when the heartwarming comedy - clever, not crass - begins.
Watch the video: Short clip of Dora revealing she's gay
The play was equal parts endearing and enjoyable because Laforteza managed a trifecta in her maiden production: sharp lines, great delivery from the cast and a storyline that cuts through life's big themes: race, gender and sexuality. While many of the jokes were even funnier if you get the Filipino reference, they were still very relatable to anyone with skeletons in the family closet (that’s practically everybody).
Actor Martin Sta Ana as Carlo was laugh-out-loud funny as he expressed his indignation at the surprising turn of events. How dare his mom hijack his coming-out moment! That whole scene of him stomping his feet like a child complaining about his mom’s selfishness was a highlight.
Dora and ‘best friend’ Auntie Lettie played the ‘tita’ (Filipino auntie) profile to a tee. Actor Kim Shazell as Dora stole the show early on as she drops the bombshell about her lesbian lover but Happy Feraren, who played said lover and auntie Lettie, enjoyed the most belly laughs when she told Carlo there’s no closet in the world big enough to hide his secret.
With less than 15 minutes to work with, Laforteza managed to pack a lot of meaning into the script. Besides the central discussion on sexual orientation, the play also touched on domestic violence, life as an Australian migrant and what social acceptance looks like in Australia compared to the Philippines.
“I rarely get to see and hear stories that relate to my own cultural upbringing, so it was important for me to bring some Pinoy pride onto the stage,” said Laforteza.
“Most of all, I wanted to relay a message of openness, love and faith - and that all three can co-exist in a way that shuts down and challenges bigotry.”
All Laforteza wanted to do was to showcase a Filipino story. “I wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the stories and experiences of friends and family that often get ignored.”
She did this and much more. I enjoyed the play so much that I wished it was a full-length film. Or perhaps a precursor to a new TV show like cultural crossover programs ‘The Family Law’ or ‘Fresh Off the Boat’.
Watch the video: Is there a sequel?
Either way, Laforteza can add playwright to her already very impressive CV (she’s a published author, academic scholar and newspaper columnist).
On behalf of everyone who saw ‘Coming to Dinner’, I’ve got one last thing to say: More, please.
Coming to Dinner will be back onstage at the 2019 Short+Sweet Festival.
Women in Australia: Stories of Courage
Sydney Fringe Festival
12-22 September 2018, Pitt Street Uniting Church
Written by Elaine Laforteza
Directed by Meili Bookluck