Sunday, January 23, 2011

THEATER: Flipzoids

Photo/Web Begole
A "flip," according to Redford (Carlo Alban), is a derogatory term for Filipino immigrants like him. To this particular teenager, a rust-blond dye job, it's just another symptom of his outcast fate: he's so desperate to connect that he haunts the Barracks (a beach bathroom known for gay pickups), hoping to connect with those who cannot see him. After a particularly desperate day, he turns to the elderly Aying (Ching Valdes-Aran), hoping that he can leech off some self-definition from a woman bold enough to practice her own customs out in the open, unflinching at what others might think. Though she chides him for it, keeping up her guarded front, she's happy for the company: she cannot communicate with her daughter Vangie (Tina Chilip), a stubborn girl who is determined not only to integrate, but to "flip" completely. There isn't much drama between these three viewpoints, but on the strength of its material, Ralph B. Pena's Flipzoids serves at least as an instructive play.

As it surely did in its premiere in 1996, when Valdes-Aran originated the role of Aying, the play serves to communicate a struggle for identity and the significance of stories in that end. It also, not for nothing, serves as a star vehicle for an older actress. But these things come at an expense to the story: there isn't one, a point that becomes particularly noted toward the end of the play, when Aying stops speaking. Nor are Vangie and Redford particularly defined: they are illustrations of the ways in which immigrants are made to lose themselves. Vangie, an assertive and self-confident nurse, spends the play listening to English diction, choosing the words she wishes to keep in her new worldview, and rejecting the negative ones she dislikes, but we know nothing about her life, her struggles. We know only that Aying is prays for her uprooted soul: "My daughter's becoming Americana. I think she will go to hell."

Nothing much happens in the play, at least not outside of the many explanatory monologues addressed to the audience, but the minimalism of director/designer Loy Arcenas (who also worked on the original production) gives this a Zen feeling. A recessed box of sand is surrounded by a black boardwalk; the ocean is represented by a small bowl of water, an image that, in its diminished nature, conveys the distance between Aying and her homeland. (Watch as she touches her hand to the water's completely cut-off surface.) The only aspect that goes too far is the background, a wall covered in the graffiti signatures of Ma-Yi company members (and perhaps others); I believe it's meant as a callback to each person's roots and as the foundation of a new community -- the two extremes of this play -- but it is too direct, too outside of the scene. The less that takes away from the personal and specific charm of this piece, the better, for that it is all Flipzoids has.

No comments: