Author Archive

Annotation: Don Shewey’s “Theater; Filipino Life, Seen Through a Pop Culture Prism” (2001)

Peer-Review: 0

Shewey, Don. “Theater; Filipino Life, Seen Through a Pop Culture Prism.” New York Times 4 March 2001. Web.

In his article Shewey discusses how director Michael Greif commissioned Jessica Hagedorn to adapt her novel Dogeaters for the stage despite her original reservations about the feasibility to transforming her dense prose into a manageable dramatic form. Shewey suggests that Greif reworked the play from its premier performance in California at the La Jolly Playhouse “through a series of developmental workshops to a full production at the Joseph Papp Public Theater” in New York. The latter production is therefore framed as the complete, finalized version, which is supported by the fact that Hagedorn publishes this performance script as the official play text but for my project I am interested in examining the various revisions she makes from the novel to the two US productions and perhaps also the most recent production of Dogeaters in Manila.

Shewey importantly notes that the staging of Dogeaters in the public theater “brings the play as close to mainstream American culture as any dramatic work about Filipino life has ever gotten” (print 1). I wonder if writing for this mainstream audience in mind affected the types of revisions Hagedorn made to her play text.

Shewey cites Hagedorn’s comment on the postmodern structure of her novel: “Manila is a collage, from the very high to the very low, from the very pious to the incredibly depraved. It’s this wonderful tropical city that can’t be easily described or defined. So why should the novel be linear and regimented? It couldn’t, if I was to properly capture what I was trying to capture’ (print 2). In the New York production, however, Hagedorn eliminates the “novel’s split time frame” which Shewey suggests was in response to the reviews of the California performance where critics and viewers decried that the play was too confusing. Hagedorn cuts the scenes from Rio’s childhood and in my paper I will further explore the implications of this revisions.

Shewey finally concludes his article citing another revealing quote from Hagedorn where she explains Dogeaters’ focus on public and private lives as well as their surrealistic collapse: “I’m striving to show…how reality and what I call the dreamtime – escapism – can actually merge. You can lose yourself in this soap opera, but after a while the soap opera starts to reflect what’s really going on in your life. But what comes first, your real drama or the fake drama? Are we living according to what we’ve seen in movies? Is that how we expect romance to occur because we’ve seen it a million times in the movies?” (print 3).

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Annotation: Elyse Sommer’s “A CurtainUp Review: Dogeaters”

Peer-Review: 0

Sommer, Elyse. “A CurtainUp Review: Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. CurtainUp: The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings. 2001 Web.

In her review of The Public Theater, New York production of Dogeaters, Sommers discusses how “David Gallo’s two-level set and John Woo’s projection designs turn the stage into a combination live play and movie theater” (print 2). Her mention of the “movie theater-like” aspect of the play is particularly intriguing because the importance of film in shaping Filipino identity is a central theme in Hagedorn’s novel as well as her stage adaptation. Sommers further describes how Nestor Norales and Barbara Villanueva, “stars of the Phillippines’ [sic] longest running radio soap opera, ‘Love Letters’, and hosts of an American style talk show are the play’s MCs through whom the various events of the play are filtered” (print 2). She accentuates that by blending the events from the fictional radio drama with events from the real world of the play, the audience is introduced to a reality where “fact and fiction become part of a single soap opera” (print 2). In this way Hagedorn demonstrates how fantasy and popular culture are as just as important in constituting Filipino subjectivity as the material conditions of the world in which they live.

Sommers also calls attention to how in her stage adaptation, Hagedorn largely reduced Rio’s role, eliminating much of her childhood in Manila, presenting her as a grown woman returning to her home country as an “outsider looking in” (print). I am interested in examining the possible reasons for this revision, whether Hagedorn wanted to accentuate Rio’s expatriate status and call attention to her exoticized, nostalgic vision of Manila, a city she has grown deeply disconnected from.

Sommers further notes how the play draws together the lives of completely disparate seeming characters such as Daisy Avila, “the young beauty queen and daughter of privilege” and Joey Sands, a DJ and male prostitute who happens to witness the assassination of her father in complete soap operatic fashion. The two eventually band together to form a guerrilla resistance force. I argue that through this deliberate soap operatic treatment of character plotlines Hagedorn challenges the readers’ conception of what is cinematic fantasy and what is reality, demonstrating how the two overlap in extremely complex ways. Media technologies such as the Internet also demonstrates how this random collision of lives is not merely fantastical or improbable.

Sommers concludes her review asserting that because there are so many characters, none of them leave a particularly strong emotional impact on the viewers, and ultimately, “Manila the city is the character we get to know more than its citizens” (print 3). This is an interesting comment that I plan to explore further, namely, the implications, obstacles, and advantages of attempting to perform an entire era, life in Manila during the dictatorial Marcos regime.

Annotation: Dan Bacalzo’s “Dogeaters” (2001)

Peer-Review: 0

Bacalzo, Dan. “Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. Theatre Journal 53.4 (2001): 642-643. Print.

Bacalzo notes how in The Public Theater, New York production of Dogeaters, Hagedorn transforms Nestor Noralez and Barbara Villanueva, who are only minor characters in the original novel, into “perky talk show hosts. They introduce key players in the drama, as well as provide historical background for those in the audience unfamiliar with the history of Philippine politics” (print 1). But Bacalzo emphasizes that these narrators do not only fulfill the practical, functional role of situating the audience into the world of the play but they also tease out “the book’s preoccupation with movies and show business to create a purely theatrical mode of telling the story” (print 1). In my own paper I am interested in further exploring the possible political advantages of the dramatic as opposed to the novelistic form. Bacalzo calls attention to one scene where Noralez and Villanueva interview “the French Jesuit priest Jean Mallat, who is appearing on their show to promote his new book about the Philippines” (print 1). This moment powerfully alludes to imperialism, Orientalist documentation of Third World histories and the capitalist dimensions of those practices. Bacalzo suggests that the play revolves around the story of “Rio Gonzaga, a Filipina-American returning to her native land to attend her grandmother’s funeral” and Joey Sand’s tale “an action-adventure story, filled with danger, death, and revolution” (print 2). He asserts that their contrasting outsider-insider positions offer an interesting, nuanced portrait of Manila.

Bacalzo also notes a significant difference between Hagedorn’s novel, where she “took great pains…not to identify President Marcos and his wife by name, instead referring to them as simply the President and First Lady” but made “numerous mentions of Imelda Marcos” in her stage adaptation. I intend to examine this point further and situate it in the history of Filipino street protest theatre. I wonder whether the overt naming of Imelda Marcos speaks to the politicized nature of that dramatic art form. Bacalzo additionally describes interesting features of the stage design, where slide projections…hel[p] to distinguish changes in locale” and “an industrial catwalk with multiple levels” serves as the overall set (print 2).

Annotation: Nayan Shah’s “Staging Dogeaters”

Peer-Review: 0

Okay so I am shifting gears a little bit and am now working on another project where I analyze the publication/textual history of Jessica Hagedorn’s 1990 novel Dogeaters, which she later adapts into a play. I am interested in examining the specific revisions she makes as she re-fashions her original text into a dramatic form. The production history of the play also reveals interesting changes in Hagedorn’s stage text from its premier performance in San Diego, then New York and finally Manila. So basically expect a lot more annotations about Dogeaters-the novel and play ^^

Shah, Nayan. “Staging Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. Journal of Asian American Studies 2.2 (1999): 218-220. Print.

Shah reviews Michael Greif’s 1998 theatrical production of Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn’s stage adaptation of her 1990 novel by the same name. Shah notes that the performance at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse features the perspective of two major characters, Rio Gonzaga and Joey Sands: “The plot shuffles between 1959 as thirteen-year-old Rio experiences her parents tumultuous separation and 1982 the year when Joey becomes an unwitting witness to the assassination of opposition leader Senator Domingo Avila” (218). While the original novel displays a nonlinear structure, Shah asserts that in her stage adaptation, Hagedorn fully utilizes the advantages of the dramatic art form to further accentuate the overlapping of time and space. Shah specifically calls attention to how the play’s “montages of multiple scenes on stage with the actors speaking almost simultaneously…produces the effect of contradictory, coupled and de-coupled worlds,” reinforcing Hagedorn’s vision of history as not a simple chain of cause-and-effect (219).

Shah also describes how the performance highlights the intersections between “Catholic ritual and film fantasy” as characters fashion their identities through an exploration of their souls and their bodies, where spiritual and sexual experimentation “combine to produce a raw and emotionally intense collage of human expression” (220). Shah further notes the important function of gossip as a mode of communication and information transmission in the play. He asserts that gossip emerges as an informal, counter-discourse to the official discourse of the state. While “[g]ay men and women respond to gossip playfully, and creatively interpret its contents…elites respond to gossip as accusations to be denied and disposed of” (220).

Shah concludes his review by emphasizing how “Hagedorn refuses to turn the contradictory, chaotic, and funky beauty of the Philippines into digestible entertainment,” how she deliberately makes it difficult for her audiences to consume so that it will not be easily commodified (220). Yet reviews such as “Ordinary Living in a Mardi Gras of Corruption” by Bruce Weber, while written in response to a later production of Dogeaters in New York, suggests that Hagedorn’s play is not only commodified but also exoticized in a disturbingly Orientalist way. Weber asserts that for the audience, Dogeaters “is as titillating as a great vacation that leads you willingly into danger,” accentuating throughout the article, the strange “exotic, strange” features of 1982 Manila. In my essay I am interested in exploring the digestibility of Hagedorn’s play, the politics of deliberately writing a play that is difficult to consume—many reviewers have noted how the play is too complex, convoluted, etc—and what happens when it becomes subject to Orientalist consumption.

Annotation: Sianne Ngai’s “Animatedness” (2005)

Peer-Review: 0

Ngai, Sianne. “Animatedness.” Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2005. 89-125. Print.

In this essay Ngai asserts that stop-motion animation technology captures the ambiguous nature of human agency in the Fordist era, which she describes as “animatedness.” She particularly explores how animatedness, as a “seemingly neutral state of ‘being moved’” has been ‘twisted into the image of the overemotional racialized subject, abetting his or her construction as unusually receptive to external control” (91). Ngai argues, “to be ‘animated’ in American culture is to be racialized in some way” (95). She notes how African Americans have been popularly represented in literature and various forms of media as overly, excessively emotional. Ngai particularly calls attention to how “animatedness” as an emotional or physical response becomes racialized, corporeally attached to the visual stereotype of the African American body. She asserts that while Asian Americans seem to fall at the opposite end of the spectrum, popularly depicted as unfeeling and excessively unemotional, they are still clearly racialized for their lack of animation.

Ngai discusses the productivity of “animatedness” as a theoretical frame because the term recalls the “definitions of ‘animate’ and ‘animated’” ranging from “biological existence (‘endowed with life or the qualities of life: ALIVE”), to socially positive emotional qualities (‘lively,’ ‘full of vigor and spirit,’ ‘zest’), and finally to the historically specific mode of screen representation (‘made in the form of an animated cartoon’)” (94-95). Ngai therefore demonstrates how “animatedness” links organic life to emotional states and machine technologies.

She suggests that these connections are made even more explicit through the concept of automaziation Rey Chow presents in her essay “Postmodern Automatons.” Chow describes automatization as a condition where “one’s body and voice [is] controlled by an invisible other,” particularly reveals itself “the moment the body is made into the object of a gaze; being animated thus entails ‘becoming a spectacle whose ‘aesthetic’ power increases with one’s increasing awkwardness and helplessness’” (99). In her own essay Ngai attempts to answer Chow’s “question of how to turn automatization into autonomy and independence” (99). She asserts that while “animatedness” connotes the emotional and physical constrictions of mechanical, automatic assembly line labor, it also alludes to the potential for spontaneous, unrestricted and unexpected affective and bodily movement.

In her essay Ngai goes on to analyze a scene from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man where the “narrator suddenly finds himself part of a larger audience watching a black doll puppeteered by Tod Clifton, a Harlem community leader and activist he has admired” (111). Ngai asserts that in this scene Clifton’s ventriloquism and manipulation of the doll forces his body and voice to perform unnatural actions, thereby highlighting his own automatization. Even as he animates the black doll, he is also animated by invisible, external forces. Ngai therefore suggests that one ambiguous means through which automatized human beings can exert their agency in the Fordist era is to call attention to and essentially make a spectacle of their own automatization.

She finally concludes her essay with a discussion of The PJs, “the first prime-time program in American television history to feature a completely non-white, non-middle-class, and non-live-action cast, as well as the first to depict its characters in foamation, a three-dimensional, stop-motion animation technique” (102-103). Ngai asserts that The PJs foamation dolls are automatized by technicians who physically manipulate them into appropriate positions for camera shots and by the human actors who ventriloquize their voices. Despite their illusion of wholeness on the television screen, the dolls are dissected and pieced together. Yet Ngai notes that as different mouths are continually put on and taken off of the dolls, the mouth sometimes “slides a bit from its initial position,” which the directors refer to as “‘slippery mouth’ syndrome” (116). Ngai reads this effect as uncanny movements, where the mouths “assum[e] a liveliness that is distinct from the ‘life’ given to them by the animators and that exceeds their design and control” (117). She asserts that this “unaccounted-for autonomy” is representative of the ways in which agency operates in the Fordist era and should not be overlooked or trivialized.

Annotation: Michel Foucault’s “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” (1990)

Peer-Review: 0

Foucault, Michel. “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 135-159. Print.

In this essay Foucault discusses the historical changes in sovereign power as the absolute “right to decide life and death” eventually came to be conditioned by exceptional circumstances where the sovereign’s life was threatened (135). In these instances, he would be able to “legitimately wage war, and require his subjects to take part in the defense of the state; without ‘directly proposing their death’” (135). Foucault asserts that in modern times sovereign power “as the ‘power of life and death’ was in reality the right to take life or let live” (136). The sovereign exercises his power over life through the deaths that he can command and exercises his power over death by the lives he can spare. Foucault accentuates that in this framework power is exerted according to the model of “deduction, a subtraction mechanism,” that “culminate[s] in the privilege to seize hold of life in order to suppress it” (136). He notes, however, that since then power in the West has undergone a radical transformation.

No longer a deductive force that attempts to “suppress” life with the threat of death, now “power…exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (137). Foucault calls attention to how wars have ceased to be waged in the name of an individual sovereign but rather for the defense and survival of whole populations. He emphasizes that modern states exercise power in this manner, stressing life even as they expose their subjects to death. Foucault asserts “that the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death (138). He notes that because power can only exerts its influence over life, “death is power’s limit” (138). Foucault explains that suicide, as an individual, private act, subverts power, and classifying it as a crime is power’s grasping attempt to manage life.

He goes on to describe how “power over life evolved in two basic forms” since the 17th century (139). Foucault describes how the first form is “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities…the parallel increases of its usefulness and its docility, [and] its integration into systems of efficient and economic control” (139). He groups all of these mechanisms of power under the heading of “disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” (139). Foucault asserts that the second form is “focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality…life expectancy and longevity” (139). These mechanism he groups under the heading of “regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population” (139). Foucault emphasizes that power mobilizes to discipline the human body and regulate populations, giving rise to a “great bipolar technology—anatomic and biological” that works towards “invest[ing] life through and through” (139).

He further notes how this “bio-power” has been instrumental to the rise and expansion of capitalism. Foucault insists that the success of this economic system “would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes” (141). Capitalism, which demands growth—the creation of new markets, the production of more goods and capital, etc—ultimately relies on a power capable of fostering, optimizing, and regulating life rather than death (141).

Foucault argues that modernity is marked by mankind’s development of political measures to specifically maintain and perpetuate its own existence. But he suggests that one important consequence of “bio-power” is the normalization of power beyond the formal legal system. He asserts that “law operates more and more as a norm, and that the juridical institution is increasingly incorporated into a continuum of apparatuses (medical, administrative, and so on) whose functions are for the most part regulatory” (144). Foucault further notes how the right to life has become the underlining demand of most political struggles.

He finally concludes his essay with a discussion of how sex has gained so much political significance within this schema of power because it is tied to both “the disciplines of the body” and “the regulation of population,” a “means of access both to the life of the body and the life of the species (145, 146). Foucault goes on to offer a fascinating argument about the management of sexuality and deployment of sex, which I have chosen not to go into detail about here.

Annotation: Ruth Y. Hsu’s “The Cartography of Justice and Truthful Refractions in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Hsu, Ruth Y. “The Cartography of Justice and Truthful Refractions in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.” Transnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits. Eds. Shirley Geok-lin Lim, John Blair Gamber, Stephen Hong Sohn, and Gina Valentino. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 2006. 75-99. Print.

Hsu begins her essay with the observation that Karen Tei Yamashita’s work in general “evoke[s] those familiar tropes or landmarks that have been staged in Asian American literature and scholarship,” while de-familiarizing them in new often global, transnational contexts (76). She asserts that the de-familiarization at work in Yamashita’s novels helps to productively distinguish Asian American immigrant experiences from those of the “quintessential American immigrant,” counteracting the reductive homogenization of notions such as the “melting pot.”

In this essay Hsu particularly focuses on the representation of Los Angeles in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, emphasizing that the narratives presented are told from the perspective of historically marginalized, racialized characters and directly challenge the dominant white supremacist perspective of many Euro-American narratives about LA. She also explores how Yamashita “appropriat[es] and redeploy[s] hegemonic tropes of cartography and geography in ways that maps Western colonialism” (77). Hsu claims that Tropic of Orange is structured according to the “physics…of quantum theory” (78). She asserts that characters’ motivations and actions “are ultimately mapped along the key principles of chaos…and fractal theories,” where the linearity of cause and effect is broken and severed (78). Hsu suggests that it is difficult to predict or fully know the consequences of an individual character’s decisions as they “affect the world in ever-widening ripples of power and influence” (79). In this respect, she asserts that Yamashita deliberately “challenges readers’ typical understanding and…experiences of time, space, and an orderly universe” (80).

Hsu goes on to describe how colonizers have deployed cartography to impose “their own grids of reality, in both material and symbolic ways” on indigenous land and lifestyle (81). She argues that Western maps place emphasis on the superficial topographical features of a given environment, while many “non-Western thought systems” acknowledge the multiple layers beneath the surface and understand that there are different, various modes of existence not entirely bound to rationality (85). Hsu connects Western cartography to Enlightenment beliefs that the world is fundamentally knowable, which contributes to the colonizing mentality that the land can and should be quantified, controlled, mastered.

She asserts that Tropic of Orange offers a history to counteract the history of Western colonialism, calling attention to how “people of color have predated white settlers and the ways that indigenous peoples continue to play crucial roles on that continent” (87). Hsu points to one scene where Buzzworm studies a map, recognizing its colonialist legacy as an instrument of politicians, urban planners, etc to organize the city along racial and class lines, segregating the rich and the poor and effectively containing potential riots in certain areas. She asserts that beyond the concrete freeways, characters such as Buzzworm and Manzanar recognize that people are and can be connected in other ways (89). Hsu describes how Manzanar, for example, is able to see the city in layers of multiple maps that depict different temporal and spatial realities simultaneously. He sees the past and present, familiar and unfamiliar spaces converging in highly dynamic ways.

Hsu then goes on to describe the two tables of contents Yamashita offers her reader. The first is a more conventional, linear depiction of the plot that suggests the easy, traceable flow of cause and effect. The second, however, is a Hypercontext Grid which “calls up the idea, in chaos and complexity theories, of open systems, or systems not in equilibrium” (92). She accentuates how this table calls attention to the characters within the novel are “propelled by random events,” their lives converging in completely unexpected, uncontrollable ways (93).

Hsu concludes by asserting that Yamashita offers a new “model of human connectivity” based on quantum physics chaos theory (94):

Not only are we connected or related to people we do not ‘know,’ we have, in a sense always known them. Not only are we connected to so-called strangers in an ever-widening matrix of complexity that defies logical, deterministic mapping, one’s actions change perhaps the texture, or the organization, or the meaning of that matrix, at specific locations, which in turn ripple out to change the totality of this nonlinear structure. (94)

Hsu pointedly distinguishes chaos from anarchy, insisting that the characters’ lives are guided by systems of order but that the trajectory of their paths are not always easily predictable. While she never mentions globalization in her essay, I would argue that the material effects of geopolitical relations and the transnational flows of goods and peoples very much precipitate the chaos in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.