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).

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

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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: Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda’s “When Minorities Migrate” (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

Tsuda, Takeyuki (Gaku). “When Minorities Migrate: The Racialization of the Japanese Brazilians in Brazil and Japan.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 225-251. Print.

In this essay Tsuda explores how the racialization of Japanese Brazilians changes with respect to different social and cultural contexts. He specifically focuses on their experience of race in Brazil and then through their “ethnic ‘return’ migration” to Japan (225). Tsuda asserts that while race is highly essentialized within a single national context as if resulting from some intrinsic biological or cultural difference, “the experience of race is de-essentialized through the migratory process” as migrants find themselves subjected to and even perpetuating different forms of racialization (225). Tsuda notes that his findings are based on “twenty months of intensive fieldwork and participant observation in the mid-1990s in both Japan and Brazil” (227). He spent nine months studying “two separate Japanese Brazilian communities in the cities of Porto Alegre…and Ribeirão Preto” in Brazil (227). Then he spent the remaining year in Japan, “conduct[ing] fieldwork in Kawasaki…and Oizumi/Ota cities…where [he]…worked for four intensive months as a participant observe in a large electrical appliance factory with Japanese Brazilian and Japanese workers” (227).

Tsuda notes that in Brazil, Japanese Brazilians have achieving significant socio-economic success, many attaining high education levels and middle class standards of living. Yet they “continue to be racialized as a Japanese ethnic minority because of their distinctive Asian appearance” (228). He emphasizes that the experience of Japanese Brazilians are distinct from those of Japanese Americans because unlike the United States, Brazil does not have many Asian minorities of “non-Japanese descent” (228). Tsuda relates his own jarring experience of being directly addressed as “japonês!” on a daily basis (228). But unlike Franz Fanon’s experience of being called “a Negro!” Tsuda accentuates that Japnese-ness does not have negative connotations in Brazil, at least in recent years, and the exclamation, “japonês!” is not an act of prejudice.” While Tsuda acknowledges that some Japanese Brazilians expressed frustration with the uncomfortable realization that no mater how successfully they assimilate to Brazilian culture and society, they will always be marginalized, many are proud of their Japanese ethnicity. Tsuda suggests that Japanese people and culture are largely associated with positive images and stereotypes because of “Japan’s prominent and respected position in the global order as an economic superpower” (233). He further notes that some Japanese Brazilians perpetuate this form of “positive racialization,” actively asserting their First World Japanese-ness to distinguish themselves from the undesirable negative connotations of Third World Brazilian-ness (238).

In his study of second and third generation Japanese Brazilians’ migration to Japan, however, Tsuda reveals that this group’s experience of race is entirely different. Because of their Japanese appearance, Japanese Brazilian are expected to exhibit a cultural homogeneity that matches their racial homogeneity in Japan. Tsuda notes, however, that second and third generation Japanese Brazilians have lost or never even gained linguistic fluency. Their lives in Brazil have also led them to become dissociated from Japanese customs and social codes of behavior. Tsuda asserts that as a result, any Japanese Brazilians decide overtly perform their Brazilian-ness in Japanese so as to “demonstrate to the Japanese that they are not Japanese despite their Japanese racial appearance and therefore cannot be held to Japanese cultural expectations” (240). In this way they challenge the essentializing racialization practices in Japan and additional demonstrate the flexibity of race as something that can be performed. Tsuda notes that Japanese Brazilians perform their Brazilian-ness in numerous ways, from dress, to language and distinctly Brazilian and non-Japanese social etiquette such as greetings in the form of public “embrac[es] or kissing” (242). He further suggests many choose to immediately introduce themselves as Japanese Brazilians as a kind of apology for lacking in Japanese linguistic or cultural proficiency. Tsuda also interestingly notes that Japanese Brazilians, in their attempt to replicate the Brazillian samba ritual and dance in Japan, something that they never really participated in Brazil and do not possess much knowledge about, they have created a new “spontaneous cultural form” (244).

Tsuda ultimately concludes his essay emphasizing that the racialization of Japanese Brazilians is not merely a “hegemonic process[s]” because these individuals are oftentimes complicit in racializing themselves so as to maintain an “ethnic distinctiveness” in varying locales (246).

Annotation: Josephine Lee’s “Critical Strategies for Reading Asian American Drama” (1997)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, Josephine. “Critical Strategies for Reading Asian American Drama.” Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage. Philadelphia, Temple UP, 1997. 1-33. Print.

In her essay Lee acknowledges that her focused examination of Asian American theater may contribute to a form of “racial separatism” (4). She notes that this critique has been historically raised against multicultural studies because group specific angles can potentially “promote[e] insiderism and fragmentation” (5). Lee emphasizes, however, that the study of marginalized groups should not be treated as simply “add-ons to an existing canon” just to ensure superficial “political representation” (5). She suggests that this can also force minority subjects to assume the “awkward position of speaking for others” (5). Yet the usage of neutral aesthetics through a complete rejection of the political can no longer suffice in our increasingly diverse, multicultural, transnational world. Lee concedes that Asian America encompasses a very diverse group of peoples that is always changing in light of new waves of immigration and that to presuppose such a thing as “Asian American theatre” suggests a homogeneous coherent whole that can be very reductive of internal differences. Lee maintains, however, that Asian American theatre powerfully “reflect[s], if not an easily understood ‘us’ in terms of a homogenous community of ordinary Asian Americans, then at the very least an intensely imagined communality shared by a number of diverse individuals and social groups” (9-10). She further notes that Asian American theatre was deeply tied to the larger Asian American civil rights movement of the 1960s, which encouraged pan-Asian solidarity over intra-group differences.

Lee ultimately calls for a new discursive theoretical framework that examines race and ethnicity in theatre and dramatic art forms. In her essay she discusses how the Orientalist representation of Asian Americans in theatre have been accepted as true to life. She emtions, for example, the popular practice of “yellow face,” where white actors would consult makeup manuals that offered them step-by-step guidelines as to how to appear and perform as an “authentic Oriental” (12). Instead of viewing drama as an imitation or mirror of reality, Lee accentuates the need to examine how “race is constructed and contested by theatrical presentation” (6). She asserts that as a live art form, theatre wields the remarkable potential to provoke “an immediate visceral response to the physicality of race,” forcing audiences to recognize their own implication in the process of racialization (7).

Lee notes that while some Asian Americans did receive wide critical acclaim for their performances, this success was largely achieved by playing into stereotypes that were especially hard to challenge due to casting discrimination and sheer financial need. In resistance to the Orientalizing practices of mainstream theater companies, however, Asian Americans began to establish their own companies where they featured works of “Asian American playwrights…actors, directors, and designers” (15). Lee notes how these theatrical production worked to especially spread awareness about the “history of Asians in the United States, a history marked distinctively by naturalization policy, land laws, and immigration restrictions” (16). Lee asserts that these companies were deeply attuned to community issues and employed practices such as “Pan-Asian casting” to rework the stereotype of all Asians look the same by promoting a new pan-Asian identity in the spirit of the larger civil rights movement (16).

Lee emphasizes that while the plays she examines in her book differ on many levels, they are all heavily invested in exploring “questions raised about performing race and ethnicity” (20). She also recognizes the flaws of her own study, which mostly examines dramatic works by Chinese and Japanese Americans and are even more limited with her specific reliance on play texts. Lee asserts that the publication process reveals another exclusionary measure in contemporary American theatre. The works generally favored for literary reproduction are those written by authors with a strong command of the English language and rely on language rather than performance such as dance or music in their works. Those theatrical productions that have successfully “gained mainstream recognition” are also more likely to be published (25). Lee concludes her essay by emphasizing that her study attempts to shift critical consideration of what it means to “be” an Asian American to what it means to perform Asian American identity on stage, calling attention to the constructed nature of this label.