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).

Advertisements

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: 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.