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Filipino-American life in San Francisco is Spirited.

‘Monstress’ Two one acts

about Filipino history in San Francisco

The splendid One Acts are the perfect gift

for the new Market street venue.

Filipino-American spirit is the theme in the two one-acts MONSTRESS, now at the American Conservatory Theatre Strand Stage on Market street in San Francisco. The two plays based on short stories by writer Lysley Tenorio, are adapted for the stage by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San José. In these two world-premiere one-act plays the American Dream is well explored. Directed by Carey Perloff, an associate direction by Sean San José (who appears on stage in a featured role). Perloff's new stage for American Conservatory Theater's Strand venue, she hopes to stage all new works, of cutting-edge artists. Perloff said “As soon as I came across Lysley Tenorio’s magical collection of stories - called “MONSTRESS”, I wondered if there was a play hidden inside - or several plays. Tenorio’s tender and complex look at Filipino-American life in the Bay Area has so much resonance for us at A.C.T. as we open a new theatre adjacent to one of the biggest hubs of Filipino culture. Working with Sean San Jose and Gotanda to theatricalize these tales has been a great advantage, creating worlds of longing, music, movement and movie making set right in our own neighborhood. This is what we dreamed of when we built this new theatre”

In both works, emotions, laughs and tears are important, as well as the Filipino spirit. The first act opens with the heartfelt REMEMBER THE I HOTEL, taken from 1970s evictions of Asian Americans. This is a powerful, moving story about immigration, and trail to the American Dream. This was my favorite hour of the evening, and the acting is first rate, the arch of the characters is so moving. This work can stand on its own, it is so well crafted. Vicente, played so well by Ogie Zulueta, is new immigrant from the Philippines who visits SF and meets Nado. Local favorite Jomar Tagatac is truly amazing as Nado, the pinoy who has discovered the American Dream and the I Hotel in SF Chinatown. His performance is touching and powerful, as the Nob Hill bellhop who takes on his new friend Vince to show him the ropes in SF. They frequent a dance hall featuring the songs of a torch singer performed by Melody Butiu. Nado meets a white beauty played by Kelsey Venter, and a forbidden love develops truly affecting his pal Vince. The two pinoys thought they would overcome San Francisco, but in time the city takes its toll on the both of them. The dance hall scenes are so well directed by Perloff, and the bellhop sequences are fast and move the first act to its sweet and tragic end.

The second act opens with MONSTRESS, we meet a B-movie horror star from Manila, Reva Gogo is the famous Squid Mother. Melody Butiu plays Reva and is marvelous and her comic timing is the best. The actor migrates to California after being scouted by a Bay Area producer. In San Mateo she tries to grow away from her MONTRESS type casting. The marvelous San Jose plays Checkers, her lover and overbearing director who is quick to take an offer to move to the states. Nick Gabriel plays the Bay Area connection, a low end producer set to milk Checkers and Gogo for everything he can. The story is camp and full of humor and includes an entertaining greek chorus featuring, Dala (Ogie Zulueta), Mata (Jomar Tagatac), and Tala (Rinabeth Apostol), all skillful in their comic timing.

The set is designed by Nina Ball, and its base is used for both plays, a dance hall, and Nob hill lobby, then later dream sets for the Squid Lady and B-movies. Ball works large arched windows into the setting that work for the two stories. Robert Hand did the lighting using the open windows to set the mood and the small stage to whisk us back to SF in the 30’s and 70’s. Lydia Tanji costumes are colorful for the MONSTRESS as she enters in her Squid attire, and the greek chorus is just as colorful. For I Hotel the bellhop red is perfect and both men are great looking in their vintage dance hall suits. The sound design by Jake Rodriguez brings us back to the era and the I Hotel sounds of the those historic riots when the Hotel was forced to shut down.

The highlight of both works is the excellent acting and passion set by the company. The splendid two One Acts are the perfect gift for the new Market street venue, that is not far from where some of these stories took place. St. Patrick Church on Mission street, just around the corner from the Strand, is a classic filipino landmark. MONSTRESS is a great evening of Bay Area culture and experience. Lysley Tenorio collection of stories are alive and moving, and playwrights Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San José Filipino-American experience is not to be missed. MONSTRESS runs through November 22nd at ACT’s Strand Theatre.

American Conservatory Theater presentes


Adapted by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San Jose from the short stories by Lysley Tenorio,

Directed by Carey Perloff, Associate Director Sean San Jose

Presented by American Conservatory Theater

Now through Nov. 22,

The Strand, 1127 Market St., San Francisco

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $20-$100; 415-749-2228, click here >>

Photos by Kevin Berne

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