FIRES BURN AS SCAVENGERS FIND THEIR DREAMS AT PARADISE MOUNTAIN IN MANILA
LOCAL PLAYWRIGHT AIMEE SUZARA BRINGS A BEAUTIFUL NEW WORK TO COUNTERPULSE AND CUSTOM MADE THEATRE -THE WORLD PREMIERE OF ‘TINY FIRES' (SCAVENGERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD)
Review by Vince Mediaa
The black box CounterPulse stage in the heart of the SF Tenderloin has become Paradise Mountain in Manila. A garbage gold mine that 1000’s of Filipino families call home. TINY FIRES is the new play written by Oakland poet and playwright Aimee Suzara and is now on stage only through October 29th. Directed by Nikki Menez has cast three compelling actors that take us to the Tiny Fires of Paradise Mountain. Writer Suzara says she was a child of the 1980’s “As a kid I was only exposed to white princesses, white Barbies, and white celebrities. I never saw anyone even remotely like me on TV or in films”. The play was inspired by her own personal journey to the real Payatas landfill in the Philippines 1999 “I hope this story helps us better face the problems we share as humans occupying this planet.”
Director Menez who is also Curatorial Director at Z Space says “Aimee’s voice in this play paints a vivid picture of the lives of people of the Payatas landfill, but also an inner world within the brutal reality of these scavenging communities that is filled with poetry, magic, and color.” Scavenger communities represent 24% of the world’s population and serve an important role by saving recyclable materials from landfills. They are also often the most vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.
Suzara play about two friends Sugarpie and Trixie, two 18 year old best friends, have lost their parents and siblings in the huge landslide in the landfill outside Manila, Philippines. It's called Paradise Mountain. The story opens seven years after the disaster when they both lost their families and have survived on their own. The immersive set designed by Carlos Acceves clearly reveals the piles of garbage and treasures the two girls have collected. Lighting designer David Ragaza creates pools of lights that represent the tiny fires that explode from methane gas that penetrates their shack home but helps to provide power.
The two women “have a destiny” as Sugarpie tells Trixie. The incandescent Rae Yuen plays Sugarpie who imagines leaving the mountain. The terrific Dom Refuerzo as Trixie plays a more realistic game understanding she can never make it out and feels like a doll in a trash heap. The methane is the electricity of this story of a dreamer. They survive as scavengers who sell recyclable materials from the Mountain and search for food and city folks who buy their treasures.
A young Filipino-American, Joe, played by local favorite Mikee Loria. Joe is an ABC who is in search of his heritage in Manila, the locals call him a Fil-am. As he works on a mini documentary he stumbles into the women at the trash mountain. He immediately becomes fond of Sugarpie especially as she opens up to him during his on camera interviews. Loria is flawless in his dynamics as the American dream swimming in trash with his new friends. Loria plays Joe enthusiastically “I wanted to see the Mountain, because I’ve read a lot about it. I’m a photographer and filmmaker. I mean, I heard that the government started turning the methane into electricity, but I see that there are still fires popping up.”
Trixie points out “this is not trash it's recyclables”. Loria and Yuen's friendship is authentic and their timing is beautiful as staged by intimacy director Jeunee Hill. Sugarpie, the dreamer and visionary sneaks away and listens to the ocean. She has a bond with a natural force inspired by the sea - as created by sound designer Evan Wardell. She is drawn to look for her real father in the States as Trixie fears Joe is taking her back to the U.S. The three are excellent together and each shows a graceful passion. Director Menez keeps the action moving in this 100 minute play with no intermission. Trixie mentions her dreams to once open a restaurant and disrespects Jollibee and the Filipino mainstream. Aimee’s use of poetry is a subtext for songs and pro’s that her three characters share “We may as well be ghosts you know.” Trixie responds “Ghosts don’t have to eat”.
‘TINY FIRES’ is the final production of the Custom Made 2023 season, the company hopes to return for a 2024 season but they may be delayed due to funding. CMT AD Ciera Eis says “Tiny Fires” has been developed around the Bay Area theater scene since 2017 and we could not be more thrilled to be producing the world premiere”. Sugarpie and Trixie could be squabbling sisters or maybe lovers. They pick through refuse for food, and find treasures - including who they are. Joe’s love for Sugarpie is awkward and angers Trixie but in the end the Fil-am discovers himself. Sugarpie moves on to discover her past and follow the voice of the sea. This is a warm important new work that still needs some mending, but it is truly impressive. Suzara is an artist who brings her passion to her writing. Let's hope this new work sees more stages - It is a MUST SEE.
THE CUSTOM MADE THEATRE CO AND COUNTERPULSE PRESENT THE WORLD PREMIERE OF
(SCAVENGERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD)’
BY AIMEE SUZARA
DIRECTED BY NIKKI MEÑEZ
Ciera Eis Artistic Director
The Custom Made Theatre Company
Mikee Loria, Dom Refuerzo,
and Rae Yuen.
MUST CLOSE OCTOBER 29, 2023
CounterPulse 80 Turk Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $15-55. email@example.com, https://bit.ly/tinyfires.
Photos by Jay Yamada
Poet Aimee says “I hope this story helps us better face the problems we share as humans occupying this planet.” Aimee Suzara reads the poem that inspired her new play:
PHOTOS FROM PARADISE MOUNTIAN
NEWS FOOTAGE FROM 1999
CRAFT TEAM; Carlos Aceves (Scenic Designer), Caro Asercion (Dramaturg), Em Dwyer (Costumes and Props Designer), Rachel Grace Reyes, Mogan (Stage Management), David Ragaza (LightingDesigner), Jeunée Simon (Intimacy Director), Evan Wardell (Sound Designer).