THIS ‘BALIKBAYAN BOX’ IS FILLED WITH CULTURAL TRADITION AND OF COURSE PLENTY OF SWEETS
BUSY BAY AREA PLAYWRIGHT JEFFERY LO STAGES YET ANOTHER IMPORTANT STORY THAT ASKS “HOW MANY WAYS YOU CAN DEFINE LOVE”
Review by Vince Mediaa
A “Balikbayan Box” has arrived at Berkeley's TheatreFIRST - and it's full of love, confusion, tradition, expectations and of course some sweet Filipino Snacks. BALIKBAYAN BOX is a new play by Bay Area local favorite Jeffery Lo that asks “how many ways can you define love?”. Lo happens to be one of the Bay's most prolific local playwrights with three new works now on Bay Area stages. This new comedy drama is now on stage at the Live Oak stage through June 12th.
Lo, who has his main desk as TheatreWorks casting director, and currently directed “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin” at the SF Playhouse and has another work now on stage at City Lights in San Jose. Lo says about this play “The balikbayan box is the symbol in the Filipino community of gift giving and bringing gifts back to your community, but in a complicated way, like people are expecting to take things from you. What if you’re not in a place in your life where you can bring gifts, but they’re all expecting it? I’ve watched Filipino folks sort of really stressed out about what they’re going to bring when they go visit.”*
TheatreFIRST Artistic director Brendon Simon says; “Balikbayan Box afforded me the opportunity to see an intentional, heartfelt, and inspired piece of new theatre”. Directed by Michelle Talgarow, is a Kalmyk/Filipina artist who has been making theatre in the Bay Area for over 25 years. She says the two cast members are off stage friends, “they already come with a foundation of trust, play and support. This gift and their willingness to dive deep, allows me to bring out the nuances of the relationship between their characters. This story reminds us that, time will make it less awkward, the first date will become the 10th, many meals will be shared together, and that it’s how we connect to each other that makes us human.”
The play takes its theme from large cardboard boxes traditionally filled with gifts for friends and relations on visits to or from the Philippines. Families send sweet gifts from the islands to the U.S. and of course communities here send back to their Filipino families. Balik means “to return” and bayan, refers to their "town/settlement". In this case besides candy sweets and breads - the content includes an arranged marriage. In this two character story Joseph, a Filipino chef agrees to an arranged marriage with Bethany, a Filipina teacher immigrating to America. The location is a condo in Milpitas Ca. From day one, these two strangers are forced to create a world together as they deal with the realities of forced friendship and expectations. Balikbayan Box, is a comic and reality tribute to the Filipino escape to the American Dream.
The cast features two terrific actors Lynie Abadilla as Bethany and Jed Parsario as Joseph. Abadila delivers most of the comic lines “You are so Filipino” she tells Joseph after he cooks his Sinigang soup. Beth also wants the excitement of the American experience that Joseph is too bored to host for her. Parsario delivers an authentic performance as the disillusioned chef still dealing with his own past demons. They both struggle with their new relationship and identities and traditions. Joseph shows off his successful business as part owner of “Flipside” the restaurant he chefs. His apartment is well todo simple and modern - with a chef's prideful kitchen that Beth is not allowed to use in the beginning months. The set is designed by ThreatreFIRST founder Jon Tracy and sets the tone for the couple's path to friendship. The upstage area is lined with cardboard boxes full of past dreams and traditions. The downstage apartment shows off Joseph's success.
In one of the more heartwarming scenes the newlyweds rehearse their interview for an immigration officer as they go over how they met. They flashback to the moment they create in a Philippines market place. As they walk and meet for the first time they argue about the hot food they purchased. Beth is eating Turon and Joe found some Okoy both fried food as they argue and disagree that they both have favorite appetizers. The food in the story is an important subtext as Beth wins a closer friendship with Joseph; you see her in his kitchen preparing him a meal. The mention of the Filipino dishes is a certain inspiration to head to a pinoy diner at the play's conclusion.
The creative team includes the busy Louel Senores as Stage Manager, lighting by Dave Ragazza who effectively brings a mood of isolation during the opening of the one act play. Stephanie Prentice costume design easily reflects Beth's personality fresh from the Philippines and the dark side of Joseph's past. Randy Wong and Brandon Simon’s props are many as Beth opens the balikbayan box with one of Joe’s best chef knives. The contents of the box is full of food, flowers, gifts and a major assignment for any props designer.
Balikbayan Box is the classic “first date” story that is full of emotion, fear, past experiences and the race to the American Dream. The performances are excellent and both actors bring you into their life like listening to an easy conversation. Lo is a master craftsman writer, his scripts always bring tears and laughs. This play is an important story to celebrate AAPI month. The issues with immigration are important and powerful and Talgarow’s direction is smooth and brings you right into their relationship. A special community perk for TheatreFIRST is that no one will be turned away at the door. Tickets start at 5.00 and or if needed you can pay what you can.
Celebrate your own BALIKBAYAN BOX - and join Beth and Joseph on their first date - as they bring a new gift to you and our community.
Presents the world premiere of
By Jeffrey Lo
Lynie Abadilla and Jed Parsario*
MUST CLOSE JUNE 12th
Live Oak Theater
1301 Shattuck Ave.,
Runs Thursday – Saturdays, 8pm. Sundays, 2pm.
One act 95 min no intermission
Jeffrey Lo - Playwright
Michelle Talgarow - Director
Louel Senores - Stage Manager
Joshua Icban - Sound
Stephanie Prentice - Costume
Dave Ragazza - Light
Jon Tracy - Set
Randy Wong-Westbrooke - Props
THEATREFIRST @ LIVE OAK THEATER
1301 SHATTUCK AVE., BERKELEY, CA
Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/TheatreFirst-109079541979/?fref=ts
Brendon Simon, Artistic Director: email@example.com
Interview with Lo courtesy *SF Chron Datebook feature Jeffrey Lo by Lily Janiak
INTERVIEW WITH MR LO IN THE SF CRON