Flordelino Lagundino first came to Juneau in 2004 to perform in “The Long Season” at Perseverance Theater because, as he put it recently, “I just wanted to be in a show that was about me.”
“What theater in the country was doing a musical about Filipinos? None. I had to go to Juneau, Alaska, to do that production,” he said.
A similar impulse to share the stories of Filipinos on stage has led Lagundino to direct “Flipzoids,” which opens this weekend at McPhetres Hall. The play is produced by Generator Theater Company, which Lagundino helped found in 2007, and the Filipino Community, Inc.
“It’s important for people to develop as individuals by seeing themselves on stage,” Lagundino said. “Theater should be a mirror to society and very often it’s not. Very often it’s still a very controlled — and in regional theater, a very white — way of looking at the world. And part of doing this play is to insert an idea in the community that these plays also are universal.”
“Flipzoids,” written by Ralph B. Peña, tells the story of three Filipino immigrants trying to understand their identities in the United States. Vangie, a nurse in her 30s, worked hard to come to the United States, where she finds that people don’t accept her, and tries to overcome prejudices by assimilating as fully as possible. Meanwhile, her mother, Aying, is still tied to the past, which creates conflict between her and her daughter. Then there is Redford, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child and now in his 20s still doesn’t feel like he belongs; only when he meets Aying does he finds a connection to where he came from.
“My character definitely seems confused, very much so,” said Junior Davidson, who plays Redford. “And when he meets (Aying) it opens up a whole, well, can of worms.”
Marisa Marquez, who plays Vangie, is a first generation born Filipino-American from New York. As Vangie, Marquez said, “I am playing my parents’ generation, which is, put away your past, put away your past, put away your past.” She and her brother, she said, grew up “quote unquote American,” which meant, among other things, that their parents did not speak Tagalog to them at home.
“They tried to do what my character did, which is assimilate, assimilate, assimilate,” she said.
“There’s a scene in the play where (Vangie’s) mom does some crazy stuff in a mall,” Lagundino said. “And yeah, it’s horrifying for her to see that, because … she’s trying so hard to be perfect, be American. I think a lot of people of color in this country feel like they have to be perfect.”
“I think there’s this idea that … once you’re in America, you’re American,” Marquez said. “And that’s the opposite of what (Vangie) is finding. … But she tries to overcome that, probably not in the best way sometimes, and that’s where a lot of our conflict happens.”
Meanwhile, Vangie’s mother, Aying, played by Ricci Adan, is at the end of her life and is trying to hold on to her past, Adan said.
“Like any other death, you try to go back.”
Playing Aying has been a way for Adan to reconnect with and understand her own mother, who passed away last year, Adan said. As a teacher, one of her mother’s main goals was to draw out the voices of her students and make them into leaders. She loved the theater, Adan said, as a way to let different voices speak.
“When she passed away I had to be part of this,” Adan said. “I’m going through what she went through … which is incredible, an incredible trip. And I really respect her as a human being, as a woman, more than ever now.”
Generator Theater Company produces work generated by people’s impulses to create, Lagundino said, and “Flipzoids” is the result of strongly felt creative impulses from everyone involved in the production.
After seeing “Flipzoids” performed in New York recently, Lagundino started thinking about whether it would make sense to produce the show in Juneau. Unsure, he gave the play to several people to read, including Davidson, Adan, and Filipino Community, Inc. president Jenny Strickler. “They were all automatically like, ‘Oh yeah, we have to do this,’” Lagundino said.
Partnering with the Filipino Community, Inc. to produce the show was one way to help make sure that Filipinos came to see it, Lagundino said.
“It doesn’t make sense for the show to happen and not have any Filipinos in the audience,” he said. “And that was my way of making sure that when the tree fell, it was heard, you know?”
Know and go
“Flipzoids” runs April 12-29 at McPhetres Hall. Pay-as-you-can preview performances will be held Thursday, April 12, and Friday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is Saturday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Hearthside Books, and online at www.jahc.org or www.generatortheater.org.