A review in the Asian Journal of the stage play:

A review in the Asian Journal of the stage play:

The Filipino Community Newspaper since 1991.

The Global Kababayan 

A kababayan’s review of ‘Criers for Hire’

By Giselle “G” Töngi
Published: March 5, 2016 | No Comments

For Global Kababayan this week, I’d like to share a review from one of our Fil-Am community leaders who went to see “Criers For Hire” at the David Henry Hwang Theater at East West Players last week.
Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier, is also one of the three editors of  “Filipinotown – Voices from Los Angeles,” which can be purchased on Amazon. Please visit Carlene’s website, www.seekingthirst.com, for more information.

Careful!  It’s “Criers for Hire” by Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier

I have to start at the end of “Criers for Hire.”  Actually, after the end, during the Q&A when actors, the playwright, and Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize winner and activist, were seated on stage and ready to respond to questions from the audience.

A woman stood up and took the microphone. First she looked quickly around at the people in the theater,  and then she focused––it felt, exclusively––on the individuals on stage.  Her voice was deep and deliberate.  “You… don’t…know,” she began.  Then, as if wanting to make sure every word that she uttered was heard and listened to, she started again. “You don’t know… how… powerful… you are.”  She explained that she had been “behind bars” twice for violations of her Visa.  The last time, she told immigration officials to go ahead and send her back to the Philippines; they had the power and money to put her on a plane. “Remember, though, I have enough money to buy myself a ticket right back here to the United States.”

Yes, the woman in the audience is right:  these are people who are powerful and it may be that they can’t know just how powerful they are, as they might lose the center that they hold, the power that allows them to shake their personal egos and enter the hearts, minds and souls of the people they write about, direct, or portray.

The writer of the play, Giovanni Ortega, told us during the Q&A that many of these characters were inspired by people he loves:  his own mother, his auntie, and, he told us with a smile, his cousins, Bong-Bong and Beng-Beng. Ortega deftly, and with a deep understanding of the strength of all the characters, also understands their frailties and creates situations that reveal the serious, sometimes tragic circumstances, that make the things these women do and say very, very funny. For example, Baby doesn’t know how to show love and is too proud (and ashamed) to express regrets or accept apologies from her daughter.  The only way she knows to show concern for her teenage daughter (who was only a month old when she left her) is by continuously warning her of all the terrible things that can happen to a young woman. I don’t want to steal anybody’s thunder, so I won’t tell you what Baby says or when she says it.  But just so you get the idea, I’ll tell you that my mother, when she believed I was tempting fate, would nonchalantly keep her attention on her crochet work and, in a near whisper, declare, “Be careful. Someone will knock your head.”

This particular group of criers once consisted of 20 people.  Now they have fallen on hard times, and there are only the three women, four if you count the latecomer from the Philippines, Gaya. She is the youngest, the newcomer, who seems to genuinely get the giggles every time she is supposed to be crying. It makes us laugh just to watch her trying to cry.

The brilliant performances of the entire cast we owe to the writer, Giovanni Ortega, to the director, Jon Lawrence Rivera, and of course, to the actors: The mother (Baby, played often with irresistible deadpan by Joan Almedilla) and daughter (Gaya, played with a mischievous fire by Nicole Barredo); the American-born boy-crazy Henny (played sweetly and with a certain L.A. toughness by Samantha Cutaran) who takes Gaya under her wing, helping her to “fit in”; lastly, we have Meding, the woman who holds the highly unstable business of crying at funerals together through sheer determination, wedded with seemingly unintentional humor (“Business is bad,” she says, “because people aren’t dying fast enough”). Meding is played by Giselle Tongi, the irrepressible host of LA 18’s “Kababayan Today”, who brings that same fresh energy to “Criers.”  And there is one male player, not a professional crier, but, as it turns out — no, I won’t spoil it for you.  Just know he is a young man who meets Gaya at Belmont High School and finds his way through to the hearts of the other criers.

Vargas had come to see the show.  His plane had landed at LAX just 30 minutes before he arrived at the theater.  He said that he hadn’t known that there was so much in the play about the problems of immigration, and really you had to listen to it because the problems that each character dramatically presents seem personal.  Immigration, to these characters, means at least as much loss as it means gain, and we feel the strain, the anxiety, and the guilt even though the parting was, for many, an almost unbearable sacrifice in itself. All of these feelings thread their way through the conversations of the women, but the problems of the criers are personal and real.  The characters are so well drawn and so well performed, that we find ourselves worried about them, even as they  kill us with laughter or, finally, make us cry with love, almost especially because of their flaws.

So, go see “Criers for Hire.”  It will be in Los Angeles for only a few more days, closing on Sunday, March 13.  Get your tickets now.  Don’t wait.  Something bad could happen.  Someone might knock your head!

Asian Journal web page: