Dislocations

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In November of last year, I came back to Manila, where I was born and lived till my early twenties, for the first time after 13 years of living in the United States.  It was a joyous, heart-bursting, reinvigorating trip, but it was also an intensely dislocating one.  Not only has the city physically changed in the more than a decade I’ve been away, which made navigating through it’s chaotic, rambunctious streets (it’s a grand city that is as big as Chicago) both thrilling and nerve-wracking, but I’ve changed as well, in terms of some of my outlook, beliefs, and social expectations.  Some of the things I grew up with – intrinsic characteristics of Filipino society such as the rigid and self-perpetuating social stratification, a general aura of languor and fatalism, a subtle but intentional show-offyness among those who “have” – bothered and discombobulated me.  How can my Manila friends shrug away what I was seeing and hearing?  Why can’t I shrug it away like them, when none of these things are foreign to me?  Have I forgotten how to maneuver through the social rules of engagement in a complicated milieu such as Manila’s?  Am I now too “Western”?  That’s why Tanya Saracho’s robust, electrifying, big-hearted new play El Nogalar, now receiving a too-short world premiere run at the Goodman Theatre as a co-production with Teatro Vista, is so resonant and affecting for me.  In its vividly painted characters searching for the “right” balance of identity in a borderless, immigrant, socially-permeable world, I see parts of myself.

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Conundrum

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As my avid blog followers know, I write From the Ledge from an audience’s point of view.  And I don’t think there is a bigger audience conundrum right now in Chicago then when one is sitting through the Whoopi Goldberg-produced, supposedly-Broadway bound White Noise, also subtitled A Cautionary Musical.  As an audience member, I’m bombarded with a myriad of complicated, unsettling emotions – I am dazzled and awe-struck by the exceptional work of a group of actors with impeccable Broadway credentials, yet I’m flabbergasted that they’re singing and dancing to songs that start choruses with “’the N word’ is going to shoot white boys” or contain lyrics about sending Jews to concentration camps or shooting illegal Mexican immigrants by the Arizona border.  I’m astounded by the bravery and the no-holds-barred-nature of the material about the pop music rise of a Neo-Nazi sister act yet at the same time disappointed by the lack of character development, nuance, and multi-dimensionality.  I’m riveted, repulsed, exhilarated, let down.  Despite all of this, though, I would say White Noise, with all it’s imperfections, unrealized potential, easy targets, and cringe-worthy lyrics and dialogue, is the must-see show of the season:  it is theater that brazenly addresses a problem that some of us think will go away if we just ignore it – the disturbing onslaught of extremism in mass media and pop culture; and how telegenic right-wing fundamentalism seems to have become tolerable (from Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck’s unabated soapbox shilling to pop culture staple Donald Trump’s insane hunt for the President’s birth certificate).  And as a liberal, gay, minority, immigrant audience member, the type of person who is the usual target of these right-wingers’ vitriol, I applaud theater that takes, well, a take-no-prisoners stance against them. 

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Thrilling, Stirring

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A good friend of mine and avid reader of this blog asked me recently whether he should see this “X” show or this “Y” show this weekend, and my response to him was – “If you are going to the theater this weekend in Chicago, why would you go to anything other than Black Watch?”  And I don’t mean that statement as any form of disrespect to the many, many terrific shows currently onstage in Chicago, but as an unqualified, enthusiastic tribute to what is certainly the best play I have seen this year so far (and in the top five of the past couple of years), the National Theatre of Scotland’s globally-heralded depiction of soldiers from the famous Scottish regiment while they are deployed in Iraq, brought to our city by Chicago Shakespeare TheatreBlack Watch is the reason why I go to the theater – it impressively, searingly co-mingles idiosyncratic theatricality with raw, powerful emotions, and a pointed, insightful engagement with the issues and concerns of our contemporary world.  It is theater at it’s very, very finest and most memorable, and shame on you if you call yourself a passionate Chicago theatergoer and you haven’t run out yet to get your ticket to this unmissable theatrical moment.

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