Two weeks ago, as I entered The Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall for David Byrne’s world-premiere musical Here Lies Love to thumping disco beats, a seductively enveloping haze, and the eerie gaze of a sparkling floor-length reproduction of the infamously haughty photo of the entire Marcos family wearing sashes like some godlike royalty (no one wears effing sashes in the Philippines unless you’re the Roman Catholic Cardinal or a beauty queen, jeez), I had to ask myself: “why am I here?”. I have had a complicated reaction (a combination of fascination, horror, and admiration-at-the-chutzpah-of-it-all, not to mention deep-seated ambivalence) to Here Lies Love ever since the concept album came out in 2010. My generation was called “Martial Law babies”, Filipinos who were young children in the Philippines around the time Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, and together with Imelda, began a despicable, brutal, plundering “conjugal dictatorship” aided, abetted, and coddled by the military and the business elite, lasting throughout our childhood and adolescence in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a childhood and adolescence of fear and silence, of both looking over shoulders and looking away. So I was uncomfortable with a play about Imelda, but also inexplicably drawn to it (was it because, despite how repulsive it was, I was finally going to see a Filipino story onstage? Was it because I was just drawn to the potential stratospheric level of outrageousness of a disco musical about a singular diva who, as a writer once said, made Evita Peron, Cleopatra, and Marie Antoinette all look like bag ladies?). And as a passionate theatergoer, I just couldn’t miss a new work by Byrne, staged by Tony-nominated Alex Timbers, which promised to be a wholly original “360-degree” “immersive theater event”. Here Lies Love is indeed original; it is also stunningly exhilarating, train-stopping, sea-parting, hyper-caffeinated, boundlessly creative, a theater piece recommended for voracious art-consumers (if you can get tickets to the sold-out run, buy that plane ticket to New York City now). But as a Filipino who lived through the Marcoses and survived, as well as a conscientious and thoughtful theatergoer, I do have to ask the question – is a musical truly the appropriate art form to portray such a dark period of a people’s history, even if it doesn’t purport to be a realistic biography or docudrama? Are there some subjects that, by their very nature, should not be done in such a joyous, celebratory medium? What’s next, a circus spectacle about Baby Doc Duvalier or a cabaret revue about Slobodan Milosevic?
Tags: Public Theater