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American Conservatory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Fred's Diner and Dogfight

Sean San José and Danielle Frimer
Photo by Kevin Berne
American Conservatory Theatre is presenting two outstanding tales of modern-day Filipino-American life under the title Monstress at ACT's new Strand Theatre on Market Street. Both are based on stories by San Francisco author Lysley Tenorio.

The first one-act play, Remember the I-Hotel by Philip Kan Gotanda, is a pulsating, stylish, and poignant acknowledgment to the Filipino immigration story. This 60-minute production touched my heart since I spent over a year in the Philippines during World War II.

Remember the I-Hotel is set against the infamous headline-making eviction of Filipino residents from San Francisco's International Hotel in the 1970s. Two "old men," Fortunado (Jomar Tagatac) and Vicente (Ogie Zulueta), remember better days when they were lively young men living in the hotel. They let themselves into the glories of their youth, when they both worked as bellboys at the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill drinking leftover champagne and eating good food left by the guests in the swanky suites. Vincent remembers dating a nice-looking Caucasian girl (Kelsey Venter) who worked at the hotel.

The playwright packs a lot into this one hour play that includes racism toward Filipinos at the time. (Vicente warns his friend not to go into certain sections of the city since he will be beaten up by the whites.) There is even a hint of Fortunado's misdirected same-sex love to his friend. Jomar Tagatac and Ogie Zulueta give outstanding performances in their roles. Kelsey Venter is pitch perfect as the Caucasian girl.

The second one-act play is Sean San José's retelling of the title story Monstress. This is a story of a monster "B" movie shot that runs from the streets of Manila to the Bay Area. It's an uninhabited and campy tale about movies that are not shot in the studio lots but in basements, with a lot of styrofoam streets and canyons.

Nick Gabriel is terrific as the dubious wannabe film director, while Sean San José, as producer/director Checkers Rosario who has made horror films such as The Squid Mother of Cebu, is extraordinary. Danielle Frimer gives an effervescent performance as Rosario's wife and the "squid mother" of the film. They are backed by Jomar Tagatac, Ogie Zulueta, and Melody Butiu in colorful '70s polyester clothes as the "Greek chorus" in this fast-paced farce.

Set design by Nina Ball is something to witness. It's multiple-storied with depth and perception featuring three stunning arched windows. It turns into a lobby in the hotel, a concert hall, and even an immense movie set. Costumes by Lydia Tanji are vibrant authentic outfits of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Carey Perloff's direction is spot on in both plays.

Monstress runs through November 22nd at the new ACT Strand Theatre, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit Coming up next on the main stage at 415 Geary Street is Eugene O'Neill's classic Ah, Wilderness!, opening on October 14 and running through November 8th.

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