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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Magic Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Aubergine and Richard's review of Little Erik

Rinabeth Apostol and Charisse Loriaux
Photo by Jennifer Reiley
Magic Theatre Artistic Director Loretta Greco has said she has wanted to produced and direct Jessica Hagedorn's epic book "Dogeaters" ever since she helped the author stage the novel, about Manila in the Philippines in the late 1950s to early 1980s, twenty years ago at La Jolla Playhouse. She finally got her wish and is now producing and directing this expansive and ambitious two hour and twenty minute piece at the Magic Theatre. This must not have been the easiest work to adapt for the stage, since it needs 15 talented actors to play 37 characters and requires intensive work just to make sure the audience will not be confused with the many subplots that go on. I was interested in seeing this mammoth production since I was in and around Manila during World War II.

Dogeaters is a common derogatory term referring to Filipino natives who supposedly eat dogs instead of pork or chicken. The time is the late 1950s to the early 1980s in Manila at the height of the Marcos regime. The plot addresses several social, civil, and traditional issues that were present in the islands during that time. There are many diverse characters, such as hairdressers, drag queens, pimps, the richest guy in the Philippines, a pacifist senator, political rebels, a drugged out film director, and a brutal general. There is a woman just like Imelda Marcos, who they call The First Lady. Dogeaters demands that attention must be paid in order to follow the intermittent fragments of disparate but entangled stories. Some of the stories are so thinly developed that they seem unnecessary.

The central plot involves the murder of Senator Domingo Avila, an outspoken critic of the Marcos regime. There are parallels to the assassination of Filipino senator Benigno Aquino, who was gunned down at a Manila airport in 1983. This plot centers on a witness, a young Afro-Filipino hustler named Joey Sands, played with fantastic energy by the magnetic Rafael Jordan.

Jessica Hagedorn's sprawling drama contains many exceptional acting roles. Most strikingly played are: Rinabeth Apostol, who gives a charming performance as Rio, an expatriate visiting from San Francisco; Christine Jamlig, who shines as Miss Philippines Daisy Avila and also as the daughter of Marcos opponent Senator Avila, played splendidly by Ogie Zulueta; and Beverly Sotelo, who does a pitch perfect portrayal of The First Lady, looking amazingly like Imelda Marcos. Jomar Tagatac is outstanding as Perlita the drag queen and in his portrayal of the evil Marcos-loyalist uncle, General Ledesma. Lawrence Radecker, the only Caucasian in the cast, is impressive in three roles: the drugged out director Rainer Fassbinder, straight arrow Bob Stone, and kindly Father Jean Mallat. Charisse Loriaux is extraordinary as the frustrated sex-object movie star Lolita Luna. The rest of the cast includes Melvign Badiola, Esperanza Catubig, Julie Kuwabara, Chuck Lacson, Jed Parsario, Mike Sagun, Carina Lestimosa Salazar, and Ogle Zulueta.

Director Loretta Greco bathes the work with an enthusiastic pace. The action flows seamlessly from scene to scene, Hana Kim's projections helping to distinguish changes in locale. The set is beautifully lit by Ray Oppenheimer and underscored by Sara Huddleston's pulsing, haunting sound design. Brandin Baron has designed stunning costumes, especially the gowns worn by The First Lady.

The Magic Theatre has been converted into a semi-cabaret, with the first few rows of seats removed to make room for café tables and chairs. However, this makes it difficult for some to see the actors when they are sitting down or lying down, which is often.

Dogeaters runs through February 28, 2016, at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Ft. Mason Center, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-441-8822 or visiting Coming up next is Mfoniso Udofia's Sojourners opening on April 21st.