Thursday, August 26, 2010

Acting royalty lights up Tanghalang Pilipino's American Hwangap

Mario O'Hara. Gina Pareno. Bembol Roco. Celeste Legaspi.

That is, without question, a formidable foursome--a quartet of some of the finest, most accomplished artists in Philippine film, theater, TV and music.

Well, Tanghalang Pilipino has achieved what might be the casting coup of the year by gathering these four acting royals to headline its production of the acclaimed play American Hwangap, by the Korean-American playwright Lloyd Suh. (That's him on the right; he was here a few days ago for consultations on his play.)

Screen legend Bembol Roco and musical-theater institution Celeste Legaspi topbill the original English version of the play, while the Filipino version, translated by Joi Barrios, has the protean talent of Mario O'Hara teaming up with the multi-awarded Gina Pareno, who is making her stage debut in this production. American Hwangap also marks Celeste's return to theater after 12 years, her last appearance having been in the musical Larawan in 1998.

Playing their three kids, in both the English and Filipino versions, are Jeremy Domingo, Liesl Batucan and Nicco Manalo.

The play, directed by Chris Millado, runs September 10-October 3 at CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino.

From left, seated: Director Chris Millado, Bembol Roco, Gina Pareno, Celeste Legaspi, Mario O'Hara. Standing: Jeremy Domingo, Liesl Batucan, Nicco Manalo. At the presscon for the play yesterday at Casino Espanol (lovely vintage structure!), Kalaw, Manila.

“Hwangap” is a Korean ritual celebrating one's 60th birthday--a special, auspicious event in Korean culture because on this day, the celebrator is supposed to have completed the zodiac cycle. In American Hwangap, a Korean family transplanted to Texas is forced to confront its dark, painful past when the father who had abandoned them 15 years ago now returns to mark his 60th birthday with the wife and three kids he had left behind.

The play had its world premiere in March 2009 at the Magic Theater in San Francisco, then made its New York premiere in May of the same year, presented by the Ma-Yi Theater Company and The Play Company.

The raves so far:

Minutes into “American Hwangap,” Lloyd Suh’s likable new play about a Korean-American family, which opened on Sunday at the Wild Project, the author’s affection for his characters is clear. The five people are lovingly drawn from the very first line (“I wrote a poem for you, Dad”) and filled with endearing quirks that make them a delight to watch... Those moments prove that no matter how much a playwright loves his characters, sending them to unhappy places can be the most thrilling thing for an audience to watch. -- Ken Jaworowski, The New York Times

Suh strikes just the right balance between humor and deeply felt emotion. His dialogue not only captures what the characters express to one another, but also hint at the subtextual thoughts that they're unable to say. Director Trip Cullman elicits fine performances from his ensemble cast... -- Dan Bacalzo, Theater Mania

Backed by lean, crisp design elements, Cullman directs his talented cast to a sharply pointed T. The few quieter moments (such as a bonding fishing expedition for Dad and Ralph) are as astutely handled as the more manic ones. -- Dennis Harvey, Variety

Suh reminds us that we often have to live into questions before answers begin to surface, and his convincing, compelling writing exposes these familial relationships with grace, poignancy, and bursts of humor. Under the deft direction of Trip Cullman, this compact 90-minute production flies by, offering a vivid, intimate portrait of a family attempting to patch itself together. -- Amy Krivohlavek, CurtainUp

The play explores familiar territory… like the loss of the American Dream and the wreckage that Min Suk’s wife Mary (Mia Katigbak) and three kids have coped with, but Suh does it with some surprises and genuine lyricism. Director Trip Cullman’s well-calibrated staging deftly navigates the naturalistic and the fantastical qualities of the high-stakes reconciliation Suh has conceived. -- Andy Propst, Timeout New York

To see simple, expert stagecraft at its very best, look no further than the Magic Theatre’s world-premiere production of American Hwangap by Lloyd Suh... But mostly the play pops because Suh is a funny writer who knows just how powerfully humor resonates through deep pain... Cullman’s cast is incredibly appealing. -- Chad Jones, San Francisco Bay Area Backstage

A representative American Hwangap birthday spread--60th birthday cake with kimchi and Korean wine Soju on the side (incidentally, the signature drink of the Fabcasters parties!)--before grande dames Gina Pareno and Celeste Legaspi.

She often plays glum, dowdy if headstrong old women on screen, but you have to see Gina Pareno in the flesh to realize how radiant and attractive she still is. And gracious, too. Asked why she agreed, after much prodding from Chris Millado and TP Artistic Director Nanding Josef, to finally take the plunge and act in a play, she said: Gusto kong matuto pa at makatrabaho silang lahat (pointing to her co-stars), kasi ang gagaling nila. At para maiba naman, kasi ibang klase ang disiplina at concentration na kailangan sa teatro. Kaya nung unang reading namin, ayun, nakatungo lang ako, tinitingnan ko sila, kasi ang gagaling nila!

Celeste, meanwhile, looks as chic and sharp as ever, especially with that becoming shock of white hair (I got tired of dyeing my hair; now I feel freer!, she said). What seduced her to come back to theater and do this role, she was asked. Well, I've always been into seduction, she quipped. Like Gina, she felt it was a challenging enough script, and she had long wanted to do a straight play for a change. So here she is, back from retirement and, with her rare reappearance (in the company of three other esteemed senior artists), adding greater heft and stature to TP's new production.

“American Hwangap,” directed by Chris Millado, runs September 10-October 3 at CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater). For inquiries, call 8321125, loc. 1620 to 1621. Telefax 8323661. E-mail or visit


Anonymous said...

is flower drum song not gonna happen any more?

gibbs cadiz said...

it's been postponed to next year, more tunder ccp's auspices pa din rather than tanghalang pilipino's. :)

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