International Multicultural Festival, Belconnen Theatre, Canberra, February 15-17, 2007
Slavo: Iniibig kita. What does that mean?
Rosario: I love you with all my heart and soul!
Love is the theme across interacting cultures in the two plays, Manila Takeaway by Noonee Doronila and to heat you up and cool you down by David Finnegan, which form a double bill under the title Two Meals from Manila. But there is more to look for in this National Multicultural Festival production than you might expect.
The love is not only between an immigrant Serb undergound miner in Mt Isa and a live-in nanny in Metro Manila, who meet first through agency-supplied photos. Nor is it just an unexpected relationship in Manila’s gay and lesbian community. It’s at least as much about a Filipina social worker’s love of Australia and her need to research and write a truthful drama, as it is about a young Anglo-Australian writer learning to love theatre in the Philippines. Two Meals from Manila is symbolic of the very nature of multiculturalism.
A discussion of the word multicultural, now replaced by citizenship in the Department of Immigration’s title, revealed that though many migrants once found the word distasteful, they have now realised that it is the correct word for modern Australian culture. Like a multi-tool, suggested Jan Wawrzynczak, manager of Belconnen Community Theatre, one tool can do what many other tools can do separately. So multiculturalism is not assimilation into one culture, not integration, not mere cooperation. It is indivisible yet multi-functional.
Hazel Lim, the Filipina economist who plays Rosario, says she can only define Australian culture by what it is not, since the Australian way of life is made up of bits of many other cultures rather than being an original culture in its own right. Only Aboriginal culture can claim that distinction. This is why she loves Australia. If she had to “integrate”, she would feel “alienated from me as I am”, yet as Wawrzynczak said, most migrants want to become a citizen as he has.
Just as Rosario does, despite some of her friends’ terrible marriages to ocker Aussie dictators and the accidental death of her loving husband. Yet there is the constant fear of deportation, like Vivian Solon.
Doronila writes within the long tradition of theatre of social justice, similar in the Philippines to another one-time Spanish (note: actually Portuguese) colony, Brazil, where Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed is her model for Manila Takeaway.
For Finnegan to discover the depth and intensity of Filipino theatre while on a 7-week residency with Tanghalang Pilipino Theatre at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines was a life-changing experience. The workshop development and first production of to heat you up and cool you down was directed by Issa Lopez in the Chunky Far Flung Café in a street full of shoe shops. The strong relationship between the director, the theatrical style and the local community, though different in its details, is being maintained in the production here, directed by Max Barker using a non-naturalistic style based in almost-choreographed improvisational physical theatre.
Quezon City’s shoe shops are more relevant than you might imagine. Think of Imelda Marcos. It was she who ordered the construction of the huge Cultural Centre of the Philippines as a façade to boost the nation’s reputation internationally, because she loved her country so much, she said. During construction an underground section collapsed, trapping some 180 workers. Rather than slow the pace to rescue them, Imelda order them concreted in. Ironically she also encouraged the arts – after all, what else happens in a cultural centre?
And so the Philippines Educational Theatre Association grew to greater prominence, as Filipino theatre always has during periods of repression. PETA continues today, long after the demise of the Marcos regime, keeping Filipino social history alive with original plays about Indigenous people, slum dwellers, the disparity between rich and poor, and the power of the military who detain people at will. Inconvenient artists and community lawyers still “disappear” in the Philippines.
The Two Meals from Manila are about love and interrelationships, between characters in the plays and between Australia and the Philippines at many levels. Both plays are theatrically interesting visually and emotionally, and bring a new depth thematically to the Community Centre in Belconnen, just right for an International Multicultural Festival.
Two Meals from Manila: Manila Takeaway and to heat you up and cool you down
International Multicultural Festival
Belconnen Theatre, Community Centre,
Swanson Cct, Belconnen
Thursday – Saturday February 15-17, 8pm
Bookings: at The Street Theatre 6247 1223
Tickets: full $23, concession $17
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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