When Nick Joaquin was a younger man, he penned a play called Portrait Of The Artist As Filipino, a look at the generational history of the Phillipine Islands. Since its 1952 creation, Portrait has become the most-produced drama in the Philippines, although it's taken until 1997 to bring a work to New York.
Now Off-Broadway's May-Yi Theatre Ensemble will stage the work, opening July 29 at the Vineyard Theatre's Dimson space on East 15th St. Jorge V. Ledesma directs the epic, which begins previews July 26 and runs to Aug. 16.
Joaquin's play is set in pre-World War II Manila. Two middle-aged sisters find their fate depends on what happens to a masterful portrait painted by their reclusive father. Twenty actors will appear in this look at "the changing emotional, cultural and economic realities that shape the Filipino soul."
Author Joaquin, now 81, writes in English and has penned plays, novels and essays. As an affront to the Marcos regime, during that era he stayed in the Philippines but refused to write any new, original works. In 1981, he won the National Artist Award of the Philippines.
Director Ledesma has worked at Cleveland Playhouse, Seattle Repertory and NY's Circle Repertory Lab. Previously at Ma-Yi, he staged 1994's Woman From The Other Side Of The World by Linda Faigao-Hall. Starring in Portrait are Roxanne Baisas, Robert Baumgardner, Kitty Chen, Millie Chow, Ron Domingo, Andrwe Eisenman, Ruth Henry, David Ige, Hana Kline, Matt Lai, Fay Ann Lee, Louie Leonardo, Ken Leung, Maire Mansouri, Catol De Mesa, Isolda S. Oca, Jorge Ortoll, Eileen Rivera, Kaipo Schwab, Joshua Spafford and Peggy Yates.
Designing the show are Donald Eastman (set), Matthew Fry (lighting), and Christianne Myers (costumes). Jane Ann Crum serves as dramaturg; Fabian Obispo, Ma-Yi's resident composer, will contribute original music to the piece.
Founded in 1989 to develop, produce and present works exploring the Filipino and Filipino-American experience, the Ma-Yi Theatre Ensemble last season staged the Obie-winning Flipzoids.
Asked the significance of the company name, "Ma-Yi," Gary Springer (press representative for Flipzoids) explained that Ma-Yi is Chinese for ants. "Back in pre-history, Chinese traders sailed along the coast of the Phillippines and saw all these little islands that looked like ants. It wasn't until the Spanish came and named the islands for King Philip of Spain that the islands became the Philippines."
And why did the new theatre ensemble choose "ants" as its moniker? "The significance is that the Philippines were around before the Western and Spanish influence."
For tickets and information regarding Portrait Of The Artist As Filipino, call (212)353-3874.
-- By David Lefkowitz