REVIEW: PINAY (Proudly Asian Theatre)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

[Writing a New Chapter]

As I watch PINAY I feel like I’m being enveloped in a familiar warmth. It’s a warmth reminiscent of the comfort of a home cooked meal, or the intimacy of a well known embrace, or the rays of the afternoon summer sun kissing your skin. PINAY is a story of family relationships and identity wrapped up in hearty nostalgia, but it represents so much more than that.

Rising creative star Marianne Infante has written the first multilingual Filipino-Kiwi play in response to the confronting lack of Filipino representation in Aotearoa media. This sentiment is echoed James Roque (Boy Mestizo, Frickin’ Dangerous Bro, 7 Days) in his programme directorial note: “Filipinos are the third largest Asian population in NZ but for some reason are invisible when it comes to representation in the media.” 

The severe under-represention of minority groups on our stages and screens is not a new conversation, but if we’re frank, even that phrasing makes it sound like the problem of minority groups, when it’s the allowance of an over representation of one particular group that is the real problem. 

Sitting at just over the predicted 90 minute run time, PINAY  follows the De La Cruz family as they emigrate from the Philippines in the 1990s as a small family unit until the Christchurch earthquake in 2011. We follow the story of Alex, resistant to leave her Lolo and Lola behind, as she grows into a young woman caught in the spaces between the cultures she lives and breathes as a young immigrant. She forms a strong bond with ‘Tāne’ (Matiu Hamuera), a young Māori boy, who grows to be an integral part of her family. This relationship beautifully highlights the way Māori and Filipino culture compliment each other, from the very same vowel sounds their language is built around, to the strong sense of whānau in the social structures of each culture.

The play is multilingual, mixing English, te reo Māori and Filipino Tagalog (This is the first play in Aotearoa to combine the three, and the first in Aotearoa to incorporate Filipino Tagalog language into its text at all). When a line in Filipino Tagalog provokes a room full of whoops and cheers, the characters on stage who don’t speak the language are often brought in on the fun moments later, conveniently acting as a vehicle to bring in the remainder of the audience who missed it the first time around. And yet, that’s not to say there isn’t joy in seeing a room full of people so acutely react to something they have been denied for so long. The joy of being seen etched on the faces of the crowd is evidence enough that this play strikes a chord. 

As with any new play in first season there are transitions that could be tightened and certain storylines that could be refined, however, James Roque’s direction cleverly keeps the flow and focus of the story consistently moving along at an enjoyable pace. His influence is clearest in the comedic moments, as Roque isn’t afraid to really milk the beautiful awkwardness of teenage romance (special shout out to Lucas Haugh’s cringe-worthy Jay Sean serenading as love interest Seth), however, Roque’s ability to isolate the climax of the play in a surrealist moment of cultural and ancestral connection shows that Roque has so much more to offer as a director. The family perform a Tinikling, a traditional Philippine folk dance. With Alex following her mother’s lead, and quite literally her footsteps, Roque and the actors create an incredibly moving and beautiful image of acceptance about the friction of familial customs. I’d rather not give anymore away because there are still 5 performances left for you to experience this incredibly well earnt moment of complex emotional resolution – and I implore you to get yourself there.

Sitting in the Basement Theatre I felt a part of something bigger than just this play, or this story, because in that moment we all took part in a new chapter of our theatre history. In the fight to have inclusive stories heard I encourage you to get yourself along to this play, and even if you can’t feel the gravity of this milestone, then you’ll still be welcomed in and wrapped in the same warmth, acceptance, and celebration that I was on opening night. Plus it’s an incredibly charming, funny piece of theatre, held up by some vibrant acting. A special mention to Donna Dacuno and Richard Perillo who steal the show as Alex’s high-school sweetheart parents, and to the multi-talented Marianne who flexes her talent in showcasing Alex’s journey from child to adult.

Maraming salamat po Marianne and the entire team for bringing this story to this stage. Let us make sure that this marks the first of many, many more to come.

PINAY plays Basement Theatre until 24 August. 

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