Written by Ralph B. Peña
Directed by Loy Arcenas
"You know that 3D game," asks the queer Filipino twentysomething Redford, "where you stare at a bunch of dots and squiggles and hope something comes of it? Well, America is like that. Sometimes, you have to be a little cross-eyed to see the good stuff." His interlocutor, the elderly Aying, another Filipino brought to Los Angeles in the 80s by a family member, looks at him cross-eyed. Both are misfits in their new country, carving out a little space as close to home as possible for one afternoon on a deserted SoCal beach in Ma-Yi Theater
's revival of Ralph B. Peña's Flipzoids
(through February 6)—a play the company premiered back in 1994.
Aying (Ching Valdes-Aran) repeatedly soaks her hands in a bowl of water at the front of the stage, a sparse sandbox tagged with innumerable immigrant names and designed by director Loy Arcenas. The portentous lines in the sand, the invocation of distant homelands and fights with family evoke, in fleeting moments, The Tempest
. "When I touch the water," Aying tells us in the style of direct address with which the characters regularly reveal their thoughts, "it is almost like touching my home. That is why I like to come here."
Redford (Carlo Albán), for his part, frequents the beach to pick up and hook up in the dingy changing rooms. The touch-and-go discussion between the two, which makes up most of Peña's enduringly poignant drama of immigration and assimilation, is punctuated with escalating arguments between Aying and her adult daughter Vangie (Tina Chilip), who memorizes the dictionary as she repeats hilarious strings of contextless words to a walkman. "Melt Aying," she tells her endearingly stubborn mother early on, "become part of the soup." If floating atop or dissolving into the melting pot are the options facing new Americans, mother and daughter have chosen differently. Redford, for his part, remains half-submerged.
The relationship between the old woman clinging to the culture she knows and the young man rediscovering the homeland he barely remembers through her forms the core of Flipzoids
. ("Here they call us Flips," Redford says, by way of explaining the title, "I think it means Fucking Little Island People.") Interactions between Valdes-Aran and Chilip are a little stiffer than the script calls for, but scenes with the former and Albán recounting tales from the old country and exchanging complaints about the new are excellent.
Valdes-Aran in particular, who originated the role of Aying back in 1994, is hilarious and, in the end, extremely sad, without ever resorting to parody or playing the role for pity. Albán lends the soft-spoken misfit a great deal of depth and almost too much sweetness, like Redford could still be in high school. His stories of finding solace in the anomie of public bathroom sex, dreams of flight and pregnancy, suggest interior rifts that echo the cultural and generational disjunctures over which he and Aying bond. Focused in its staging but incredibly broad in its insights, Flipzoids
suggests that those who are on the outside looking in are a culture's most astute observors. Such clear-eyed American stories are more apt than ever at a moment when anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments are so terrifyingly wide-spread.
(photo credit: Web Begole)