REVIEW by Willard Manus

The inaugural production in the newly-established performance space--an intimate theatre-in-the-round--at the Temple Gateway Youth and Community Center in L.A.'s Filipinotown, DOGEATERS is a provocative play that captures the tragi-comic history of the Filipines with big, bold strokes. Adapted by Jessica Hagedorn from her 1990 best-selling novel, DOGEATERS employs a 22-person cast (most of whom play multiple roles), elaborate sound, light and musical effects, choreographed movement and lush costumes in a gutsy attempt to dramatize the complex social, political and psychological forces at play in an embattled island-nation like the Filipines.

Much credit must go to director Jon Lawrence Rivera--both he and Hagedorn were born in the Filipines but had to flee the repressive Marcos regime--for the way he has been able to mount this kind of epic theatre with only six weeks of rehearsal. Rivera has given shape and movement to a huge, multi-layered work, made it flow like music.

Rivera's actors cannot be praised too highly either. Switching from one role to another, making quick costume changes, delivering speeches in a variety of accents and voices, the large, ethnically diverse cast fully deserved the standing ovation it received on opening night. Together with Rivera they have helped make DOGEATERS a landmark production for L.A.'s Filipino community.

Dogeaters is what the U.S. soldiers called the Filipinos during the 1899 war, a war which colonized the island. The derogatory expression typified the U.S.'s attitude toward the Filipines and explains why Uncle Sam not only tolerated but backed the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-challenged wife, Imelda.

Ferdinand and Imelda figure largely in DOGEATERS, along with their military strongmen (and torturers) and their business cronies, seen living the high life in golf clubs and fancy restaurants while the rest of the nation scuffles for bread. Hagedorn is good at sketching the Filipino class war--one in which democratic leaders are gunned down in public or tortured in private--and at capturing the complexities and contradictions that make the Filipines the surrealistic sideshow it is. Gay bars, communist guerrillas, banal pop singers, kept women, pot-smoking rich girls, sex clubs, discos, soap opera stars, religious nuts--Hagedorn puts all of them (and more) into her tumultuous, edifying drama.

One of the many subplots involves the German filmmaker Rainer Fassbinder (Nick Salamone), who has been invited to take part in the first Manila Film Festival, which Imelda (Natsuko Ohama) insists will outdo Cannes, but spends most of his time in a gay bar instead, lusting after a young hustler (and junkie), Joey Sands (the superb Rodney To).

So much happens in DOGEATERS that sometimes the drama becomes diffuse, the characters something of a blur. But the play's many powerful and/or hilarious moments make you forget these flaws and realize you have seen something special, even memorable.

SIPA Performance Space at Temple Gateway Youth & Community Center, 3200 W. Temple St. Call (213) 382-l819 x 123 or