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Theater Fri Jul 19 2013

It's a Family Affair: Mahal at Bailiwick Chicago

Mahal is a family story. A Filipino family with strong roots in the Philippines adjusts to life, love and loss in its new country. The family members (the father, two sons and a daughter) are each recovering in their own way from the recent death of the mother. Some family members even call the mother's phone number to hear her voicemail greeting, and leave messages for her until the mailbox fills up.) Danny Bernardo, Bailiwick resident playwright, is the author of this world premiere. Director Erica Weiss was director and co-creator of A Twist of Water, a recent hit for Route 66 Theatre Company.

"Mahal" means "love," and the way family members express or withhold love is the root of this story. The Reyes family has retained many aspects of their Filipino culture--greetings, language and cuisine, of course. It's amazing how for people from all ethnicities and nationalities, many family memories revolve around food.

Bailiwick Chicago's Mahal; photo: Michael Brosilow.

The adult children greet their father, Roberto (Joseph Foronda), with a traditional hand kiss. There's a thread to this story for each family member.

The oldest sibling, Mari (Kate Garassino), tries to hold the family together and maintain the weekly family dinner tradition that their mother wished them to observe. Older brother Jun (Karmann Bajuyo) expects his brother Mikey (Kevin Reyes) to show him the respect that an older brother would receive in the Philippines.

Mikey, the family rebel and the only sibling born in the US, resists some aspects of the Filipino culture and has not come to grips with his mother's death. He meets and begins a relationship with Tim (Patrick Byrnes), a graduate student working on a PhD in Asian studies. Tim, who has at least an academic understanding of the Asian and Filipino culture, wants to help Mikey deal with family changes.

Roberto tries to make a new life for himself after his wife's death, even redecorating the family home with the help of Kendall (Blair Robertson), a young interior designer with whom he develops more than a professional relationship.

Relationships begin to be more tangled when Jun arranges for his friend Kim (Jillian Jocson) to come to the US with the expectation that they will continue their romance; however, when she meets his other family members, an explosive situation results that changes family dynamics.

The two-hour play is set in one of Stage 773's three performance spaces. Stephen Carmody's design makes the most of the tiny stage with changes from family home to apartment, to bar to restaurant, then to O'Hare Field, with quick scene changes and a movable back wall. Cast members roll in new set devices (bars, tables, shelf units) for their scenes.

The family relationships and dialogue seem heartfelt and very believable, and the acting is generally good. Veteran Chicago actor Foronda is especially strong as the father trying to retain his familial role and still make a future for himself. Weiss keeps the short scenes moving along briskly.

My one criticism is there is a little too much Tagalog, especially during the explosive family scene in act two--not for some members of the audience, who obviously understood every word, but for several minutes, anyone who did not know the language was probably looking for subtitles. The implications of the angry scene become clear later, but it was temporarily mystifying.

Props to Bailiwick for showcasing a Filipino story--and celebrating the presence of some 130,000 Filipino-Americans who live in the Chicago area.


Bailiwick Chicago presents Mahal until August 2 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-327-5252.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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