Carlo Alban and Ching Valdes-Aran in Flipzoids
(© Web Begole)
Carlo Alban and Ching Valdes-Aran in Flipzoids
(© Web Begole)
The title of Ralph B. Peña's 1996 play Flipzoids, being revived by the Ma-Yi Theater Company at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, is derived from a racial slur directed against Filipinos. However, this poetic and humorous work is far from insulting, and the current production is being given a praise-worthy staging under the guidance of the show's original director and scenic designer Loy Arcenas.

Set in California in 1985, Flipzoids concerns three Filipino immigrants who have different attitudes towards their assimilation into American culture. Aying (Ching Valdes-Aran) is an elderly woman who wants nothing more than to return to the Philippines. Her daughter Vangie (Tina Chilip), a nurse, spends her spare time listening to tape recordings of words from the dictionary, so that she can improve her English vocabulary and pronunciation. Redford (Carlo Alban) came to the U.S. as a young boy, and has no real memory of his former homeland.

Aying and Redford meet on a deserted stretch of beach, and Aying offers to pass down her stories to the young man, who is eager for human connection but wary of the responsibility this seems to entail. "I don't know how to process these parables," he tells her. The one lesson he does take from Aying is a phrase he asks to learn in her native tongue -- which turns out to not have the meaning she says it does.

Valdes-Aran, who won an Obie Award for her performance in the play's original production, comes across as alternately earnest and mischievous, and the mercurial swing between these extremes can be powerful. Alban's Redford possesses a charming awkwardness, and his discomfort in his own skin often manifests by ending his sentences with an inflection that renders even direct statements as questions. Chilip nicely gets across Vangie's love of words, but is less effective during her emotional scenes -- particularly one set in a mall, as Aying engages in behavior that Vangie finds embarrassing.

This new production includes a few slight revisions not found in the published version of Peña's play. Most notably, it introduces a hint of outside violence as Redford is hit in the mouth by a man at the public toilets he likes to frequent, rather than Redford cutting into his own flesh as in the original script. The shift increases the sense of alienation felt by the character, and Alban infuses the moments after the encounter with a keenly felt sense of despair.

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