The problems with this play are as numerous as the stars in the sky. This tired celestial metaphor is used by the main character, Balikas (Art Acuna), to explain the cultural difference between his Bontoc tribe and the White Man to white explorer/patron Mr. Edwards (Malachy Cleary). You see, Balikas excitedly announces, the stars are really Gods. No, no, Mr. Edwards patronizingly says, the stars can be used for sea navigation! If a discussion like this sounds original to you, I advise you to see this play.
The story revolves around the Bontoc tribe circa 1904, an indigenous group living a pastoral life burrowed in the lush mountains of the Philippines. They sing and dance, they wear skimpy but colorful clothing, and they communicate with their gods unselfconsciously--you get the picture. The play is presented in a kind of magic realism style using flashbacks, songs, and religious rituals. The reason for the play, ostensibly, is that one of the tribe's members falls ill. To understand this illness, the tribe's elder must search for the sickness' cause in some previous event. Like much in the play, this is confusing.
One day, the tribe's rising star, Balikas, brings home a white man, Mr. Edwards. With gramophone in hand, Mr. Edwards wows the tribe with his technology and explains that he wants to bring them to St. Louis to take part in the 1904 St. Louis World Exposition. Unfortunately for the tribe, they decide: why not! Hey, it's only a well-meaning white man who, in his journal, equates the lush geography of this new land to a lush virgin (though only the audience knows this).
After some nice tribal dancing-one of the strong points of the play-and singing, the Bontoc get on a boat to go to the United States, or Malika--the tribe's word for America. Balikas actually says: "He wants to bring us to the land across the Big Water." Perhaps indigenous tribes around the world uttered these words when faced with the White Man. But, please! At least a script could make it sound more original, just once.
In the program, the show's writer and director, Chris B. Millado, explains that the Bontoc viewed the trip to America as an invitation, while the White Man clearly viewed the tribe's participation as a new form of entertainment for the civilized folks back home. As you can guess, cultural misunderstanding follows.