Thursday, May 2, 2013

Here Lies Love

Here Lies Love, at The Public Theater, was my entire reason for heading to New York this past weekend. I didn’t really have much of an idea of what it was about, but when this Idiot loving girl found out that Kelvin Moon Loh was in the show, it had to be seen. When I started reading about it, I was intrigued. Fat Boy Slim & David Byrne for music? Standing room only? Ninety minutes of immersive theatre (that means group participation, right????)? I won’t lie. I was a little nervous. Not to mention that I knew virtually nothing about the Marcos regime in the Philippines. You can cut me some slack on that. I was barely more than a baby when the Marcos regime ended.  

Direction by Alex Timbers (who I must say also directed the other show I saw this past weekend, Peter and the Starcatcher) is brilliant. Immersive theatre is a strange creature. I’ve not ever been a fan, because I really dislike being the center of attention. But Timbers makes immersive theatre seem natural and unforced. The audience becomes a natural part of the show that you don’t even notice.

When you enter the theatre, you are entering a club. There are platforms on either end of the room, a huge turning platform in the middle of the room and other platforms around the edges. All of them move during the show, and the audience moves with them with the help of ushers (??) dressed in brightly colored jumpsuits.

Surrounding the room are also screens and projections throughout the show. Projection design was done by Peter Nigrini and I was truly a fan of this. During the show there were many of the projections on the walls that also helped tell the story. Mixed with photos and videos of the actors playing the lead roles, we also had actual footage of the real Marcos couple.

In the corner of the room, up in a platform, sits the DJ and sometimes narrator of the evening, Kelvin Moon Loh. He warns early on that you will get separated from the friends you are with. And he’s right. My friend and I got split up three different times. Toward the end of the show, I ended up on the stage (as did about a third of the audience) and my friend was not.  

Nearly completely sung through, the show takes you on a journey through the life of Imelda Marcos with song and dance. We see Imelda as a young girl at the beginning, dressed in tattered dresses and dirty shoes and dreaming of more than she has. Played by the lovely and superbly talented Ruthie Ann Miles, Imelda starts out as someone you truly relate with and want to see succeed. Miles has a way of taking you with her on her journey. She makes Imelda the kind of character you want to love, even though you know she’s very much in the wrong.

We see how Imelda’s quest for power and control leaves Estrella, the woman who helped raise her, hurt and left behind. In a way, Estrella helps represent all the people of the Philippines. Played by Melody Butiu, Estrella has the strength and determination of her people as she refuses to be paid off by an embarrassed and ashamed Imelda. Estrella refuses to hide where she came from.  

Jose Llana charms as Ferdinand Marcos. He charms Imelda and marries her after only an eleven day courtship. He charmed the people of his country, and the audience of The Public, as he campaigned for the presidency. Llana is so charming and commanding in his role that it is difficult to imagine that he could be so thoroughly evil, until we begin to see the actions of both he and Imelda as their time in power continues.

In a twist of fate that couldn’t have been better if it had been made up, Imelda’s first heartbreak, Aquino becomes the leader of the opposition. He speaks out loudly against the corruption and wrongdoings of Imelda and her husband. Eventually he is imprisoned by the Marcos regime and after a heart attack, Imelda releases him to the United States for surgery and tells him not to return. Aquino, played by Conrad Ricamora, is the voice of reason for his party and his country. In the end, he gives everything he has to see that his country wins. He returns to the Philippines and is assassinated as he leaves his plane.  

As the show winds to a close, Imelda lets her rage show during “Why Don’t You Love Me.” She sings of her anger and how much she feels she has given to her country and its people. Both she and her husband are baffled as to why they’re country is so unhappy with them. We then feel the U.S. Marines coming in to evacuate the Marcos family from the palace and out of the country. This is beautifully done with lighting and projections and even wind. As someone who has been near a helicopter as it landed, this was very realistic feeling.

The People Power Revolution, as it was known, was a relatively peaceful revolution. As the show ends, the DJ comes down to sing a beautiful song inspired from actual quotes of the people of the Philippines after the revolution. Though I’m unsure of the actual title of the song (there was no song list in the Playbill and this was the only song not on the concept album released a few years ago), I’m pretty sure it should be “God Draws Straight.” At this point in the show, I was a mess. My emotions got the best of me and I cried for the rest of the show. I cried for the characters in the show, for the people of the Philippines, for Aquino, and because I had just experienced something so wonderfully beautiful and powerful.

Here Lies Love is political without being preachy, fun without being fluff and a history lesson for anyone under the age of 35. It walks a fine line, but does it so skillfully you don’t realize, until it’s nearly over, that you’ve seen something incredibly breathtaking and special.

Bottom line: Go see this show. Tickets seem to be hard to come by, but it’s worth it. I promise. And if you’re looking for a less ramble-y and much better review of the show, go check out what my friend wrote on her blog. Or check out this tweet I got from a friend who'd seen the show before I did. 

Also, can I champion for a cast recording? Please? Pretty please? The concept album is great, but this cast is amazing and deserves to have their work captured. Plus, I want that final song! It's not on the concept album and it's too beautiful not to have. 

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