PINAY, the latest venture of Proudly Asian Theatre (PAT), has hit the Basement. The first NZ-Filipino play to be written and presented in Aotearoa, PINAY has been hotly anticipated throughout its development through Fresh off the Page’s monthly play readings.
The crowd was eager to get into the Basement Studio to see this much buzzed about performance. The doors opened to an impressive yet simplistic set – with a faint 60s vibe – whilst classic karaoke tracks, such as Filipino band Side A’s ‘Forevermore’, play and lyrics are projected onto a circular screen. This creative choice of a circular screen is an excellent one, as it helps add dimension and texture throughout the show; from letting us know exactly what dishes the characters are picking at, to standing in – through text – as external characters. In a particularly impactful moment, the circular screen is transformed into a moon at one point for a beautiful piece of staging. Set designer Poppy Serano’s and Director James Roque’s choices are intelligent, atmospheric and immediately noticeable within the first few minutes of the play.
PINAY is a coming-of-age tale that explores and celebrates the experiences of a Filipino family who migrate to New Zealand, through the primary lens of their daughter Alex. It is a tale of identity for Alex, who must navigate her position growing up as a Filipino-New Zealand citizen. Alex is played by Marianne Infante, who makes a shining turn as both PINAY’s lead role and its playwright. This script is Infante’s first as a playwright, and stands as an incredible debut from this young talent. The script is witty and clever, with a core of emotion that shines throughout the play. Loaded with detail, PINAY is a perfect example of why own-voices representations on stage and on-screen matter. There is nothing like witnessing live the whispers and laughter as audience members recognise and empathise with the tiny gorgeous details that litter this script, such as SkyFlakes crackers and Alex’s mother’s reaction to her wearing lip-gloss. The continued incorporation of the checked pattern from Alex’s patadyong was a clever costuming decision that was really appreciated. This attention to detail is present throughout the production, and is clearly representative of the care and passion put into this project by its key creatives.
The play is ultimately a love story. The more obvious love story plays out between Infante’s character Alex and Seth – a newcomer at Alex’s high school – played by Lucas Haugh. Haugh nails his portrayal of Alex’s swoonworthy and slightly ignorant first-love – adorkable dance number included. Even in the character’s darker moments, he finds a way to maintain a sympathetic connection and pathos with Seth, not entirely letting the audience turn against his character.
This young couple’s romance is presented parallel to that of Alex’s parents Mariella and Ronaldo, played by Donna Dacuno and Richard Perillo. Under Roque’s direction, PINAY shifts seamlessly back and forth through time as Dacuno and Perillo masterfully flit between their love-struck and rebellious teenage pasts, and their love-struck and parentally responsible adult present. As teens, Dacuno and Perillo are immensely likeable, and as Alex’s parents they cut highly empathetic figures. Perillo perfectly hits his cool dad stride, repeatedly serenading his wife at karaoke to Vehnee Saturno’s ‘Be My Lady’, whilst Dacuno capably navigates the emotionally fraught mother/daughter relationship that is at the heart of the play. The play is a love story, but it is one that celebrates all types of love, ultimately placing familial and platonic love at its centre.
PINAY is a multilingual play, incorporating Tagalog, English and Te Reo fluidly throughout its runtime. A key figure in Alex’s life is her best friend Tāne, who she immediately connects with over the shared similarities between Filipino and Maori culture, such as language, food and generosity. This is an aspect of PINAY that Infante has admitted draws directly from her own experience, stating that tangata whenua are what “allowed (her) to feel so stable and grounded in Aotearoa”. Matiu Hamuera as Tāne puts in a high-quality performance, grounding his own deeply emotional arc through the play, in the coming out to his mother. Alex’s other closest support is her brother Rob, played by Marwin Silerio, an excellent comic force throughout the play, whilst adeptly layering his performance with flares of gravity and frustration. One of the true emotional high-points of PINAY is the incredibly moving rendition of ‘Whakaaria Mai’, sung in three-part harmony. PINAY continues throughout it performance, in waiata, karakia and dance, to fuse Filipino and Maori culture together in a powerful and resonant manner.
Roque brings Infante’s sparkling script to life. PINAY is elegantly crafted, with intelligent staging and lyrical transitions. One impactful creative choice was to punctuate deeply emotional moments with a sudden shift to non-naturalistic lighting, with tectonic rumblings. PINAY is loosely set against the backdrop of two earthquakes, impressively spanning the time between the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption and the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. It was notable that PINAY’s set piece recreation of the Christchurch earthquake couldn’t help but elicit echoes of terror in its Kiwi audience. Not in a terrifying fashion, although it is appreciated that there is a content warning placed outside PINAY’s doors, but in way that is a testament to the effectiveness of the creative decisions behind PINAY.
PINAY is full of joy and had the audience roaring with laughter from the get go. It expertly manoeuvres between comedy and moments of deep emotion, keeping the audience vacillating between laughter and tears. Intelligently staged and brilliantly acted, PINAY is a story brimming with love, and a vitally important and historic piece of New Zealand theatre.
You can see PINAY:
Dates: 13 – 24 August, 8pm
Venue: Basement Theatre
Tickets: $18 – $30
Bookings: www.basementtheatre.co.nz or phone iTicket 09 361 1000