In "As Straw Before the Wind," playwright Felix Racelis attempts to draw attention to two topics sorely underrepresented in the theater: the Filipino American experience during and after World War II, and the challenges facing senior citizens.
The new indie production, however, presents challenges for the Ruby Theatre audience in ways the author surely did not intend.
The narrative follows San Gabriel Valley senior-care facility proprietor Nene Santos (Tita Pambid), a Filipina with buried traumas from her wartime experience. She is having trouble finding the money for a much-needed expansion of her business.
Nene's struggles to cope, and her contradictory behavior and erratic approach to caregiving, affect her overcrowded residents, especially curmudgeon Poncing (Muni Zano) and a widow with dementia named Mildred (Anita Borcia).
Then there's Pilita (Sarnica Lim), Nene's long-suffering daughter and employee, whose desire to move on is as acute as her mother's resistance, for reasons that emerge in recurring flashbacks to the war.
Racelis has plenty to say and a promising premise. Yet too many scenes and a zigzagging time frame disrupt the narrative flow. Director Lesley Asistio stages the set changes through incessant blackouts that repeatedly halt the rising action in its tracks.
The languid pace prevents us from absorbing revelations with anything like the shock and empathy we should, making the ending feel more melodramatic than poignant.
The cast, which also includes Rochelle Lozano as Poncing's appalled daughter and Doan Nguyen and Gabriel Garcia in multiple roles, is nothing if not game. At moments the performers manage to suggest where the still-gelling material could go.
"As Straw Before the Wind," which takes its title from the Book of Job, has some serious travails to overcome.
"As Straw Before the Wind," Ruby Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 4. $20. (800) 838-3006 or strawbefore.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
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