Home Theatre AMERICAN THEATRE | The Sophisticated Triumph of ‘Right here Lies Love’

AMERICAN THEATRE | The Sophisticated Triumph of ‘Right here Lies Love’

AMERICAN THEATRE | The Sophisticated Triumph of ‘Right here Lies Love’


Arielle Jacobs and Jose Llana in “Right here Lies Love.” (Picture by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman)

In November 2014, I traveled to town of Tacloban on the island of Leyte for analysis on a multidisciplinary undertaking to grasp the impression of communication throughout Tremendous Storm Haiyan (also referred to as Yolanda). It was a full 12 months after the deadliest storm in Philippine historical past made its landfall, killing greater than 6,000 individuals and displacing 600,000 inhabitants. Elements of town had been rising steadily due to worldwide support; different components remained wrecked and graffitied.

The Santo Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum, colloquially often known as the Imelda Marcos Museum, and one of many 20 presidential palaces constructed throughout martial legislation, had been broken however renovated. As I meandered via the richly adorned rooms, I finished on the work depicting the Marcos household in mythic symbols.

“Oh, she’s so fairly,” a Filipina vacationer cooed. As much as that time, she had been chatting along with her companions in one other Philippine language, however now they stood nearer to me, admiring the portray. “It’s such a disgrace. Imelda did nothing mistaken.”

The second lingers with me in spite of everything these years: a refined, ambiguous encounter in Imelda’s hometown amongst Filipinos and a Filipino American standing earlier than an epic portray that, relying in your standpoint, may very well be known as both artwork or propaganda. The Marcos dictatorship’s cultural product is a website the place narratives of energy, artistry, and justice converge. 

Right here Lies Love, now on Broadway, is a equally charged house for figuring out the legacies and futures of the Philippines as a former colony of america and a younger nation state, mentioning issues about historic distortion, inventive duty, and fact and artistic license in a time of misinformation.

A portray from the Santo Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum in Tacloban, Leyte. Imelda Marcos rises from the ocean, holding a big shell with portraits of the Marcos kids: Aimee, Imee, Bongbong, and Irene. A clear determine looms behind her, obscured by the curtain surrounding the portray. 

Once I first heard of this new staging of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s musical on Broadway, I had combined emotions. I noticed the present’s debut on the Public in 2013, and I walked away impressed with its immersive surroundings however feeling uneasy and barely sick, questioning why Imelda gave the impression to be portrayed as a sufferer of circumstances and why there was little or no point out of the Marcos regime’s human rights violations. On the similar time, I used to be excited to see Filipino American theatre colleagues get work, particularly past enjoying bit roles.

Certainly, the brand new iteration of Right here Lies Love provides a historic first for Broadway: It has an all-Filipino solid and majority Filipino artistic crew. It’s a far cry from different historic moments in tangled Philippine-American performativity such because the 1904 World’s Honest or the 1976 filming of Apocalypse Now

“This present places up a flag,” journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, one of many present’s lead producers, instructed me. “It says, that is what the American theatre can seem like, sound like, be like, and really feel like. To me, the American musical theatre is likely one of the quintessential American innovations. And the truth that this Filipino present can exist within the American musical theatre—I feel that’s a basic flag.”

Sure, the present is definitely a flag for progressive theatre in its use of house and immersivity, and a flag for Filipino and Filipino American illustration on the highest stage of American theatre. However what different flags is Right here Lies Love planting? There have been persistent critiques in each the Philippines and U.S. media that Right here Lies Love just isn’t solely authored by a white man, however that it primarily glorifies tyranny and Imelda.

Costume designer Clint Ramos, additionally a lead producer on the present, stated that he understands the place the feedback are coming from. However he thinks critiques of the present’s white authorship and alleged glorification of tyranny are incomplete—that they’re primarily based on an American rubric of social justice speaking factors, and require higher nuance in mild of present political relationships between the 2 nations.

“You’re taking a look at an American wanting on the Philippines,” Ramos conceded, however added, “The Philippine story is an American story. Each single presidency within the Philippines has been meddled with to totally different levels by america.” The connection has continued as much as and together with the Philippines’ present president, Imelda’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. “The primary head of state to ask Marcos for a state go to was Joe Biden,” after which the U.S. “rapidly introduced that they had been constructing 4 new American bases within the Philippines,” Ramos stated.

Vargas additional distinguishes between authorship and possession.

“David Byrne authored this, Alex Timbers developed and directed it, however the Filipinos onstage and Filipinos whose lives have been touched by this—we’re nonetheless residing with this historical past,” he stated. “They’ve possession of this, and I feel you see that play out onstage in a extremely stunning approach.”

What I collect from the producers is that Philippine and American relations are so enmeshed that they really feel {that a} non-Filipino like Byrne can sincerely and responsibly inform the story, as long as it’s dealt with with due diligence, analysis, and help from a majority Filipino artistic crew who can train their very own company in retelling the story. I posed this chance to different Filipino creatives and students not affiliated with the present.

“I’m all the time cautious about white individuals telling our narrative,” stated playwright, translator, and director Guelan Luarca, who can also be the inventive director of Tanghalang Ateneo, the longest-running theatre firm of Ateneo de Manila College. “It’s not an impossibility, they usually can do it very nicely, however I’m nonetheless cautious about it.”

Luarca has but to see the present (he was within the Philippines once we spoke through Zoom) and is debating whether or not or to not see it when he returns to New York. “It’s an enormous deal that there’s lastly illustration, but it surely’s within the type of the narrative of those individuals [the Marcoses]. It’s an ongoing debate that may sit with me whether or not or not I watch it. It’s a rigidity that I’m acknowledging, and I simply occur to be a person and practitioner who’s snug with rigidity. It’s not black and white for me.”

Dr. Lisandro Claudio, Philippine cultural historian and chair of the Middle for Southeast Asia Research at UC Berkeley, identified the touristic origins and similarities to Orientalist travelogues of Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne’s 2009 e-book, wherein the songwriter detailed his inspirations for the Right here Lies Love track cycle.

“White individuals have studied the Philippines productively, however you are feeling that David Byrne was type of a parachute journalist,” Claudio instructed me. Whereas he additionally has but to see the present (he was additionally within the Philippines once we spoke), Claudio listened to the album when it got here out in 2010 and has stored observe of the present because it has advanced. “This type of touristic account of the Philippines turns into the genesis for Right here Lies Love, and that’s the place my concern lies. Now we’re protecting that up—we cowl up the genesis of this play by having an all-Filipino solid, having Filipino producers.”

Nonetheless, Claudio famous that regardless of his discomfort with this premise, texts can evolve. “The textual content is constrained by its origins as considered one of David Byrne’s camp touristic fantasies, and now it’s been given to largely Filipinos. Can they develop this textual content? Can they make it extra capacious?”

After attending this new iteration of the present, I see the efforts made by the director and designers so as to add extra historical past and complexity via projections and through Ninoy Aquino’s placement within the theatre. However finally I really feel the nuance and new additions are drowned out by the disco.

That could be intentional.

“For Right here Lies Love, its that means additionally lies in what’s absent in it,” Ramos stated, including, in a quote from an essay in regards to the present by Gina Apostol, “Dissonance is the message.” He continued: “This isn’t a panacea or an antidote to something. We’re not proposing an answer. We’re simply asking questions, so far as I’m involved. How do dictatorships truly kind?”

However in an age of rampant misinformation, do we want extra dissonance? And for the typical theatregoer who exhibits up with none information of Philippine historical past and is just searching for a enjoyable evening out, how efficient can this dissonant message be? And the way can individuals search for absences they don’t even learn about? Moreover, these theatregoers may fairly ask: Why does it matter whether or not the musical glorifies Imelda Marcos or not?

Arielle Jacobs and the solid of “Right here Lies Love.” (Picture by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman)

This previous Could, whereas I used to be within the Philippines, I attended a efficiency in metro Manila of Floyd Quintos’s The Reconciliation Dinner, a drama about a cocktail party between two politically polarized households. Take into account this banter between Mica, a pro-Marcos daughter, and her household pal’s son, Norby, a queer activist and campaigner for Leni Robredo (who ran towards Bongbong Marcos within the 2022 elections):

Mica: We’re gonna fly to New York pa to look at “Right here Lies Love” when it opens.
Norby: OMG… with Lea [Salonga]?
Mica: Ya… and the primary ever all-Filipino solid on Broadway! Now that’s actual theatre!
Norby: Oh, I’m so jealous. The primary all-Filipino Marcos apologist solid on Broadway!

The second received an enormous snort from the Filipino viewers. It was a passing second amid the opposite political and social points plaguing the present’s fictional household, but it surely was a degree of humor and battle, revealing tensions round class, nationwide satisfaction, artwork, and kinship ties in just some quips.

The notion of artwork and leisure aiming to rehabilitate the Marcoses is a reside difficulty within the Philippines. Household and pals pointed me to 2 movies not too long ago launched there. Produced by Imee Marcos (Imelda’s oldest daughter), Maid in Malacañang (2022) and Martyr or Assassin (2023) embrace a mashup of reports media alongside artistic fictional accounts of the Marcoses, they usually promote the debunked narrative that Ninoy Aquino had unrequited emotions for Imelda. Playwright, activist, and martial legislation survivor Bonifacio Ilagan says that Maid in Malacañang particularly “indicators the making of extra ‘inventive’ concoctions aimed on the official rehabilitation of the Marcos household.” It’s coincidental that the timing of those movies aligns with the staging of Right here Lies Love, and the Broadway musical is clearly not meant as propaganda. However there may be concern that it may very well be ripe to be used by historic revisionists who wish to soften the notion of the Marcoses, erase tales of corruption underneath martial legislation, and so as to add extra glamor and American validation to this political dynasty.

Whether or not or to what extent Right here Lies Love additional perpetuates historic distortion stays the important thing thread for these questioning why this musical is being staged now. Not solely has Bongbong Marcos been president since Could 2022, however the Philippines skilled six years underneath Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed by Time The Trump of the East” for similarities to America’s forty fifth President by way of populism, disruption of liberal elites, and misogyny. Sara Duterte, the previous president’s daughter, is at present vp alongside Bongbong Marcos. After all of the bloodshed within the Philippines, largely towards city poor, and with police falsifying proof to justify extrajudicial killings, there are questions on justice, politics, and collective trauma that have to be addressed. It’s true that Right here Lies Love mentions Bongbong’s presidency and the resurgent menace to democracy on the finish of the present, leaving a big quantity of historical past and present occasions for the viewers members to Google or analysis later. What sort of impression may this have for audiences?

“I fear that younger Filipinos or simply the brand new era will go away the theatre pondering that martial legislation is a disco quantity,” says Ralph Peña, founding member and inventive director of Ma-Yi Theater Firm, who has seen this most up-to-date model of the musical. Peña needed to go away the Philippines when martial legislation was first declared in 1972 and later returned to attend highschool and faculty. He needed to flee once more as a college pupil when authorities tried to blackmail him into handing over his colleagues. He has pals who had been tortured, imprisoned, and killed. “If all of us agree that the world is a smorgasbord of narratives, free to the taking, do you’ve gotten a duty to the individuals you took that story from? It’s not as if the sins of the Marcoses are over. They’re nonetheless paying for the cash they stole. The individuals they tortured and jailed are nonetheless round.”

And if viewers members haven’t any information, or solely a superficial understanding, of martial legislation entering into, can the present by itself actually be “an progressive template for standing as much as tyranny”, as a publish on the present’s official Instagram account places it? I requested Vargas what this present means within the higher expanse of Philippine historical past and of how the Marcoses have tried to painting themselves.

“Effectively, it’s a chunk of musical theatre, proper?” he replied. “It could possibly’t maintain all the pieces that we’re asking of it. For me, what I’m most enthusiastic about are all my household conversations, as a result of I’ve some aunties which might be pro-Marcos, they usually’re going to be like, what is occurring?”

I additionally spoke to Jessica Hagedorn, creator of the 1990 novel and 1998 play Dogeaters, staged on the Public in 2001. The story is a gritty, epic portrayal of the Philippines throughout martial legislation and American occupation, the identical period that Right here Lies Love spans. Hagedorn noticed the musical on the Public in 2013. I requested her if she had any ideas about how Right here Lies Love would play into the sanitization of the Marcos regime. 

“Effectively, I feel Imelda goes to be flattered by her glamorous portrayal, it doesn’t matter what,” she replied. “I doubt she has a way of irony. However that is actually a query for David Byrne. Right here Lies Love is his musical work, not mine. Why aren’t you interviewing him?”

Sadly, David Byrne was unavailable for remark. In an interview with the Washington Publish, his response to what moved him to carry the musical again now was that “the present has perhaps extra relevance,” partially as a result of there’s a brand new Marcos in as president and since authoritarianism is on the rise in different nations as nicely.

Lea Salonga and the solid of “Right here Lies Love.” (Picture by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman)

Filipinos I’ve spoken with have conflicted emotions about Right here Lies Loveemotions I share, as a result of so lots of our pals and colleagues are concerned on this present. We maintain the paradox of being happy with their achievements whereas additionally worrying in regards to the repercussions of the present. One factor is plain: For folk on the artistic crew, Right here Lies Love has had a genuinely transformative impact on their identities as Filipino Individuals and on their Filipino diasporic expertise.

“This undertaking is extraordinarily tough and attracts controversy,” Ramos stated, “however what I’ve skilled via it’s my very own private reckoning in regards to the Filipino expertise that has given me this deep compassion for our individuals and the tragic absurdity that got here out of this regime. While you have a look at the American occupation, the international power clothes you with these clothes of democracy with no concept of match, it creates a tradition of confusion that they capitalize on.”

Lea Salonga might embody the present’s contradictions greater than anybody, although she’s solely scheduled to look in it via Aug. 19 (she can also be on the present’s producing crew). It’s important that the Broadway Theatre itself is identical place the place Salonga, dubbed “Pleasure of the Philippines,” originated the lead position of Kim, a Vietnamese bartender in Miss Saigon, an explicitly Orientalist fantasy. She returns to the identical stage, although it has been stripped of 900 orchestra seats to create a membership flooring, to look as Aurora Aquino, mom of the assassinated Ninoy Aquino, distinguished opposition chief to Ferdinand Marcos.

“Lea Salonga is a really fascinating determine, as a result of she is the one Philippine artist who is mostly a mediator between the Philippines and the West,” defined Claudio. “She’s mediating so many issues. As somebody who’s well-entrenched within the theatre scene within the Philippines and in addition well-entrenched in Broadway, and as somebody who belongs to a kind of middle-class liberal anti-Marcos milieu within the Philippines.” He additionally alluded to controversy that surrounded Salonga in 2016 when some followers questioned her seeming help for the Marcoses as a result of she had posted on Fb in regards to the Marcos household having been form to her household. “She’s occupying worlds on the similar time,” Claudio continued. “It’s type of good that Lea Salonga is a part of this manufacturing, as a result of in a approach it’s a mediation of the Filipino post-colony within the grasp’s home. That’s who Lea Salonga has been ever since she was 16.”

That’s so much to placed on one Filipina. And to go from the position of Kim to Aurora, the place she lastly performs not solely a Filipina however the mom of the slain senator representing democracy, appears like a transformative and triumphant image of how far Salonga has are available in her inventive journey. It appears like a bigger image of hope for Filipinos around the globe.

But the problematic dynamics of Filipino and Filipino American id are additionally wrapped up within the very track she delivers as Aurora Aquino after Ninoy’s dying, “Simply Ask the Flowers.” She sings, “Once I requested my son, ‘What do you wish to be?’ / I used to be slightly shocked when he stated to me / ‘I wanna be a drummer, Mother.’” For this track, the script notes that “all lyrics are derived from quotes from Aurora Aquino and others current at his funeral.”

“Ninoy was shot in ’83,” recalled Peña, who, via household and pal connections, ended up at Ninoy’s home to view the assassinated senator’s physique firsthand. “He was there, lifeless, laid out on the desk,” Peña recalled. “And Aurora instructed others to not clear him in order that ‘the world can see what they did to my son.’ It was dangerous. I used to be actually 5 ft from the physique; his face was smashed as a result of it hit the concrete. Fully coated in blood.”

He paused, as my thoughts leapt to a second in American historical past: to Emmett Until’s mom declining to have her son’s physique touched up so the world may see the total extent of the crime towards him. This tragic occasion in Philippine historical past may have been a chance for widespread floor with different Individuals in addressing violence and oppression.

“As an alternative, they make Lea, because the mom, sing a track about her son eager to be a drummer,” Peña continued. “Now you inform me that’s not a white lens. The Filipina mom says, ‘Don’t clear my son! I need them to see what they did to my son!’ Isn’t {that a} stronger assertion?”

We sat in silence. The reminiscence sank in, as this oral historical past handed between two Filipino Individuals.

“I don’t blame the Pinoys right here in any respect,” Peña added, utilizing a standard casual self-identification amongst Filipinos. “These are the creators pondering, ‘That’s what you wish to concentrate on.’ It’s such a Western tackle that occasion. It romanticizes the dying.”

That story haunted me after our interview ended.

A photograph from the Golden Years: Weighing Philippine Martial Regulation 1972-1981 touring exhibition, for which the caption reads: FILIPINOS BURN ‘UNCLE SAM’ IN VIET PROTEST–Demonstrators in Manila final evening burn a cardboard determine of Uncle Sam holding a sequence across the necks of two pasteboard Filipino troopers. About 500 college students and union members staged the protest in entrance of the U.S. embassy in opposition to a pending invoice that might ship 2,000 Philippine tropps to help within the conflict towards the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. (AP Wirephoto by radio from Manila, 1965)

In April, I attended the touring photograph exhibition Golden Years: Weighing Philippine Martial Regulation 1972-1981 in Los Angeles. Curated by Victor Barnuevo Velasco, a author and founding member of Albay Arts Basis, the photographs depict the Philippines from the Nineteen Sixties to the ’80s. Every organizer that hosts the exhibition can show the photographs of their exhibition house as they want, customizing it to the area people.

In L.A., portraits of Imelda Marcos clustered in a single nook of the room, whereas the alternative nook contained an enormous altar the place native members of the group left prayers for members of the family and victims of martial legislation. I discovered the stress between these photographs placing: The flowers and porcelain crocodile stared down the coiffed Iron Butterfly. The aim was to not erase or cover Imelda or the Marcoses, however fairly to supply a counterpoint to the dictatorship’s legacy of greed and atrocity. The viewer not solely has entry to a bevy of knowledge and viewpoints, however company and dignity in navigating this painful chapter of Philippine historical past.

I carry up this instance to not ask that Right here Lies Love be greater than it may be. It’s true that we can not ask this musical to do all the pieces. However we are able to place it within the bigger arc of historical past and geopolitics. This present is a chance for Filipinos, Filipino Individuals, and theatremakers to productively handle {our relationships} to collective reminiscence, the ethics of creating artwork, and transnational energy dynamics.

Ramos, who famous the emotions of disgrace that may include the Filipino American expertise, stated he hopes the musical will inform social justice conversations and make Individuals interested in our historical past. “After we discuss racism, we can not not discuss imperialism,” he stated. “Let’s additionally discuss America’s need for empire. And perhaps individuals can even search for some issues that they’re prepared to study.”

Throughout all my interviews, I detected a standard expertise of Philippine tradition: the power to exist and even thrive in precarious, liminal areas. Maybe that is the perfect method to the unusual creature that’s Right here Lies Love, an immersive work that’s undeniably historic for Filipino illustration in America and progressive staging on Broadway, in addition to half of a bigger legacy of each Western colonialism and critiques of the West. To know it extra totally requires a capability to sit down with rigidity, discomfort, and paradoxes.

It additionally requires information and recognition of the roles Filipinos have performed in our nations’ historical past, each in relationship to america and in addition impartial from it. Within the face of its potential for disinformation and historic revisionism, it requires that we carry counter-narratives, particularly from voices who had been silenced underneath dictatorship. And regardless of the potential for distortion, I fervently hope that Right here Lies Love’s distinguished presence within the American theatre can create a gap for artists who’ve been shut out for too lengthy to say extra company and dignity, and particularly to inform their very own tales of Filipino and Filipino American expertise.

In any other case each our nations run the chance of forgetting the reality, and ourselves. As poet Arvin Abejo Mangohig writes in Martial Regulation: Poems for the Lifeless, we might find yourself in a spot the place:

We title typhoons, not individuals. We bear in mind
Surviving, not those that didn’t.
We bear in mind nothing underneath water.

Amanda L. Andrei (she/her) is a playwright, literary translator, and theatre critic primarily based in Los Angeles.

Help American Theatre: a simply and thriving theatre ecology begins with data for all. Please be part of us on this mission by making a donation to our writer, Theatre Communications Group. While you help American Theatre journal and TCG, you help an extended legacy of high quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click on right here to make your totally tax-deductible donation right now!



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here