Skylight Theatre's world premiere of "American Adjacent," penned by USC MFA Dramatic Writing Alum, Boni B. Alvarez and soulfully directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, proves that this Filipino-American playwright's powerful voice must exist in the American theatre. Theatre that scantly offers onstage representations of Filipinos, the third largest Asian population in the U.S. As Alvarez so eloquently writes in the program's playwright's note, his work is about, "…shedding light on the Filipino experience – not simply as the foreign 'other' but specifically, how we factor into the American landscape."
"American Adjacent" is set in East Hollywood and follows six dynamically diverse Filipino mothers and mothers-to-be. There is the troubled rebel Janelle (Evie Abat), proud professor Roshelyn (Angela T. Basea), unabashedly spoiled Paz (Toni Katano), joyful dreamer Aimee (Sandy Velasco), misguided Divina (Arianne Villareal), and deceptively naïve new arrival Sampaguita (Samantha Valdellon). All women of means, they handsomely pay a shady handler known as Administrator (Hazel Lozano) to temporarily live in much humbler accommodations than they are accustomed, to ensure the inclusion of their unborn children into the bumpy terrain of the American dream.
Thrown together in a cramped one-bed condo, with recliners serving as "beds," only one bathroom (which, with several pregnant women causes much hilarity), and a small backyard as their only refuge from the claustrophobia, is anything but."This feels like home to you?" Janelle, compellingly played by Ms. Abat, incredulously asks her roommates. Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo creates the perfect fulcrum for their shared battles, laughs, commiserations, fears, and come to Jesus moments they experience throughout the play.
The most notable moment is when all six women beautifully join voices to sing Christian hymn "Blessed Assurance."The luminous Ms. Velasco's Sandy leads the women in song, soothing each woman's apprehensions and reminds them of the blessings that will be bestowed upon their American children if they stay the course. A course laden with danger is signaled through Austin Quan's effective sound design, of constant dog barks and patrolling helicopters just outside their door. Although the women are forbidden to leave the property, strong-willed Janelle habitually breaks to discover the land of plenty.
While being berated for her behavior, Janelle pointedly asks, " Why are you bringing children here in a country you know nothing about?" This question ultimately sparks a spirit of interrogation of the place they have invested their children's futures. Is America superior to their home in the Philippines? What is the integrity of this and the subsequent promises a better life, a life they have bought into in varying degrees and for varying reasons? Through the women's different opinions and experiences, these questions are answered in many different ways and make the audience question ideas of the American dream themselves.
Ultimately, Alvarez lovingly, heartbreakingly and humorously illuminates a story of Filipinos that are seemingly adjacent to America but in the most removed ways. Alvarez challenges America to close the gap.
"America Adjacent" runs now through March 24th. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased here.
You can contact Contributing Writer Aja Houston at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter. Aja Houston is an MFA Dramatic Writing Candidate '19 at University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts.