Ogie Zulueta appears in “Remember the I-Hotel,” a one-act play based on a story by Lysley Tenorio and onstage at American Conservatory Theater’s Strand. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Ogie Zulueta appears in “Remember the I-Hotel,” a one-act play based on a story by Lysley Tenorio and onstage at American Conservatory Theater’s Strand. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

ACT’s ‘Monstress’ captures Filipino immigrant experience

The two short stories by San Francisco writer Lysley Tenorio, “Monstress” and “Save the I-Hotel” (from his collection “Monstress”), which are adapted for the American Conservatory Theater stage under the umbrella title “Monstress,” both center on the Filipino immigrant experience in the Bay Area.

Each addresses nuances of that experience, and both involve fragile relationships.

Yet they are radically different in tone, which makes for a satisfyingly varied double bill.

The first one-act, playwright Philip Kan Gotanda’s (renamed) “Remember the I-Hotel,” begins and ends on a historically important day in 1977 in that iconic residential hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown (a part of Chinatown). Two longtime, elderly residents, Vicente (Ogie Zulueta) and the apparently somewhat mentally disabled Fortunada (Jomar Tagatac), are preparing to be evicted.

Most of the play is a flashback to the 1930s where they met and bonded at a dance hall (Nina Ball’s elegant period set serves both plays well). It’s an era of overt racism, covert homosexuality and miscegenation laws.

When the extroverted Vicente falls in love with a white girl (Kelsey Venter), everything changes. For better or for worse, the years that follow—until we see them again in 1977 — are left to the imagination.

The writing, the cast, and Carey Perloff’s direction balance the story’s comic and tragic elements quite gracefully, enhanced by buoyant choreography (movement director, Stephen Buescher) and yearning 1930s big-band songs (with Melody Butiu as the dance-hall chanteuse).

Sean San Jose’s adaptation of the second short story, renamed “Presenting. . . the Monstress!,” is a comic delight, with strong acting under Perloff’s direction, and great sound design by Jake Rodriguez.

The Manila career of monster-movie director Checkers Rosario (San Jose) is at risk: Filipino audiences want to see only Hollywood blockbusters. New opportunities emerge when he and his leading lady/girlfriend, Reva (Butiu), who’s tired of playing giant, tentacled squids, have a chance to go to California: an American filmmaker (Nick Gabriel) wants to splice their celluloid monsters into his grade B films—which, it turns out, he shoots in his mother’s basement in Colma.

San Jose added a trio as a sort of chorus (in Tenorio’s story, Reva narrates the tale), and despite some initial confusion as to who is who and what exactly is happening, the play, under Perloff’s direction, becomes increasingly funny, with a lovely, wistful ending that adds gravitas to the general silliness.

REVIEW</strong
Monstress

Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Where: Strand, 1127 Market St., S.F.
When: Tuesdays-Sundays, closes Nov. 22
Tickets: $45 to $90
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www. act-sf.org

ACTAmerican Conservatory TheaterCarey PerloffFilipinoLysley TenorioMonstressOgie ZuluetaPhilip Kan Gotanda

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read