Marcos era doesn’t come into focus in ‘Dogeaters’

Enough happens in Jessica Hagedorn’s 1998 drama “Dogeaters,” now in a revised version at the Magic Theatre, to make the mind reel.

The sprawling and ambitious play about the Philippines — its people, its culture, its politics, its history — is based on Hagedorn’s own 1990 novel of the same name, set during the Marcos era.

But her adaptation, at least as presented here, is more confounding than elucidating.

Fifteen actors play nearly 40 roles in more than 30 scenes over two-plus hours, and it doesn’t help that the cast is uneven, in general veering toward overacting and stereotypes.

The normally fine director Loretta Greco has not figured out a way to make the characters connect authentically to each other — or to us — and to keep the complicated plot clear and compact.

Scenes tend to feel too lax or else too melodramatic and too often are played for laughs when they shouldn’t be. At other times, characters and scenes feel like fillers.

The play follows more than a few main characters as they wend their way through tumultuous political and personal events of the late 20th century.

There is Rio (Rinabeth Apostol), a Filipina-American who arrives in Manila, after many years, for the funeral of her beloved grandmother and finds it hard to fit in.

There is Joey (Rafael Jordan), a male hooker who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And there are Daisy (Christine Jamlig), the daughter of a squeaky-wheel senator whose assassination we see right at the beginning of the play, and Trini (Carina Lastimosa Salazar), who’s in love with a wannabe movie star.

That’s not to mention the gay hairdressers, government officials, military men, junkies, movie stars, a drag queen, reporters from the West, rebels in the hills.

There are also true historical figures: Imelda Marcos, who’s presenting a film festival at her new film center; German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who’s in town for the festival; a 19th-century French Jesuit priest and explorer who makes an out-of-time appearance; and more.

It ought to be helpful that a pair of TV announcers (Melvin Badiola and Esperanza Catubig) narrates the action throughout the play. However, they’re presented as satirical pop-cultural figures, which, while comically entertaining, also distracts from Hagedorn’s story.

The story of this beleaguered nation is worth telling, for sure. If only it could be told in a more dramatically accessible way.

REVIEW
Dogeaters
Presented by Magic Theatre
Where: Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 28
Tickets: $35 to $75
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

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