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“As Straw Before the Wind” Needs More Wheat & Less Chaff

WST-THEATER9216DAnyone who has ever needed the services of a caretaker, either temporarily or permanently, may have been fortunate enough to have a Filipino caregiver. With over 400 nursing schools and approximately 80,000 students, the Philippines is the world’s largest provider of trained nurses who tend to their flock in the most loving, caring way. That said, Nene Santos, a not so warm and fuzzy Filipina nurse played by Tita Pambid, is the lead character in the world premiere of Felix Racelis’ “As Straw Before the Wind,” on stage at the Ruby Theatre at The Complex in Hollywood.

The story revolves around Santos. She is the owner of a small convalescent home in the San Gabriel Valley. It is not exactly a thriving business as there are only two residents – a crusty old wheelchair- bound Poncing Enrile, a.k.a. grandpa, played by Muni Zano. The character is a former Filipino-American Army Captain who served under General Douglas MacArthur. He is quite unhappy that his daughter Maria, played by Rochelle Lozano, put him in this facility. He ruminates: “Our children hide us away like dogs.” Zano is the only real professional in the cast and gives a believable performance despite the poor direction by Lesley Asistio.

WST-THEATER9216CThe other resident of this facility is Mildred Novak, who is well on her way to senility, and is pretty much confined to a walker. The role is poorly played by Anita Borcia, who is guilty of “indicating” her characterization, which in acting terms means faking crying or other emotions instead of actually delivering an honest performance.

Getting back to 65-year-old Santos, who has occasional flashbacks to her painful childhood, we would not call her a loving caretaker as her ambition to buy an additional property to house more residents, trumps her concern for her current patients. For example, grandpa’s daughter made arrangements for her father to have a private room. Without asking, nurse Santos informs him that he has to share his room with another person until she builds a new facility which, given that she’s turned down by the bank for a loan, could basically never happen. Grandpa is understandably furious citing his military background, arguing that he deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. When he continues to balk, the good nurse puts him in “restraints,” which were just silly silky strands of ribbon. Rounding out the cast is Santos’ young daughter, Pilita, her assistant who is being groomed to take over the business some day. However, she has other plans for her future. Played by Sarnica Lim, this young actress is not quite ready for “prime time” as she seemed lost in trying to deliver a believable performance.

WST-THEATER9216BGiven the extraordinary history of Filipinos as care givers, I really wanted to like this production, but it is so badly directed by Asistio, who clearly could not elicit anything close to fully actualized performances. Perhaps one of the most outrageous lack of theatricality was in the set changes where, instead of using other members of the cast such as Doan Nguyen and Gabriel Garcia, both of whom played multiple roles, wheelchair bound Grandpa, and walker-dependent Novak, break character and assist in set changes, totally destroying the suspension of disbelief. Granted, there was practically no budget, which mitigated any real production values. That restriction is understandable and easily forgiven, but to ignore basic theatre craft just bespeaks of amateurs.

According to press notes, the playwright grew up with survivors of World War II and, “The majority of the women in my family were nurses.” Perhaps his own personal experiences, motivated the playwright to write “As Straw Before The Wind,” and enlist Lesley Asistio to direct his play. Despite honorable intentions, the association turned out to be an artistically bankrupt alliance.

It is difficult to say how Racelis’ interesting material would fare under a more professional cast and seasoned director, as the story is really compelling as it does touch on several aspects of the human condition – from the warehousing of the elderly to ambition and childhood experiences that haunt us. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing as he did check his email from time to time during the performance.

Ruby Theatre, The Complex

6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood 90038

Run: Fridays and Saturdays: 8 p.m., Sundays: 3 p.m.

Closing: September 4, 2016

Tickets: General Admission: $20,
Seniors and Students: $12

Contact: 1.800.838.3006 or
strawbefore.brownpapertickets.com.

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