01 Feb / Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn + Author Profile [in aMagazine: Inside Asian America]
Jessica Hagedorn still sees her bestselling classic, Dogeaters, as a mini-series, “like The Sopranos,” she insists. “It’s the only reason I got HBO!” she says. Never mind that Michael Greif, director of the blockbuster musical Rent, commissioned novelist/playwright/performance artist Hagedorn to turn her novel into a script for San Diego’s prestigious La Jolla Playhouse, and never mind that it has already had a successful world premiere run in September 1998. For the time being, audiences will have to make do with the East Coast dramatic premiere of Dogeaters in February at New York’s Public Theater. While Hagedorn is still thinking mini-series – “It has an epic quality, it’s fluid, it has so many stories,” she says – the play will go on.
Since the successful La Jolla run, the new NYC production has undergone major changes, thanks to Hagedorn’s tireless editing. Gone is the back-and-forth between a late-1950s when Manila was grasping at American pop culture, and the mid-1980s, when the Marcos regime was on the downslide. Instead, this latest version remains in 1982 with flashback memories of 1959. “It’s a little more surprising,” promises Hagedorn.
Through characters as diverse as a young hustler, a pair of soap opera stars, a drag queen, dirty politicians, Rainer Fassbinder, and even Imelda Marcos herself, Dogeaters takes a piercing look at the long-term, undeniable effects of American colonialism on the changing Filipino psyche. “It’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s very full,” says Greif of Dogeaters. “There’s so much to ruminate on. And I think the play is a wonderful way to glimpse a culture that many people don’t know a whole lot about.”
The layers indeed multiply with each overlapping scene. The two principal characters represent opposite extreme sides of Filipino society: Rio, the daughter of wealthy, privileged parents, who immigrates to the U.S. and returns to visit her homeland, and Joey Sands, a half-Filipino/half-black hustler raised on the streets who becomes implicated in a major political assassination. In spite of the vast difference in their backgrounds and their chosen lives, both are products – if not victims – of an American-neo-colonialism and trapped in an overpowering pop culture that defines almost every aspect of their daily lives. Even Imelda plays the colonialistic game: determined to prove to the world that the brown Filipino can be just as good as their white counterparts, she insists on staging the ridiculous, lavish spectacle that is the Manila International Film Festival, all the while looting the very society she is trying to champion.
Through entertainment – shocking entertainment at times – Hagedorn has an agenda: “I want all people to realize that this is also their story. I had an audience member in La Jolla, a Caucasian American, who told me that her initial reaction was ‘Wow, I’m seeing a window into another world … but I soon realized that no, this is my world, this is my history.’ That’s what I want people to realize when they see the play,” insists Hagedorn. “History is a living thing. History is not something that just happened long ago that we look at through a long-distance lens. We’re all in it, we’re all living the repercussions of that history every day. I want that ‘ohhh,’ when they hear the word colonialism, I want them to get it even just a little bit.” She adds, “I know it’s a lot to hope for.” …[click here for more]
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 1990, 2000 (NYC dramatic premiere)