The program of Felix Racelis' As Straw Before the Wind contains a fact sheet about World War II in regards the Phillipines and about the survivors of that conflict, who make up a startlingly large percentage of the nursing profession in California. I did not know this or most of the historical facts given. Which seems to be part of the point--to open up about the Filipino and (especially) Filipina experience. Admirable.
Does it succeed? Well, somewhat. There's something here in the show, in the tracing of one family and how it the Japanese Occupation's abuses continue to shape events and relationships today. Our focus is on Nene (Tita Pambid), who runs a convalescent home in San Gabriel Valley in 1993. Impressively, although many of her acts seem despicable, I never hated her. The play does a good job of hinting trauma lies behind many if not most of her life's choices. Specifically, some flashbacks to what happened during the War begin building on that early on.
Later, during a meeting at a bank Nene gets lost in a memory, that of her family seized by Japanese soldiers and her uncle (Zano in a double role) managing to salvage her doll from the burned home. Typically, she seems unable to follow the bank officer's process. These are all very good building blocks to tell a compelling story--although frankly the structure does resemble a movie rather than a stage play. Or so it seemed, because the production is designed that way. Honestly, why not have the flashback in the bank officer's office? Would be far more interesting and you don't lose momentum.
Finally, catastrophe happens. A fire, almost certainly begun by the senile Mrs. Novak with her cigarettes amidst a very charming dreams of her late husband, burns down the home. All the patients save Mrs. Novak survive, and we learn Nene has plenty of insurance. But this house, it was one her uncle build for her. Nene collapses emotionally, as we flash back to her rape by a Japanese soldier all those years ago. We understand how that avid need for control, for physical things and for people to protect twisted this woman into what she is now.
Yet the pacing and scene shifts made me work much harder than I should have to keep my interest. Later, headed home, I kept thinking of all sorts of ways to stage this play in a more dramatic and interesting way. Frankly I hope somebody someday does exactly that.
As Straw Before Wind plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and on Sundays at 3pm through September 4, 2016 at the Ruby Theatre in the Complex on 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood CA 90038.