tales of love and melancholia swirl in a fluid, heady concoction of punk rock
in "Dead Man's Socks," the newest play by Ma-Yi Theater Company, written
and directed by Ralph B. Pena. The play deals frankly with the subject of obsession
as four gay men navigate New York's nether world searching for their slippery
Moving freely between the
corporate hallways of Wall Street and the red splashed cubicles of sex clubs,
"Dead Man's Socks" is a peek into the shifty alternate world of transacted
identities and negotiated love. Both Dan and Chester are fans of a pop band
and the whole play is, in fact, framed by the reverberations of the NY music
scene of 70s and 80s. Dan has had a relationship with Paul for seven years buy
is straying out of it. He meets Chester and finds that Chester has been obsessed
with him for seven years. Ponzer is obsessed with conspiracy theories; Paul
is obsessed with adopting a child and traditional values (Gay Mainstreaming).
The lives of four young men collide and intersect in random patterns in a realistic
play that breaks new stylistic ground for Ma-Yi Theater Company, which has become
well-known to-date for plays about the Filipino-American experience and Pan-Asian
The company, now in its
fourteenth season, has specialized in crosscultural and intercultural collaborations
between Asian and non-Asian artists. Its stories, while culturally specific,
have been meant to be broad re-statements of the American experience. But in
"Dead Men's Socks," only one character is Asian, and that is deliberate.
Ralph B. Peña, who cites Nicky Silver (author of "Pterodactyls")
and Richard Greenberg (author of "Three Days of Rain" and Bway's "Take
Me Out") as his influences, has turned to simply writing about people.
Ma-Yi treasures the opportunity to experiment and grow with new styles by performing
at La MaMa, to stretch as a company and to be free of expectations which it
encounters in other settings. Peña has taken to writing plays about the
gay quotidian, and this is his first one to see light. (He has written two other
plays that are "simply about people," titled "Tag" and "Fifth
Exotic," but neither have been produced yet.).
Ma-Yi came to widespread
notice with its productions of "Middle Finger" and "Watcher."
Both were plays by Han Ong, who, at 33, became the youngest artist to ever earn
the MacArthur Foundation's "genius" grant. Its other notable productions
include "The Square," an anthology of short works by various authors
(eight Asian and eight non-Asian) at the Public Theater (2001), "PeregriNasyon"
by Chris Millado (1998), and other works including "Flipzoids" (OBIE,
1997), Portrait of an Artist as Filipino" and an adaptation of Brecht's
"Mother Courage and Her Children" by Rodolfo Carlos Vera. The troupe
is named for the ancient term Chinese traders used to refer to a group of islands
that is known today as the Philippines. The name was chosen to recognize the
vibrant culture that existed in Ma-Yi prior to the coming of the colonizers
from the West.
Author/director Ralph B. Penais, a founding member and Artistic Director of Ma-Yi. He is
an actor, director, and playwright. He has performed at The Grove Shakespeare
Festival, The Public Theatre, La MaMa E.T.C. and The Round House Theatre, among
others. His plays have been produced by Ma-Yi Theatre Company, The New WORLD
Theatre in Amherst, MA, The Northwest Asian American Theatre in Seattle, Kumu
Kahua Theatre in Honolulu, San Diego Asian American Repertory, The Cultural
Center of the Philippines and the Public Theatre. He is the recipient of a commission
from South Coast Repertory and a Rockefeller Foundation grant to the Bellagio
Study Center in Italy. Mr. Pena has served on the artist panel of the New York
State Council on the Arts since 1997. He was most recently seen in "Dogeaters"
at the Public Theater. Last year, he and Ma-Yi made their La MaMa debut with
"This End Up (A User's Manual for Lovers of Asians)," written and
directed by Peña, which offered a diverting cabaret about the changing
nature of the Asian-American lovescape. The evening combined a play on culturally-unexpected
love affairs with a pastiche of old-fashioned songs (with new twists), yielding
a funny, direct, yet romantic look at the dating game between Asians and non-Asians.