To share one of its leading shows from last
season with a wider audience, The Club at La MaMa will present a return
engagement of "House/Boy" by Nicky Paraiso from November 4 to
21. The piece is directed by Ralph Peña, who is Artistic Director
of Ma-Yi Theatre Company.
The play is Nicky Paraiso's third autobiographical evening-length solo
work with music and mutimedia, dealing with identity, sexuality and the
enduring theme of what "home" means to Filipino Americans. Last
season, Luis Francia wrote in the Village Voice, "In the earlier
parts of his Asian Boys trilogy, Nicky Paraiso explored with a ruminative
yet passionate voice his growing up queer and Filipino, with a strong-willed
mother, in a Queens landscape of loss and ambivalent belonging. In House/Boy,
the third installment, he sings of his father, who has previously remained
mostly in the background as the strong silent male-in a xenophobic society
the imposed role for immigrant men of color, valued for their hard work
but resented for their bravado and flamboyance….With a piano and
some well-chosen songs, Paraiso has shepherded expertly and movingly the
different parts of his tale under one well-wrought roof."
The predecessors of "House/Boy" were "Asian Boys"
(P.S. 122, 1994, co-produced by Ma-Yi Theatre Ensemble) and "Houses
and Jewels" (1994, DTW). Both were stories of growing up gay and
Filipino in the borough of Queens, where Filipino Americans, like many
other Asians, tend to see themselves as strangers in a strange land. "Houses
and Jewels" was about his mother's house in the Philippines, where
she grew up with her five sisters. (He now calls it "a Filipino version
of 'The House of Bernarda Alba.'") Now the focus shifts to his father
and to that peculiarly Filipino male prototype, the houseboy. Partly,
it is dedicated to his father, who died in the family house in Queens
in 1987. It contains some unfinished business, because Nicky never did
sing for his father while the elder was alive.
Nicky's parents, Nicasio and Agustina, had known each other in the Philippines,
but Nicasio had moved to the U.S. in his twenties. Here he married an
Irish-American woman and settled in the Bronx; they had a son, Michael,
to whom the show is also dedicated (Nicky hardly knew him). The marriage
broke up and Nicasio returned to the Philippines to find a suitable wife,
this time someone Philippine-born. He was reunited with Agustina, who
was the last of her sisters to wed and was already known as a spinster.
When Nicky was in his thirties, in '83, she was homesick and returned
to the Philippines without her husband. To Nicasio, a Pullman porter on
the New Haven Railroad, the house in Queens was home. He was its caretaker
and he was waiting for Nicky to take it over (an ideal he shared with
Agustina, interestingly enough). But all Nicky wanted, like others of
his generation, was to get out of Queens. Children of first generation
immigrants are the borough's largest export. Nicky wanted to become a
After Nicasio died in Christmas of 1987, Nicky brought his elder's ashes
back to the Philippines. His mother was living there with a houseboy,
and this is where "I Never Sang for My Father" gets entwined
with another theme. The houseboy, named Efren Martinez, was tall, lanky,
flamboyantly gay and effeminate; "the stereotypical effeminate houseboy,"
says Nicky. When Nicky visited in '83 and '85, it was as if the son was
actually intruding on the private world of a houseboy and his mistress.
One night, Efren endured a frightening nightmare (in Philippine myth,
there is a nightmare in which a spirit appears and takes your soul away).
The next morning, Agustina found her brother-in-law's gold watch missing.
The houseboy, accused of stealing, left in a huff and was never heard
Efren's persona happened to echo Nicky's search for Filipino role models
in the media, where there were two prime examples. One is Patrick Adiarte,
a child actor who played the prince in "The King and I." In
tribute, Paraiso will act the final scene of the musical , playing all
three parts: Yul Brynner's, Deborah Kerr's and Patrick Adiarte's. The
other prototype is Zorro David, who played the houseboy Anacleto in the
film, "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967), directed by John
Huston and based on Carson McCullers' novel (with Marlon Brando, Elizabeth
Taylor, Julie Harris and Brian Keith). In tribute, Paraiso will perform
"Anacleto's Ballet," based on a dance the character performs
for his mistress (played by Julie Harris) in the film.
The two stories are interwoven with Nicky playing and singing at a grand
piano and speaking directly to the audience in a confessional way. With
multimedia added (mostly, projections of his family), it comes out as
a performance piece layered with cabaret style. Scenes are punctuated
with songs that Paraiso has written, plus a few drawn from the American
cabaret songbook and Filipino love songs and folk songs delivered in their
Nicky Paraiso was a member of Meredith Monk/The House and Vocal Ensemble
(1981-1990), touring extensively throughout the US, Europe and Japan.
He has also worked with Jeff Weiss and Carlos Ricardo Martinez since 1979
and was an actor and musical director in "Come Clean" and the
Obie-winning "Hot Keys." He is also affiliated with Yoshiko
Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks, with whom he has appeared in four
major productions since 1988. He is also a frequent performer with Ma-Yi
Theatre/NATCO. Paraiso's awards include a 1987 Bessie and a NYSCA Performance
Art Initiative Grant. He was nominated for the prestigious Cal Arts/Alpert
Award in 1998. His films include "Book of Days," "Fresh
Kill" and "Jeffrey."
In 1994, in "Notes on a Stonewall Summer" (American Theater),
critic Charles McNulty wrote that "Asian Boys" demonstrated
"that musical talent and daring honesty can often be as liberating
as the most flamboyant cross-dressing." Musing on the aesthetics
of minority theater, he added, "Paraiso demonstrates that there is
nothing implicitly undramatic about the marginalized self. For the artist
with vision, there's no need to travel far and wide to find a subject
bristling with conflict, ambiguity and theatrical life."
Set is executed by Mark Tambella. Costume design is by Gabriel Berry.
Lighting design is by Justin Townsend. The houseboy dance is choreographed
by Chris Yon.
This production is a part of the Performing Ethnicity International Conference
and Arts Festival, organized by Ma-Yi Theater Company, The City College
of New York, the University of the Philippines system and Philippine Forum.
Major support is provided by The Ford Foundation. For more information
on Performing Ethnicity, visit www.ma-yitheatre.org.
Ma-Yi Theater Company, now in its fifteenth season, is devoted to plays
of the Asian-American experience cross-cultural and intercultural collaborations.
It has been regularly featured in productions of The Club at La MaMa.
* Nicky has performed House/boy at the Dublin Theater Festival, October 2007