March 25, 2007: Chicagoland, Illinois
Yesterday night, I watched my 17-year old friend, Lakhi Siap, onstage at the Harper College Performing Arts Centerâ€™s production of William Shakespeareâ€™s â€œThe Two Gentlemen of Verona.â€ His drama coach-motivational speaker-mother, Padma Mangharam-Siap (of Cebu Cityâ€™s acclaimed school, Arts Magnate, before it closed its doors a few years ago) and older sister, Shana Siap (a talented actor and singer, currently pursuing her nursing studies) quickly immersed themselves into the modernized interpretation of a classic. I overheard Shana excitedly disclose to a friend, â€œI havenâ€™t seen my brother perform in five years. That is a long, long time!â€
I could not help thinking about pop cultureâ€™s influence on Shakespeareâ€™s sexy, â€œdouble-entendreâ€ scripts. The directorâ€™s enlightened, cutting-edge version of a badly-written play made it easy for me to understand the performersâ€™ Old English interspersed with â€œspoken word,â€ street gestures, and an original song, â€œWho is Silvia?â€ with lyrics by Wliiam Shakespeare.
I was pleased not to hear strong British accents from the cast. We could comfortably sympathize with the charactersâ€™ personalities. Costumes and set design were strategically created to make us feel right at home in modern-day Verona, Italy.
Lakhi Siap is downright entertaining and hilarious as â€œSpeed,â€ Valentineâ€™s servant and foil character. He is also the only Asian American in this production. Lakhiâ€™s natural flair for physical comedy makes him stand out among Veronaâ€™s characters. Some local publications also wrote rave reviews about his performances, Padma reports.
Iâ€™m not surprised that Lakhi exudes the confidence of a seasoned performer because he is one. He was a scholar at the Philippine High School for the Arts where he graduated with a major in theater. Aside from his college studies in nursing, Lakhi acts, co-directs and teaches childrenâ€™s theatre in Chicagoâ€™s PINTIG and CIRCA theater companies. Padma continues to be perplexed about her sonâ€™s extreme physical adventures in water sports yet is happy about his more sedate hobbies, such as golf and photography.
May there be more to come, I hope. Lakhi — and a bonus, his Indian-Chinese heritage — will surely conquer Hollywood or Bollywood, if he so chooses.
After the play ended, we headed out to TGIF (a.k.a. “Thank God It’s Friday!”) for an aprÃ¨s-play gathering. It wasnâ€™t until we drove off for home in the Siap familyâ€™s SUV that the three of them entertained me with convincing characterizations of Indiaâ€™s village people. I was so amused at hearing their diverse accents and idioms, so typical of Bollywood movies that Iâ€™ve seen and my personal interactions with a few older Indian men and women. I knew they werenâ€™t making fun of their heritage. My friends were sharing their knowledge and capacity to shift characters and accents â€œat will.â€ I love my friends for knowing how to poke fun at themselves with warm, fuzzy, â€œfeeling at homeâ€ doses of nostalgia.
Since Lakhi and Shana were both raised in the Philippines, they are still adjusting to the cultural differences they experience in the US. I was off by about a year in my prediction that Padma would feel effortlessly acclimated to her U.S. lifestyle within three years. â€œFour years,â€ she revealed.
I automatically corrected Lakhiâ€™s pronounciation of â€œassumeâ€ (â€œash-shoomâ€ is the Filipino way) last night. Padma confided that there were times when she had to coax her American male friends to open the car door for her (sheâ€™s the passenger!) or escort her by the elbow or arm when crossing a street. I also talked to one of their friends who wanted to assimilate quickly in the American workplace, attitudinally and idiomatically-speaking. I replied, â€œDonâ€™t get rid of your â€˜Filipina-ness.â€™ Bring it to work, and make your habits and traits work for you.â€
The next time you attend a party or an event — and a stand-up comedian starts imitating his or her familyâ€™s accents and mannerisms when he or she does character studies about some embarrassingly-profound moments — think about how culturally-correct it is to bring familiar subjects and habits into â€œalien territory,â€ such as your new home in the United States.
We all deserve a good laugh.
If Christine Gambitoâ€™s â€œhappy slipâ€ into video superstardom at www.YouTube.com proves that there is a world-wide audience hungry for entertainment that honors our mundane lives of fulfillment and struggle, then we can do it, too! HappySlip.comâ€™s comedic portrayals of a Filipino familyâ€™s accents, gestures, and conversations are â€œin cultureâ€ with everyone elseâ€™s culture. Vox populi says that Christineâ€™s and my friendsâ€™ playful, accented monologues and chats are purely light-hearted and invigorating.
We need more â€œpop cultureâ€ opportunities and avenues to build goodwill with people who want to know us as Filipinos, â€œhuman beings of purpose, passion, and grace.â€
I look forward to my next time with Padma, Shana, and Lakhiâ€™s â€œplay with accents.â€
It will be just like home.