Comedy, laughter and drama ensued as the East West Players’ held the world premiere of Giovanni Ortega’s “Criers For Hire” at the David Henry Hwang Theatre last night in Downtown Los Angeles.
Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera and starring Joan Almedilla, Nicole Barredo, Giselle Tongi, Samantha Cutaran and Rudy Martinez; “Criers For Hire” spotlights the lives of three Filipina women as the most requested professional funeral criers in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park. After years of working hard to support her daughter Ligaya aka Gaya (Nicole Barredo) whom she left in care with her mother in the Philippines, Baby (Joan Almendilla) is reunited with her now young teen. As the professional crying friends Baby, Meding (Giselle Tongi) and Henny (Samantha Cutaran) bring Gaya to the fold of the crying business, laughter, drama and sadness ensues. Gaya must deal with cultural identity, fitting in and meeting a special friend at school (Rudy Martinez).
The Tagalog/English play came to life when writer Giovanni Ortega was approached by East West Players’ Producing Artistic Director Tim Dang to write a play. “This is a commission for the 50th Anniversary of the East West Players. Tim initially contacted me 2 years ago and wanted me to write about crying ladies so he asked me to write three different treatments and so I wrote them and Ligaya was the story I really wanted to do. Your 1.5 immigrant experience along with the women in her life. That’s how it all started,” said Ortega.
Known for her singing, actress Joan Almendilla was so excited that her acting chops was going to be the focal point of her craft. But little did she know that there was at least one major scene in which her melodic voice was going to be used. This play has become close to Joan’s heart. She explains, “Before this, I was missing speaking Tagalog, the food. And then look at this? On stage, speaking Tagalog, it was almost like I didn’t think it would happen. I was talking to our friend Rodney, I really miss speaking Tagalog and here it is.”
For Giselle Tongi, this play brings her back to the acting world as she currently hosts the daily weekday talk show “Kababayan Today.” “Acting has always been my first love and to be able to be on a stage with all these professional actresses in America. I feel like I’ve made it,” says Giselle.
It was an epic night for actress Samantha Cutaran as “Criers For Hire” is her debut on the East West Players stage. “It’s absolutely, really amazing and I’m honored because this is my debut at East West Players. I’m honored to be part of this community and to support Asian American theater, particularly this one because it is representing Filipinos and I love being part of this story and working and hearing Tagalog around me, every single day almost,” added Samantha.
Nicole Barredo can definitely relate to her character Ligaya as she emigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. at the age of fourteen. She explained that she went through some of the same issues her character went through growing up in a new country, “It was great for me to work on this script. To be able get in touch with my roots and speak my own language on an American stage, it just means so much.”
As the lone male character and non-Filipino, Rudy Martinez said it was a great experience for him. Being of Latino descent, he was able to understand the universal experience of immigrants coming to the United States. It was also easy for Martinez to connect with the Filipino culture because of some of the similarities in some of the Spanish words with Tagalog words. Rudy can be seen in the upcoming new show “Heartbeats” on NBC.
Celebrities who enjoyed the opening night of “Criers For Hire” included Mark Dacascos of “Iron Chef America,” Amy Hill from the new hit U.S. comedy TV show “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and actor Casper Van Dien of “Starship Troopers” famie and the upcoming Mark Dacascos directed film “Showdown In Manila”
“Criers For Hire” regular performance runs until March 13, 2016. For more information, visit eastwestplayers.org
*Janet Nepales and Ruben Nepales also contributed to this article.