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Dogeaters Captures Filipino Experience

Playwright Jessica Hagedorn (photographer: Marion Ettlinger)

Author to Visit Campus Dec. 6

"Dogeaters" is a pejorative term made up by American military forces occupying the Philippines to deride Filipinos who once served up culinary canine concoctions.

When Jessica Hagedorn, a New York-based writer who grew up in the Philippines, wrote a groundbreaking novel -- later adapted for the stage -- that analyzes Filipino identity and relations between the Asian country and the U.S., she chose Dogeaters as its title.

A production of the play Dogeaters will open at Smith on Friday, Dec. 1, in the first of six performances directed by Krystal Banzon ’07. The play will run Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 6-9, at 8 p.m. in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre, Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts. The audience is invited to a reception with the cast and crew following the opening night performance Dec. 1.

Hagedorn will visit Smith on Wednesday, Dec. 6, to lead a discussion, at noon in the Green Room at Mendenhall Center, about the themes and issues in Dogeaters. She will attend the play in the evening.

A "talkback" session, moderated by Banzon, will take place on Monday, Dec. 11, at 4:10 p.m., also in the Mendenhall Center Green Room.

Scene from Dogeaters

Dogeaters captures the experience of the late-20th-century Filipino as formed by centuries of Spanish colonization, then decades of U.S. occupation, all reflected in a staged conglomeration of media and information amid the turmoil of Ferdinand Marcos’ corrupted regime. Set in Manila in 1981, Hagedorn’s play combines Philippine history with entertaining fiction, juxtaposing stark realism with theatrical spectacle to depict a multiplicity of characters, who fill the stage babbling in English, Spanish and Tagalog, the main Philippine language.

The novel Dogeaters, which was published in 1990, won an American Book Award that year and was nominated for the National Book Award.

Dogeaters was a long time coming,” said Hagedorn recently from her home in New York City. “I had always wanted to write a novel about U.S.-Philippines relations.”

With its “cast of thousands” and its broad scope, Hagedorn first envisioned the novel as a film. “The novel is very cinematic,” she said. “I always thought it would make a good movie.”

Instead, stage director Michael Greif suggested that Hagedorn adapt the novel as a play. He directed the play’s first production at La Jolla Playhouse in 1998.

“I’m very excited, I look forward to seeing what she does with it,” said Hagedorn of Banzon’s direction of the Smith production. “It’s a very ambitious piece for her to do: ethnic-specific, huge cast, takes place outside the United States in 1981. A young director like Krystal should do it her way.”

Banzon, who has appeared as an actor in many Smith productions and as a member of the improvisational comedy troupe SIKOS, recently directed Silviana Wood’s And Where was Pancho Villa When You REALLY Needed Him? As a Kahn Institute Fellow, Banzon is currently conducting research on multicultural casting.

Dogeaters features an all-female cast of students from the five area colleges.

“Eveyone will get something out of this play,” says Hagedorn of Dogeaters. “As with any work of fiction or art, at some level, it has to stand on its own and tell human stories. I just hope they have a good time with it.”

Dogeaters tickets are $7 for the general public, $5 for students/seniors. Call 413-585-ARTS (2787).

11/28/06   Eric Sean Weld
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