Fringe review: Through The Bamboo

THROUGH THE BAMBOO by Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos (Uwi Collective). At Factory Theatre Mainspace. July 7 & 13 at 6:15 pm, July 8 at 7 pm, July 11 at 2:30 pm, July 13 at 6:15 pm, July 14 at noon. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Through The Bamboo is a touching and high-energy trip through Philippine mythology with both specific cultural touchstones and a universal message that will please any Fringe crowd or any crowd, really.

Written by husband-and-wife team Byron Abalos and Andrea Mapili (who are expecting their first child in just a few weeks), the family-friendly play opens with 12-year-old Philly (Angela Rosete) mourning her late Lola (grandmother) while distant family picks through her possessions. After opening a book containing a story she’d often been told and trying on her grandmother’s malong, Philly is transported, Wizard Of Oz-style, into the fantastical land of Uwi where she and her family become intertwined in foundational myths.

The story, which contains magic, evil sisters, a merman and a baby cyclops, among other creatures, is cleverly brought to life through the props in the boxes of Lola’s possessions, which are all things you might find at a dollar store: pool noodles, wooden fans, lamps, pillows and plants. Under the direction of Factory Theatre’s Nina Lee Aquino, the action progresses at a breakneck pace and the performances are sometimes broad and over-the-top. But it’s grounded by standout performances by the teenaged Rosete and an emotionally moving Carolyn Fe, who plays Lola.

There’s added dimension for Filipinx audience members who might appreciate the cultural references and bits of Tagalog music and dialogue, but ultimately it’s a story about loss, grieving, the importance of family and the strength of storytelling. It culminates in a tender climax that, at the performance I went to, had people all around me openly crying and still misty-eyed during a rapturous standing ovation.

An immediate hit.


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