MISS ORIENT(ED) by Nina Aquino and Nadine Villasin, directed by Guillermo Verdecchia, with Aquino, Villasin, Marie V. Cruz, Christina Florencio and Fely Villasin. Presented by Carlos Bulosan Theatre at the Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to June 8, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$20, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Who's the ideal Filipina Canadian? Miss Orient(ed), a charming winner of a play by Nina Aquino and Nadine Villasin, uses the campy conventions of beauty pageants to examine tough themes like racism, assimilation and ambition in an immigrant society.Set at a mock pageant and hosted with note-perfect false sincerity by a former pageant winner called The Beauty Icon (Marie V. Cruz), the show pits three very different women of Filipino background against each other to parade around in gowns, display their questionable talents (karaoke, anyone?) and deliver answers about world peace they've rehearsed to death.
Along the way, we're treated to a slide show about famous Filipinas of the past - everyone from Miss Universe and Ms. Marcos to the original Miss Saigon - as well as not-so-famous Filipinas swept under the carpet, like immigrant nannies.
The show's at its best, and darkest, when it subverts pageant conventions. A psychological evaluation looks at self-esteem and internalized racism; a bad folk dance number sends up all the earnest numbers we've all sat through dutifully; and a segment on beauty tips cynically tells us how to dye black hair blond.
Director Guillermo Verdecchia expertly modulates the tone between broad comedy and more restrained - and occasionally moving - social satire. He also gets nuanced performances from the three women (Aquino, Villasin and Christina Florencio) who represent different types of young womanhood.
Some themes are hit repeatedly, and there should be more sharpness in the writing for Fely Villasin's various mothers. But for sheer bitchy fun and a thoughtful commentary on the universal race to fit in, you can't beat Miss Orient(ed).