Friday, April 20, 2018

The Gangster of Love: ☼ ☼

The World Premiere of Jessica Hagedorn's "The Gangster of Love" has plenty of theatrical energy, an excellent ensemble of actors and a terrific set on which to operate. Act One sets up for a big Filipino finish. Unfortunately, Act Two is lengthy and disappointing. As a result, despite Loretta Greco's direction, normally spot-on in every detail, "Gangster" feels incomplete. There is woodshedding yet to do.

We loved the women in this cast. Golda Sargento plays Rocky Rivera opposite her mother Milagros, played by Sara Nina Hayon. Both actors are brilliant and bring us around the kitchen table, into the immigrant's life in San Francisco. Having left the Philippines to escape a broken marriage, Milagros is a status-seeking and upwardly mobile woman, consumed with having fine things to show off. She conveys contempt with the simple toss of an arm. Her daughter Rocky is more American than she knows. Sargento shows us Rocky's confusion as she attempts to navigate two very different worlds. Eventually, Rocky becomes caught up in the Haight Street arts world and is dazzled by her free-thinking friend Keiko, payed with grand flair by Dezi Soley.

Sean San Jose seems perhaps underutilized as a Filipino activist. Born in San Francisco and not speaking Tagalog, his story would be an interesting one. He also plays Uncle Marlon, the flamboyant uncle, who turns out to be one of our favorite characters.

We enjoyed Lawrence Radecker as Rick Fox, the clueless gringo, and also Chuck Lacson as Basilio Cruz, the well-meaning Uncle.

Oh, but Act Two. The poet falls into a bad crowd. The brother goes crazy. The mother tries hustle after hustle. The landlord sells out to a corporation. And so on. We have heard all this before and we are given little reason to identify with any of these characters.

After Act One we were excited. The Philippine exodus to America was interesting, and we waited for more. What we got was a morality play about life in the fast lane being dangerous. Someone goes crazy. Someone's band breaks up. Someone dies. The distinct Philippine flavor of Act one is forgotten.


The San Francisco Theater Blog gives The Magic Theatre's production of  "Gangster of Love" Two Stars. This is below the Mendoza Line for recommendations. (See Sidebar for explanation of ratings.) Remember, however, that this is a World Premiere. It will become tighter (and probably shorter) as the run continues.

As we write this, having not read Hagedorn's novel from which the play was taken, we find ourselves hoping we didn't miss a subtlety that the heavily-Filipino Opening Night crowd, who applauded enthusiastically at the curtain, might have understood. Perhaps this would explain Jimi Hendrix's wings which look like they were taken from the props room at Angels in America? And how landlord Zeke (Lance Gardner) could possibly fall so fast for the clearly-phony Milagros? And the bad-boy lover, Patrick Alparone, one of our favorite Bay Area actors...well, he didn't seem very bad. Just jive. Maybe this is the point.

"The Gangster of Love"
The Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center
San Francisco
Through May 6

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