My dear friend and playwriting hero Boni Alvarez is back at it, taking Los Angeles theatre by storm with his new play AMERICA ADJACENT, playing at Skylight Theatre. The run, helmed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, has been selling out, so get tickets if you can. This is one hot play.
For tickets and info visit Skylighttheatre.org/event/america-adjacent
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Boni, tell us about the impetus for AMERICA ADJACENT.
Boni Alvarez (BA): I read an article years ago about a Chinese birthing house getting raided in the San Gabriel Valley. The descriptions of the living conditions, the women participating, the Stateside operation, it was all so vivid. It made me question – why? Why would these Chinese women – women of means – endure these conditions, all in the name of birthing a U.S. citizen? I re-imagined the situation with Filipina women.
RQM: One room, six Filipina women. Diyos ko! That's the perfect hotbed for drama. What's it like for six women, particularly six Filipina women?
BA: They have a common bond with their shared goal, but they are a very diverse group of women. Some are married, some not. They come from different areas of the Philippines. They travel in different social circles. They're experiencing the discomforts of pregnancy, of being in a confined space, of being far from home. Drama ensues.
RQM: This project is a confluence of quite a few longstanding relationships: you're a resident playwright at Skylight; you've collaborated with Jon Lawrence Rivera many times before; and – correct me if I'm wrong – some of the members of your cast have been in other projects before. How have these relationships influenced your work and your process?
BA: The folks at Skylight have always championed my voice as a playwright. I've written four plays in the Playwrights' Lab, so it's a fertile community for me. Jon has been a champion of my work since I graduated from USC. There's an ease in our collaborations – we speak a similar language and we really enjoy each other. In terms of actors I work with repeatedly, I am drawn to them because they understand my storytelling. This is the second play I've had Evie Abat in and my third with Sandy Velasco. There's comfort in knowing that an actor will come through both professionally and artistically. But I love meeting new actors also. I think my plays tend to have bigger casts because I feel a responsibility to write for more actors, especially Filipino ones.
RQM: Okay, now a big question. How is the “American Dream” packaged for Filipinx people abroad and how is the reality so terribly different when they get to the States? As a fellow Filipinx playwright (my mother came to the US in 1980) I am interested in hearing your take on this cultural dichotomy.
BA: When I would visit the Philippines as a child, I got the sense that relatives believed that money grew on trees in the States, that all you had to do was get here and all would be golden.
But most immigrants know that's not true. You have to work hard to scratch out a living here, but working hard and being able to pay your rent – I don't think that's the ‘dream'. That's just simple existence – we haven't even touched on other elements like racism and xenophobia and how that factors into culture shock and colors the ‘dream'.
RQM: We know you STAY writing, Boni. That's one of the many things we love about you. What are you working on now?
BA: Working on a new political play Emmylu in the Skylight Lab. Revising my WWII play Refuge for a Purple Heart set in the Philippines – a love story between a Jewish Austrian refugee and a Filipino boy. And finishing up a half-hour pilot, a dramedy.