Temple of My Familiar

Amy Danielson

It is a few minutes prior to the start of Theater Mu’s production of Temple of Dreams, and the audience, including myself and my companion, numbers ten. Initially, I am astonished at how few people are in attendance. And then, due to the miniscule amount of sound produced by such a small crowd, my friend and I can detect faint giggles emerging from backstage. The sound of laughter is unexpected, and we discuss it: Is this nervous laughter? Are the cast and crew suppressing what could be uproarious risibility? Whatever the case may be, we giggle a response, encouraged by our attempts to recreate in our minds what must be going on behind the curtainñwe imagine ridiculous costuming mishaps, backstage blunders, and pre-show joke sessions to ease the tension of nervous performers.

Opening night, pre-production mirth aside, Temple of Dreams doesn’t offer much silliness. Instead, it is quite intense. Playwright Marcus Quiniones was inspired to write this play based on his travels to the Philippines to visit his father’s birthplace. While there, he learned more about his father than he ever expected. In the play, Quiniones’ alter ego, named Salazar and played by the playwright, travels to Hawaii for his father’s funeral. He reads an old journal belonging to his father, found in a chest full of capes, uniforms and medalsñremnants from his father’s days as a member of the Filipino Association of America.

Quiniones dances meditatively as he reads the father’s journal, symbolizing a passage through time as he becomes the author of the journal, named Edmundo. In a quick scene change, Quiniones transforms into a young Edmundo, in the Philippines, now planting rice. Two workers sit on the floor clacking bamboo sticks together. Other workers dance and jump in between the sticks, keeping rhythm as the sticks move apart and come together again. In unison the workers sing: “Planting rice / always work / never play / in the earth.”

 

Bamboo is a key prop in another scene. Edmundo is in the belly of a steamship on its way to Hawaii. An ensemble of actors moves side to side across the stage mimicking the swaying movement of a ship. As they do so, they manipulate bamboo sticks. Edmundo rests atop a branch as two actors move him about. In the background, we hear the otherworldy moan of a dijiridoo.

On the island of Hawaii, Edmundo discovers the workman’s clubhouse. A fellow worker tells him, “You’re 15, you should be drinking like a man already.” But Edmundo is interested in the work of Maestro Mondantez, a leader of the Filipino Association of America. He aspires to bring independence to the Filipinos in Hawaii.

Mondantez is also master of the Doce Pares (Twelve Pairs)ñan organization of the traditional Philippine martial art of Eskrima (stick fighting). The name refers to the twelve basic strikes and twelve defenses used in Eskrima. Similarly, in the Filipino Association of America, Mondantez teaches the language of numbers as they represent a greater truth: 1. Spirit; 2. Humanity; 3. Trinity; etc. And as he teaches, his followers recite, “I am a spiritual master.”

“What is morality?” Edmundo asks after his indoctrination into the Doce Pares. “Man is God’s instrument to perpetuate the great light.” He’s reading from pamphlets given to him by his master while encouraging his peers to believe as enthusiastically as he does. One of his fellow workers, Jose, adamantly despises the association. He shows his distaste by cutting a rooster’s throat and sadistically shaking the blood over the ground in a symbolic ritual. He begs Edmundo to listen to him, but his violent tactic contradicts the association’s philosophy.

The play is about self-discovery as much as it is about history. As he reads through his father’s journal, Salazar finds peace, despite uncovering disturbing family secrets. A tree dominates the set, a potent symbol of the Salazar’s winding experiences, as well as his rootedness. The tree guides him, and Salazar is often seen caressing its gnarled bark while engrossed in the journal.

The play’s use of dance, music and poetry reinforce the story by indicating the characters’ emotions. Alone onstage during sequences at the beginning and end of the play, Quiniones dances to a recorded monologue which expresses a search for an inner truth. An apt metaphor for the play, where seeking truth itself becomes a winding, unexpected dance.

 

Temple of Dreams plays through April 28 at Intermedia Arts, (612) 871-4444.

 

Amy Danielson accepts comments at [email protected].