In the global conflict known as World War II, the most devastating effects were felt in Europe and Asia. In Asia, the Japanese Empire brutalized China and Korea, as well as South East Asia and the Pacific Islands, most significantly, the Philippines. There, nearly one million Filipinos were cruelly slain by the Japanese forces, of which 900,000 were civilians. In Felix Racelis’ play, As Straw before the Wind, now in production at the Complex’s Ruby Theatre, the devastating effects of the cruel Japanese occupation of the Philippines with its wanton campaign of slaughter, rape and cruelty, haunt the main character.
The story is set in a small, struggling convalescent home in the San Gabriel Valley in 1993, operated by nurse-practitioner Nene Santos (Tita Pambid) and her daughter Pilita (Sarnica Lim). One of her patients is an irascible, elderly Filipino veteran, Poncing Enrile (Muni Zano), an old horn dog who likes to leer at young Pilita as he pinches her bottom. Another patient, Mildred Novak (Anita Borcia), a sweet old lady in the throes of mild dementia, likes to sneak a smoke, which is against the rules.
Nurse Nene is beset by problems. She needs to expand her business, but has a hard time securing a loan. Her frustrated daughter wants a life of her own and plans to marry a man with four children. When she tells Poncing that he must share his room when a new patient arrives, the old warrior lashes out, striking with his cane. In the midst of all this stress, Nene has recurring flashbacks of her childhood misery under the Japanese who slew her parents, burned her home and raped her.
Certainly, the story of the lasting effects of the trauma of war on survivors is a worthy theme that has been dramatically explored many times; a play focusing on the Filipino experience is a welcome addition. But this production of As Straw before the Wind is fraught with problems that undermine the message. It begins with the script itself, which is often repetitious with characters that are thinly drawn and are, for the most part, unsympathetic, save for the minor character Mr. Martinez (amiable Gabriel Garcia).
Under the direction of Lesley Asistio, the glacial pacing of the show does not allow the actors to achieve momentum. It does not help that scene changes are frequent, awkward and lengthy. To be fair, the show suffers on the tiny stage at the Ruby Theatre, which is entirely too small for the requirements of this play.
As Straw before the Wind continues through September 4 at the Ruby Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.