Written by Filipina-New Zealand playwright Marianne Infante, PINAY follows the journey of a family who leave the Philippines to travel to Christchurch in 1999 to begin a new life. Hardworking migrant parents, young children who are immersed into life in Aotearoa – there are plenty of familiar events in the journey of settling down and settling into life in Ōtautahi, Aotearoa.
However, this story, like every story, is different. The strength of the show is not just in the excellent cast assembled, the strong production values or the evocative writing – but also in the cumulative effect of the rich and nuanced specificity of Filipino culture. Over the course of an hour and a half, we watch Alex (Marianne Infante) become best buddies with a young Māori boy (Matiu Hamuera), fall in love with a Pākeha boy Seth (Lucas Haugh) and navigate her way through the emotional and cultural minefield of Filipino parental expectations.
It’s tempting to focus on a coming-of-age narrative but Infante’s writing, Ahi Karunaharan’s dramaturgy and director James Roque’s light but deliberate touch emphasize the deep and heartfelt emotional tensions of a mother-daughter relationship. Infante shows a wide array of personalities from petulant child to innocent teenager to rebellious young adult. Her lightning quick changes are matched by Donna Dacuno who quietly steals the show with an impeccable performance of the protective mother desperate for her daughter to avoid repeating historical mistakes. Marwin Silerio and Richard Perillo (playing Alex’s older brother and father respectively) are also in equal measure beautifully sculpted characters offering touching and poignant additions to the narrative. Hamuera and Haugh round off the team with strong and individual performances that steer the work firmly away from cliché and set the story firmly on this whenua.
Tagalong and Te Reo Māori are liberally used throughout the production and in particular the range of waiata (from traditional hymns to karaoke favourites) add a distinctively Filipino quality to a world that consciously acknowledges Te Ao Māori. The complementary lighting and sound design and the quick and easily maneuverable set also ensure the drama is well-paced and although it’s a tad long, PINAY never fails to keep our attention riveted on its storytellers.
To the creative team who has brought us this inaugural production: Maraming salamat po. May there be many more.