Points of Departure: A One-Act Play

July 26th, 2009

Requirements:  2F, 2M.  All four characters are Filipinos and should be played by Filipinos and/or actors who can “pass” for Filipinos.

Setting:  The living room of a small apartment, somewhere in the suburbs of Manila.  Late afternoon, the present.

Theme:  The role which art plays in a society interested for the most part only in commerce.  Also, more obliquely, the symbiotic relationship which exists between the colonizers and the colonized (the termite analogy).

Notes:  Back in the mid-1960s in Manila, I was friendly with Jolico Cuadra and his wife Joan, the biracial daughter of Victorio Edades, an artist who had studied painting in the United States in the 1920s, who had married an American woman while he was abroad, and who had returned to the islands to become “The Father of Modern Art in the Philippines.”  I wrote a cover story about Edades for The Chronicle Magazine (see illustrations above) which delighted the elderly painter.  He took me into his studio and told me that I could have my pick of any one of his recent large paintings on lawanit (a local plywood). I was astonished by his generosity, but quickly selected a painting called “The Oyster Gatherer,” which showed a young native man in the moonlight, submerged up to his chest in dark waters and surrounded by bamboo poles.  Edades said it was a good choice, that it was in fact his own favorite among the lot, and so I became the proud owner of an Edades painting.

At that time, I lived with my parents in Manila, in the two-story house which my father had built at 731 Pina Avenue.  I had the entire upper floor of the house to myself, two spacious bedrooms with an adjoining bathroom.  I propped up the painting against the wall of one of the rooms, intending to get it framed later, and then I left for an extended boat trip to the southern island of Mindanao with Jolico and Joan.  Upon my return to Manila, I found the Edades painting missing.  According to my mother, shortly after I had left for my summer vacation, she discovered that the plywood which Edades had used for his painting was infested with termites. She said she had told my two younger brothers to get rid of the painting before the termites infested the rest of the house.  In their ingenuity, my two younger brothers “treated” the plywood to rid it of termites, and then they cut up the painting, using the wood to build a new roof for the doghouse.

My mother never understood my anger and horror over this incident.  She sat stone-faced through a production of the play in Los Angeles in the late 70s, and smiled benignly at the opening night cast party for the show, not knowing that I had told the cast and crew the truth about the events of the play. It was not until years later, after Edades had been named a “National Artist” by Imelda Marcos, and I told my mother what the painting might be worth now, had it not been destroyed, that she finally seemed to regret the fate of “The Oyster Gatherer.”  When Edades called and tried to borrow the painting for a retrospective of his work at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I could not tell him what happened.  I was afraid it would break his heart, and so I lied and said that the painting was not immediately accessible because it was “in our summer home up North, in Baguio.”  We’ve never had a summer home in Baguio.  Shortly after that, when Edades died, I brought up the subject of the painting yet again with my mother, telling her that it’s now probably doubled, tripled, quadrupled in value.  Art is of no consequence to her, but Money she understands.

History:  The play was produced by East West Players in Los Angeles, on a double-bill with a one-act play by another Asian-American playwright, Oct. 1977-March 1978.  Mako directed, and Alberto Isaac played the lead.  It was a good production.  I flew out for the last week of rehearsals, and attended the opening night festivities with my mother and my sister Debbie, who happened by some strange coincidence to be in Los Angeles at the time.  The play was subsequently produced by the Asian American Theatre Workshop in San Francisco, Mar. 16-Apr. 29, 1979.  That one was directed by Rodney Kageyama.  I frequently tell my playwriting students that I never thought it would be possible for a director and the actors in a play to consistently misread every single line in the play, until I attended the opening night performance of POINTS OF DEPARTURE in San Francisco.  The experience was excruciating.  I wasn’t terribly surprised when one of the reviewers said that the play was so bad, he wouldn’t even tell his readers who wrote it, and then proceeded gleefully to rip to pieces both the play and the production.

Availability:  Excerpts of the play were published in Bridge: An Asian American Perspective (New York:  Summer issue, 1977).  If anyone is interested, I will be happy to provide photocopies of the play in its entirety.

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