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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Theatre review: Homecoming will move and amuse

Ten years in the making and inspired by playwright Kamila Sediego’s personal experience as a Filipinx-Canadian immigrant, Homecoming will resonate with anyone forced to face change, whether by their own choices or those of others. 

On Friday night, Homecoming, a brand new play by Kamila Sediego, enjoyed its world premiere at the Cultch’s final presentation in its 7th Annual Femme Festival at the Historic Theatre. Ten years in the making and inspired by Sediego’s personal experience as a Filipinx-Canadian immigrant, it will resonate with anyone forced to face change, whether by their own choices or those of others.

This play’s premise of the challenges faced by an immigrant and those who remain when a loved one leaves their country, language and culture may not be new, but it still provides much food for thought. It can also apply to those who have simply left their hometown and local customs, and it will doubtless echo many of the experiences of our First Nations. Such challenges run deep and can be traumatic, even toxic, as is the case in this play.

Homecoming opens in Canada when ten-year-old Ana, played convincingly by Rhea Casido, pens a letter to her estranged family back home in the Philippines. It’s filled with innocent questions about their lives from a young Canadian’s perspective. When she’s finished a full page, Ana folds it into an airplane shape and shoots it across the stage as if it’s crossing the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the action, paper planes fly back and forth between Canada and the Philippines in a whimsical dance created by director Hazel Venzon.

As scenes unfold non-sequentially, it soon becomes clear that Ana’s mother, Tess, travels between her childhood Filipino home with her younger sister Vicky and mother Eleanora and her adult life in Canada, where she struggles as a nurse and single mom.

Eleanora, the mother, played with a well-timed sense of comedy by Aura Carcueva, teaches her young daughters how to descale and gut fish while schooling them in the hard facts of life. “Do your best, whether or not anyone is watching, and never give up!” she repeats.

Tess, charmingly portrayed by Filipina-Canadian Carmela Sison, breaks her promise to return to the Philippines after two years of training as a nurse in Canada. Instead, she arrives home thirty years later and finds her much-beloved mother ready for burial and her sister angry at her for abandoning her family to live a mistakenly perceived life of luxury in the West.

As the play progresses, Sediego compares the two cultures with humorous examples. For instance, Lissa Neptuno, as a work-weary Vicky, makes a meal, in every sense, of hauling a full-sized dead pig created by props master Cearamarie Noreen Sajolan, complete with blood and entrails, to prepare it for a meal to be shared by the entire extended family. By contrast, Ana touches the trunk of an adaptable tree designed by David Oro, and it beeps into action as a microwave so she can heat her solo Kraft dinner.

There is room for more of this whimsy. Perhaps the butterflies often mentioned in association with death could manifest in coloured tissue paper and fly like airplanes or light up the tree to celebrate differences and lighten the sadness.

Ultimately, Homecoming is guaranteed to move, amuse and leave audiences wanting to pause, think and possibly begin to recover from the traumas associated with seeking a better life or being one of those striving to thrive in the culture that they’ve always known.

Homecoming by Kamila Sediego. Directed by Hazel Venzon. An Urban Ink Production presented by The Cultch as part of its 2024 Femme Festival. On stage at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until May 12. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.

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