“Isla Tuliro” is the kind of show not often seen on Twin Cities stages — a bright-colored trilingual work that combines story theater with Filipino folk tales and a court pageant, all guided by a narrator in regal headdress.
The play, by Marlina Gonzalez, premiered over the weekend at the Southern Theater. Codirected by Gonzalez and Meena Natarajan and performed by a large cast in a simple, straightforward manner, “Isla” provides a charming window into Filipino cultural practices that not only survived conquest but, in some cases, own the new culture.
This coproduction by Pangea World Theater and Teatro del Pueblo bridges the divides between Asian and Latin cultures. “Isla” draws freely from various theatrical traditions, combining Indonesian shadow puppetry (created by Masanari Kawahara) and traditional Singkil bamboo dance with Brechtian theater and Brazil’s theater of the oppressed.
The contours of the narrative are actually quite familiar for parts of the world that have been subject to invasion and conquest. The idyllic lifestyle of a warm, welcoming island people known as the Kayumanggi is disrupted by the arrival of rude outsiders who want to impose their beliefs and culture.
At first, the islanders don’t appreciate the strength of the outsiders, and think of them as harmless jokes. That’s partly because of words in their differing languages that sound alike but have polar meanings — the way “si” means yes in Spanish but sounds like “sea.”
The islanders overcome the confusion and learn to live with their new overlords, speaking Tagalog, Spanish and English, sometimes in the same breath.
The action is narrated by Lita Malicsi — a pillar of the Filipino-American community in the Twin Cities — who is escorted by two attendants played by Mary Ann Prado and Mar Alojado. She literally is holding court as they fan her and help her keep her cool, even as the attendants playfully amplify or undermine whatever she says.
The court imagery, while comic, honors a people whose wit and sophistication we rarely see onstage.