THE SOCIO-cultural disarray of Filipinos living abroad and their attempts to recompose their tattered lives as a means of survival are the focus of Ménage Filipinescas: A Play in Three Acts (UST Publishing House, 2008).

In the hands of Paulino Lim, Jr., an acclaimed fictionist and writer, the migrant Filipino phenomenon is presented not so much as a breaking down of old ways as the emergence of new relationships.

Lim himself knows whereof he speaks. A Varsitarian Literary writer of the 1950’s, he earned both his bachelor’s degree in Education and master’s in English at the University of Santo Tomas, and later migrated to the United States, where he married, raised a family, and became a respected professor of English at the California State University. Although retired, he continues to handle writing and education classes in the university.

The play revolves around the life of Melissa, a Filipina in her 30s, who lives in a condominium in Southern California with her husband Richard, whom she met via e-mail. Richard is an American professor who must face colleagues pressuring him to resign.

Conflict unfolds when Melissa tries to balance her three-year-old marriage with raising Nena, her 10-year-old daughter in Manila whom Richard knows nothing of.

The plot thickens even more when Eddy, Nena’s father, comes to Melissa for work after losing his job in Japan as “a part-time entertainer dressed as a woman at a nightclub.”

Fortunately for Eddy, living right next door is Melissa’s Irish friend and co-writer for a Filipino-Irish cookbook, Sheila, who is looking someone to rent the rear of her condo and help her with the chores.

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Lim’s grasp of the play as an imitation of human action and thought leaves no uneven corners as each scene and each act logically rises to a dramatic yet unpredictable close.

For when the four finally converge at such a close proximity to each other, with nothing dividing the resulting worlds but a wall, the play articulates the unspeakable melancholy-cum-contentment that often follows compromise.

Perhaps one of the most perplexing, if not heart-wrenching, scenes of the play comes when Melissa descends the stairs, clad in a richly embroidered kimono that Eddy brought for her, and in the living room performs a striptease for Richard.

Some lines, which may seem passé, are given new life by assigning them fresh contexts. An example is in Lim’s use of the words “I love you” in the third scene of the third act wherein Eddy and Melissa get intimate at the dinner table.

Melissa explains to Eddy that she does not want to destroy the new relationships that she has made: “We’ve told lies to people and they believe what we tell them… I can’t stand to lose their trust.” Eddy asks “What about me?” Melissa answers, just before giving in to tears, “I loved you once.”

On the whole, Ménage Filipinescas’ brilliance springs from its openness to interpretation, whether by intimate reading or by being fully realized as a dramatic spectacle. It is hoped that it achieves its full potential by being mounted as a total drama on stage. Roman Carlo R. Loveria

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