Silk Road Rising and Angel Island Theatre Company celebrated LGBT pride month with the debut performance of local playwright Danny Bernardo’s “Mahal,” with staged readings each day from June 8-10.
“Love is what makes the world,” Roberto Reyes says to his gay son Mikey in the performance. “You cannot deny love.”
Bernardo leaned back into his chair with fulfillment; hand over mouth he watched his characters come to life on stage in a sold-out Pierce Hall, in the historic Methodist Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.
“Mahal”–which is Tagalog for “love, expensive, costly” – enters a year-long refinement period as it has been picked up by Bailiwick Chicago to become its LGBT pride month centerpiece in 2013.
Bernardo’s story centers on the family of Roberto Reyes, played by Broadway-veteran Joseph Anthony Feronda and breaks ground as the first homegrown stage production featuring Filipino-American culture and identity. It also prominently highlights the intricate relationship between Reyes’ gay son, played by Erik Kaiko, and Asian Studies-doctoral candidate boyfriend Tim, portrayed by Cameron Johnson.
Gay motifs are woven into larger themes of family bonds suffering through loss –the death of the family matriarch — the development of new relationships across racial differences, accented by a family secret that threatens to tear it all apart.
“Being Filipino, being White, being Black, being gay are themes but they’re not problems to any of these characters,” Kate Garassino told Chicago Phoenix during a rehearsal break. “Danny wrote a story where the characters are actually OK with all that. Individual insecurities and the family secret are the real barriers in this story.”
Bernardo said he indeed wanted to write a story “like a Filipino ‘Death of a Salesman’ that has a 21st century American family where interracial and gay relationships are normal.”
When asked what inspired him to write “Mahal,” Bernardo said it began with the death of his father in June of last year.
“I just started writing my thoughts about him. It was really a healing exercise that ended up taking on a life of its own. It became a play that I casually mentioned to my friends and all of a sudden they were interested in seeing it produced.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Bernardo reminisced about taking the initiative at 10 years old to kickstart his own career in theatre.
“I called someone and I said ‘I want to be an actor.’ They told me I needed an agent so I asked, ‘Where do I get one?’”
Bernardo ended up studying at Columbia College Chicago and the American Conservatory Theater. He has flowed between acting roles to directing and producing. Silk Road Rising co-founder Jamil Khoury mentioned Bernardo is currently working on two new musicals and a digital comic book studio.
Also starring in the play are Emjoy Gavino as Kim, F. Karmann Bajuyo as Jun, Kate Black-Spence as Kendall, Bryson Engelen as Jackson, with Czerina Salud giving stage directions.
Greg Kolack directed Silk Road Rising’s staged readings while Brian Laduca will direct the 2013 Bailiwick production.