Fil-Ams originate roles in ‘Young Americans’ world premiere
PORTLAND, Oregon — Filipino American actors Danny Bernardo and Marielle Young have the distinction of originating two roles in the world premiere of the play “Young Americans.”
Written by Lauren Yee and staged by Portland Center Stage, the play veers back and forth in time as it takes audiences on two road trips, traveling to and from Portland, 20 years apart, across two generations.
In one trip, immigrants Joe (played by Bernardo) and Jenny (played by Young) drive from the East Coast to Portland, trying to connect as a newly engaged couple. In the other trip, 20 years later, Joe and their adopted daughter, Lucy, set out on a similar cross-country adventure.
With some unexpected detours along the way, Joe and Jenny traverse the strange territory of their new country, while their daughter, Lucy, pieces together their bittersweet family history.
The Joe and Jenny characters were not written to have any specific country of origin, only that they are of the same heritage. “Lauren is such a gifted writer,” says Bernardo. “She’s made the experiences shared between the two characters so universal that it transcends many cultures and really connects with both the artists and the audience.”
“Because Marielle and I are Filipino American, that’s who Jenny and Joe are for the world premiere. We’re so blessed to be in a [rehearsal] room full of people from different backgrounds and are finding camaraderie in our shared experiences and the universality of the piece. And because both Lauren and our director Desdemona Chiang are very collaborative, we’ve infused a lot of Filipinoisms into the piece.”
Young has recently been in the world premiere of Laura Gunderson’s “The Book of Will.” Other credits include “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them” by Fil-Am playwright A. Rey Pamatmat, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
The pair expressed excitement at the opportunity to create never before seen characters from scratch. “I love the generous collaboration of developing new plays! The audience has no roadmap for what to think of this character, and that’s a cool opportunity,” says Young.
“It’s been thrilling to refine who Jenny is with our director and playwright in the rehearsal room. Then for me to add a piece of my individuality and experiences to the mix. Lauren’s writing addresses some juicy questions through these three compelling relationships. The dialogue is also just really, really funny,” she adds.
Bernardo says, “Working on a new piece is always very exciting. There’s an extreme amount of trust between the writer and the actor. As an actor, you really want to honor what the writer has given you to the best of your ability. The writer wants to make sure they’re supporting you enough in the text while giving you space to explore.”
“There’s an amazing fusion where the character is being breathed into existence by two people while being shaped by the director. You have an ongoing collaboration and conversation with the writer. Your input in the core of the character is integral. That’s just something you don’t get working with an established character. It’s an honor and somewhat terrifying at the same time. You want to get it ‘right’ but by just trusting yourself and the writer, you are right,” he says.
Both actors have been drawing from personal experiences and relationships to help build and shape their characters.
“I’m very blessed to be playing Joe,” says Bernardo. “I know him very well in my father, my Kuya Roger, and the prolific actor Joseph Anthony Foronda, all of whom I’m drawing inspiration from in creating this role.”
Young says “This play means a lot to me because it very closely resembles my mom’s immigration story coming from the Philippines with lots of hope, weighty familial expectations, and having the essence of being a wanderer who seizes every moment.”
Young Americans begins preview performances on Feb. 11, opens on Feb. 17. Visit Pcs.org/young-americans.