Fil-Am actor recalls life’s joys in Pulitzer winner’s play
NEW YORK — Filipino American actor Orville Mendoza will be playing several characters in Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Plays for the Plague Year” at the Public Theatre.
Part play and part concert, the work is the culmination of Parks’ project of writing a play or song a day throughout the pandemic lockdown. The show features of her efforts.
“It’s an homage, a love letter and a reclaiming of our lives during the years of 2020 to 2021,” explains Mendoza. “It’s not all sad. There are lots of laughs too. The most beautiful thing is it feels like a ceremony where we are together collectively sharing in the madness and human comedy that we all lived through.”
Mendoza plays gay rights activist Larry Kramer, U.S. representative John Lewis and a musician named Bob, among others. “All of the characters are based on actual people, some famous and some personal to the playwright,” he says.
The show premiered last year and returns to the stage this spring. Mendoza has been able to receive feedback from audiences. “Some have called it cathartic and a catalyst for them to be able to address and move on from those events or to come to a deeper understanding of our lives during that time. But mainly it’s a vehicle that gets us closer to real reconnection and hopefully celebration of our resiliency and compassion for one another.”
Born in the Philippines, Mendoza moved to the U.S. when he was two years old and grew up in southern California. “Performing was always part of my life and I would sing solo or with my family for church.”
His entry to acting began when he was recruited to perform as Isaac, who is to be sacrificed by his father to God. “An angel swoops in and stops the whole affair. It was very dramatic. I just had to lay there but I loved imagining myself as someone else in extraordinary circumstances.”
Mendoza has worked extensively with East West Players in Los Angeles, appearing in “Sweeney Todd” in the lead role, “Into the Woods” and “Pacific Overtures.” He played the Engineer in the second national tour of “Miss Saigon.” Broadway credits include “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
Mendoza says that the show has taught him what is really important in life. “Friends and family. People in general. I play a character in one of the plays that deals directly with the loss of community in the pandemic. The loss of his entire world.
“We go on grinding through life always pursuing bigger projects, more money or more recognition. The play and the pandemic itself taught me to look at what I already have, things that I take for granted, and realize that I already have everything I need to be happy and fulfilled. Life truly is a journey and not a destination. The joy is the journey.”
Food and memories
The show will be performed at Joe’s Pub, the Public Theatre’s cabaret venue that has tables, booths and stools at bar tops where food and beverage is available throughout the performance.
Food also played a part in Mendoza’s pandemic coping response. “I totally fell into the sourdough baking fad! My good friend, actor-director Alan Muraoka, started a group where we all do the same recipe and share our results on social media. It was so much fun learning new baking skills. Now we do a recipe a month.
Baking does run in my family. “My dad learned to make homemade pan de sal as a student at Philippine Union College. He made thousands of pan de sal over the years. He had his own recipe and really didn’t measure anything precisely, just went by feel. They always came out perfectly soft and pillowy. You could never ever eat just one. My dad passed away last year and every time I bake, I feel like he’s with me again.”
“Plays for the Plague Year” runs April 5-30, 2023. Visit Publictheater.org.