New play in Chicago explores Fil-Am family resilience
CHICAGO — Filipino American community arts organization Circa Pintig is staging a story about Filipino American resilience.
In “Daryo’s All American Diner” by Conrad Panganiban, a Fil-Am family struggles to keep a family business open at the height of the pandemic. They survive a traumatic act of violence that leads to an act of grace.
Set in the fictional town of Lakeside, Illinois, 40 year old May is faced with the diner’s mounting expenses and the possibility of having to sell it. Her mother, April, and her African American surrogate aunt, Alberta, suffer racial hatred. How will they find a way to keep the business afloat while honoring the legacy the diner’s founder?
The play is presented as part of the group’s 32nd theater season and is directed by Luis Pascasio.
Cast includes Heather Jencks, Ginger Leopoldo, RJ Silva, Cary Shoda, Amanda Payne and KC Khan with music and sound design by Demetrio Maguigad and set design by Larry Leopoldo.
When Panganiban was approached by Circa Pintig to write a play that touched on anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) violence in America, he felt “it was a daunting task, but a welcome challenge.”
“I’ve been so fortunate to have written quite a few plays that revolve around social justice,” he says, referring to his plays “Esperanza Means Hope,” about domestic violence in the AAPI community and “Welga,” about Filipino American contributions to historical labor rights issues.
He wanted to use theater to unite communities and was inspired by a real experience. “There’s a cafe I frequent in Alameda, California, run by an Asian American family that serves classic ‘American’ diner food.
“The clientele is very diverse. Being in a small community, it was so encouraging to see how the customers interacted with the staff. That seed of imagining how these diners would react if one of the staff would be attacked and how a community can be united because of that act inspired the story of the play.”
Panganibans’ previous collaborations with Circa Pintig include “The Perfect American” in 2018, which was presented as part of the 100 Acts of Resistance Play Festival. “Prior to that, they produced an evening of my short plays in 2014.”
“It’s an honor to have already established a relationship with them where they trust me and my writing style of blending social justice, community building, humor, and family dynamics to take on this topic.”
It is important to Panganiban that audiences carry hopeful resolutions out of the theater and into their communities to share with friends and family. “Especially when it feels like much of the country, communities and even families are divided on so many subjects,” he says.
“As a playwright, it’s always a dream to be able to put my words into the bodies of amazing artists to show how hope for a better tomorrow can keep a person going, no matter how bleak things get.”
“I’d love for audiences to remember that each person has a voice. That if a person sees something wrong done, that they are capable of reaching out for help.”
“Daryo’s All American Diner” is staged in partnership with the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and is double billed with the ensemble’s production of “The Wasteland.”
Runs May 5-20. Auditorium of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster in Chicago. Visit circapintig.org,