Helltown Buffet review by KUCI's Keith Dillon

Review from Keith Dillon's broadcast at KUCI

Helltown Buffet, September 12th through October 18th, 2008.
A production of Rude Guerrilla Theatre, 202 N. Broadway in Santa Ana, Ca.
For tickets and information, call 714-547-4688 or log on to rudeguerrilla.org.

Halloween is here again. You can tell that by the plays being offered at the local theatres right now. Take, for example, Aurelio Locsin’s Helltown Buffet, currently running at the Rude Guerrilla Theatre in Santa Ana. Helltown Buffet is a tale involving a bitched-out succubus and her cruel-hearted demon assistant, an inept wannabe whose tendency towards romantic entanglements keeps him one horn short of full demonhood, a flamboyant coiffeur who cares not where he goes after death as long as he can dress people’s hair and an unassuming young Filipino-American boy who opens the local Hometown Buffet to murder in the name of love.

The first act of Helltown Buffet is as campy as they come. Long time Rude Guerrilla company member Aurelio Locsin gives us a first act that is a silly tale of demons and blood and epicurism. Much of it feels fairly routine, although the bit about making a buffet out of Hometown Buffet patrons is fascinating.

In Act Two, however, the play becomes beautiful. Mr. Locsin’s second act is spiced with Filipino culture. Upon his death, the play’s protagonist, Benjie, is sent to the Filipino sector of Purgatory. Mr. Locsin’s purgatory is racially segregated as it turns out. Act Two introduces traditional dances punctuated by jokes about life in America as a Filipino and funny little object lessons about the history of the Filipines. Benjie is brought back to the history that bore him. Even if he wanted to, Benjie simply cannot escape that history. His history, in fact, saves Benjie from his demon lover Paco who after all is still a demon, despite the sincerity of his affection.

Don’t kid yourself; Helltown Buffet at its roots is nothing more than Halloween camp. There is nothing profound about this play. Even as camp, it’s still a little too broad, a little too underdeveloped. The introduction of Benjie’s cultural history into the second act, however, makes it worth the ticket. I might add that on the night I came, several folks in the audience seemed to enjoy themselves throughout; all I can do is write my reactions. Anyway, the production is directed by Mr. Locsin himself; it is light-hearted and fleet of foot.

Especially notable among the cast is Alexander Price as the Etienne the hairdresser. Mr. Price plays his over-the-top hairdresser with enough wit and joy to keep his audience near tears throughout his entire performance. His explanation of the gates of purgatory is uproarious. Trina Estanislao’s Spirit is so disorientingly clueless that just about every line she speaks is a laugh line. Ms. Estanislao also dances her simple cultural dances with authority and affection. Ashley Jo Navarro is appropriately air-headed as Cloud. As Madame Loveless, Maggie Zamora is just a little too nice; Maggie, think Vanessa Williams from Ugly Betty. Rick Kopps, on the other hand, plays her assistant Grom with moustache-twirling joy. David Tran is cute as Benjie, whereas Brian Chayane Salero seems out of place as Paco Johnson.

The production is fleet of foot, requiring few sets. With the exception of a curtain running upstage of the action, the sets are walk-on units like palm trees, desks and such. The decorative items deliberately look like something from a nightmare Junior Prom. The sets are uncredited. Ryan Joyner’s lights are occasionally funny, especially at places like the gates of purgatory. Sarah Boros’ costumes are an interesting blend of Hometown Buffet uniforms, leather and traditional Filipino wear. The dances are choreographed with great care by Lee Samuel Tanng and the fights Jami McCoy are well done. Camp is the taste on Halloween. Helltown Buffet is very much to that taste, but author Aurelio Locsin has both the courage and the foresight to lace his show with his own traditions. Those traditions make Act Two a thing of authentic charm.