tot: The Untold Yet Spectacular Story Of A Filipino Hulk Hogan by Mu Performing Arts performing at Park Square Theatre

Mu Performing Arts presents: tot: THE UNTOLD, YET SPECTACULAR STORY OF (a filipino) HULK HOGAN Written by Victor Maog and directed by Randy Reyes. Photo by Keri Pickett

Mu Performing Arts presents: tot: THE UNTOLD, YET SPECTACULAR STORY OF (a filipino) HULK HOGAN
Written by Victor Maog and directed by Randy Reyes.
Photo by Keri Pickett

Despite its extravagant titling, tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (A Filipino) Hulk Hogan, a Mu Performing Arts world premiere running at Park Square through June 26, is a humble tale. Telling the story of a wrestling-obsessed young boy coming to California from his beloved homeland of the Philippines, the show (penned by Victor Maog) explores the pains that result from the dissonance between expectation and reality in the immigrant experience. To many who come seeking glory and riches, America so readily promises everything and so rarely obliges.

tot follows the title character, a nine-year-old boy growing up in humble circumstances in the Philippines with his grandmother, Lola (portrayed with warmth by Mary Ann Prado). He is summoned to the United States by his parents after an eight-year separation (and an infinity of time to someone that young). There, he discovers that he has a younger sister (Stephanie Bertumen), and that life in the promised land isn’t so promising—for himself or for his parents. His father (Eric “Pogi” Sumangil) is an impossible dreamer, unable to hold a job and at least verbally abusive towards his wife, and his mother (Hope Nordquist) supports the family working two jobs and sending money back to the homeland while unable to pay the electric bill. tot must navigate the new surroundings and figure out how to relate to his parents who have never known him and struggle to understand his frustrations and outbursts.

The show is anchored by director and leading actor Randy Reyes, who aptly embodies the fidgety movements of a young child while providing a believable sense of longing. This character’s interactions with his new realities are juxtaposed with a parallel depiction of over-the-top wrestling figures that mirror his observations as he processes his new life. This dual narrative structure initially lacks cohesiveness, but finds its footing as it progresses. What for much of the show feels digressive, and at times grating, eventually comes to underline the show’s themes.

But while those themes are important and interesting, many of the characters feel like caricatures, too broadly drawn to elicit a significant emotional response. This despite the show being principally downbeat and melancholic, marked only sporadically with comedy. Further, the fractured pacing, which jumps between past, present, daydream, and memory, is too jumbled to maintain an engaging momentum, often missing emotional punches when they are mustered.

tot‘s set design, while conceptually clever, is a bit problematic. The stage is built to resemble a wrestling ring, complete with ropes and a descending microphone, but the center of the design is sunken and many times hides the movements of the actors. The center being lowered also creates awkward, cluttered compositions. It does at times succeed in portraying the young Tot in a world that seems to bear down on him with weighty expectations, but it ultimately lacks the visual flair it needs.

All this is not to say that tot is not worthwhile. Though messy, it is commendable for tackling topics that are uncomfortable for many and vital to American identity. Many of the themes presented and explored in the show hit fairly well-tuned notes and highlight a few of the subtler realities one rarely thinks about. Assimilation and acceptance are hard to achieve for many immigrants, and this is amplified in the lives of children, who more openly state their disgust with unfamiliar cultures and ideas—ridiculing those that are different directly. tot also explores how the dreams and hopes of those who care most for us can suffocate who we are and what we dream about. While mother slaves and father berates, tot imagines and tells his own story.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

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