MAHAL shows cost of the American Dream

Mon. July 1, 2013 12:00 AM
by Michael J. Roberts

From the moment the lights go up on the World Premiere of Bailiwick's Mahal by resident playwright Danny Bernardo, there is something instantly engaging about this transplanted family from the Philippines and the cultural divide that almost shatters their relationships. Bernardo's story takes us through the generational differences of the Reyes family, whose patriarch transplants his family to America in the hopes of a better life for his children. Each sibling, approximately born a decade apart, has their own internal struggles in filtering and balancing the American way of life while coping with the loss of their mother, who by all counts, was the foundation of this family unit.

This is a family on the verge of collapse and through Erica Weiss' precise and passionate direction, you are at all times invested at the outcome of Reyes'. And what a ride they take you on. The youngest, Mikey (Kevin Matthew Reyes in a standout performance) is dealing with bonding issues via his new boyfriend Tim (the affable Patrick Byrnes), whom he met on Grindr; Mari (played to perfection by Kate Garassino), is the attorney sister who has taken it upon herself to keep the family together; Roberto, Jr. (Karmann Bajuyo), the eldest sibling who is caught in-between two cultures and doesn't quite fit into either; Roberto (Joseph Anthony Foronda, who keeps proving he is one of our finest actors), is the father who is as misunderstood as he is misogynistic; then there is Kim (played by Jillian Jocson in a truly heartfelt performance), the imported girlfriend of Roberto, Jr., who has an agenda of her own and finally Kendall (the sensational Blair Robertson) who gets thrown into the malay of the Reyes family, with hilarious results.

Through Mr. Bernardo's script, the Reyes family is given an honest portrait of the struggles of being a product of two cultures. From the patriarch (and Mr. Foronda's brilliant portrayal) we get to understand what people have to give up in order for others to survive and succeed, though that choice may be difficult to understand at first glance. It is in the comedy of Mahal that we are able to better digest the selfishness of each of these characters, and by doing that, we are then able to better identify with the Reyes'. The payoff is the final scene between a father and his youngest boy, one which will leave you in tears because of the truth that comes out from the actors and the playwright.

Mahal is also helped along by Stephen H. Carmody's highly functional and pleasing set design which allows the many scene transitions to occur a seamlessly. There is still some streamlining that needs to be done with the script, especially in the second act, but as a first outing, this is certainly on of the best new works about culture and family to come along in recent memory. In the end,Mahal ends up not so much a story about cultural differences but rather the universal sameness of the love and acceptance we are each yearning for in our own journey with family. For that is what Mr. Bernardo has make palpable in this entrancing new work.

Mahal runs through August 2, 2013 at Stage 773 ,1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. Regular run: Monday, July 1 – Friday, August 2, 2013; Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Please note: There will not be a performance on Saturday, June 29 at 8 pm, Sunday, June 30 at 2 pm or Thursday, July 4 at 8 pm. There will be special Industry Night performances on Monday, July 1 and Monday, July 15 at 7:30 pm and an added Saturday matinee on Saturday, July 27 at 3 pm. Tickets: Previews: $25. Regular run: $35 ($30 groups of 10 or more). Tickets are available at, in person at the Stage 773 Box Office or by calling (773) 327-5252. For calendar informaiton, please visit

A caveat to this review. Mahal playwright Danny Bernardo is both a friend and colleague of mine, but in no way is that an influence on the review.