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A THRILLER FROM MANILA `DOGEATERS' DEFTLY CAPTURES ALL SIDES OF 1980S PHILIPPINES.

Byline: Evan Henerson Theater Critic

Our story begins with a cheap radio, which is plucked from its idol-like perch center stage and shuffled, one person to the next, each tuning in scratchy bits of news or the occasional burst of vintage '80s music. We are to learn more -- much more -- about these radio handlers, and that primitive squawk box will never be far away.

Radio is a key player in Jessica Hagedorn's stage dramatization of her novel ``Dogeaters.'' Airwave personalities Nestor Noralez and Barbara Villanueva act as our tour guides through the turbulent landscape of 1980s Philippines. The other prominent image, not surprisingly, is the cinema. First lady Imelda Marcos, it will be remembered, was a film buff as well as a shoe hound.

Re-creating his work for the play's 2004 staging at Playwrights' Arena, director Jon Lawrence Rivera brings Hagedorn's odyssey vibrantly to life. The Kirk Douglas Theatre -- configured by John H. Binkley to have the audience on all sides of the action -- is the stomping ground for a world of hustlers, generals, revolutionaries, would-be actors, drag queens, beauty queens and penitents.

Shoe 'nuff

Oh, and for Mrs. Marcos, who -- despite appearing in only a couple of scenes -- looms imperiously over the trials and tribulations of those who are so far below her. Natsuko Ohama's performance is chilling yet weirdly funny, and Marya Krakowiak has costumed her with great flair.

``I hope you fall in love with me,'' the German film director Rainer Fassbinder (played by Nick Salamone) says to DJ/gigolo Joey Sands (Ramon de Ocampo). Why should he? ``Because I am the most corrupt human being you will ever meet,'' says the director. Quite a boast, this. In the world of ``Dogeaters,'' Fassbinder is a veritable lap dog.

Severo ``Chuchi'' Alacran (played by Robert Almodovar) deals dirty on the cobra-infested greens of the Monte Vista golf course. Gen. Ledesma (Dom Magwili) isn't above imprisonment or torture, even of his own family. And Mrs. Marcos (Natsuko Ohama) pours concrete over the corpses of construction workers who helped build her Manila Film Center, and then quibbles over the exact body count (``only eight, not 100'').

Characters to root for

Closer to being on the side of the angels are Daisy Avila (Esperanza Catubig), the daughter of slain Sen. Domingo Avila (Alberto Isaac); in-the-know drag performer Perlita Alacran (Ivan Davila); and Rio Gonzaga (Elizabeth Pan), an expatriate teacher who returns from America to bury her grandmother and ends up staying.

Amid an array of sexual encounters, full-scale political unrest and a night or two at the cinema, these characters -- and several others -- bounce off each other. The cast and canvas are enormous, and it takes a while to get everybody straight.

Once you know the players, however, Hagedorn's tale cooks. Davila's flamboyant but camp-free Perlita is particularly unforgettable. Catubig's Daisy and Minerva Vier as Lolita Luna, a B-movie star turned sexual plaything to the general, strike home as well.

After last season's remount of the Robey Theatre's ``Permanent Collection,'' ``Dogeaters'' is the second commendable use of the Douglas to restage acclaimed productions from some of L.A.'s smaller venues at a Center Theatre Group space. Long may this trend continue.

And with new musicals from Deaf West and David Mamet on the horizon, the Douglas this season is visibly outshining its downtown counterpart, the Mark Taper Forum.

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson@dailynews.com

DOGEATERS - Three and one half stars

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through Feb. 11.

Tickets: $20 to $40. (213) 628-2772; www.centertheatregroup.org.

In a nutshell: An arresting journey across the Marcos-led Philippines.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

From left, Esperanza Catubig, Gino Aquino and Dom Magwili share a scene in ``Dogeaters,'' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 2, 2007
Words:645
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