A. Rey Pamatmat's 'Thunder Above, Deeps Below' at Bindlestiff Studio

April 16, 2012


Dreams, memory and the supernatural fuse with the gritty
realities for young people of color living on the streets of Chicago in the
west coast premiere of A. Rey Pamatmat’s play Thunder Above,
Deeps Below
at Bindlestiff Studio, the nation’s only Filipino
American-run theater.

Over the course of two hours, we follow Theresa (Aureen
Almario), the steely Filipina mother hen to a surrogate street family including
Gil (Wil Dao), a transsexual from the Philippines, and Hector (Roy Landaverde),
a Latino teen hustler who ran from his drug addict mother years before. Theresa
holds the group’s collective stash of money -- earned from panhandling, Gil’s
performances in a drag club, and Hector’s overnight stays with an older, married
man -- as well their drive to save enough for bus tickets to San Francisco where
they can start anew.  Underneath her
dourness lies incredible vulnerability stemming from her past and the loved ones
she’s lost, which she only reveals via dreams and the occasional fever-induced
state, moments when the play ventures to an otherworldly subplot. At first, I
wasn’t sure how comfortably that subplot would be juxtaposed with the play’s
urban realism, but it just works; we believe that these characters pound the
pavement each morning, fueled by goals which are in turn fueled by grander dreams and fantasies
of being loved, being reborn, or being home.

Culture, poverty, racism, sexual identity, family, fate, and
the power of a dream are all addressed in Thunder
Above, Deeps Below
, yet Pamatmat and his cast deftly avoid ham-fisted
approaches to such topics and allow the characters to shine above all else. Dao
pretty much steals the show as the endearing Gil, providing the majority of the
laughs and levity. It’s a monumental task to play a flamboyant transsexual
without falling into caricature and it's Gil’s inherent sweetness prevents this
from happening. If Dao’s Gil is the heart of the show, then Almario’s Theresa
is the soul of it. With a heartbreaking monologue detailing her origin story (the play's comic book hero theme is subtle but impactful), her
pain grounds Gil’s romantic whimsy and Hector’s childlike fury and guides us
through a unique family tale.


Thunder Above, Deeps
runs through May 5 at Bindlestiff
, 185 6th Street, San Francisco, CA. Tickets can be
purchased here.

[Full Disclosure: The writer and
Almario are former classmates.]


Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at www.sylvie-kim.com and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.