The age-old tale of a small-town girl with big-city dreams gets retold with Filipino tang in Boni B. Alvarez’s bittersweet romcom Dallas Non-Stop, the crowd-pleasing latest from Playwrights’ Arena.

DALLASpress2 The small-town girl in question is Girlie Capistrano (Sandy Yu), the big city is Manila, and the dream she’s pinned her immediate hopes on is a job at the soon-to-open American Spirit Airlines call center. And after that? Well, the writer of Ruby, Tragically Rotund hasn’t titled his latest play Dallas Non-Stop for nothing.

DALLASpress3 In the meantime, Girlie and fellow trainees Charlie (Anne Yatco), Chichay (Angel Star Felix), and Rodrigo (Kennedy Kabasares) are doing their darnedest to prove to their Indian supervisor/trainer Sandeep (Nardeep Khurmi) that they’ve got what it takes to provide expert customer phone service, whether that means satisfying the most demanding of callers or fending off the ire of those outraged by finding customer service outsourced to the third world or knowing precisely when to direct the call to a higher-up.

DALLASpress5 That the handsome, charming Sandeep is beginning to show romantic interest in Girlie might be everything the born-romantic country girl could wish for if not for one thing. There’s only one foreign metropolis Girlie would ever dream of calling home … and it isn’t Dehli.

No, there’s only one city glamorous and exciting enough for Girlie and that’s the hometown of J.R., Bobby, and Pamela Ewing.

If you haven’t already guessed, Girlie may just be the Philippines’ most avid fan of the 1978-1991 CBS nighttime soap Dallas, every one of whose episodes the would-be Ewing devoured as a child thanks to VHS tapes sent to Girlie’s village by an expat relative in the USA.

In fact, Girlie is so enamored of the Ewing clan that whenever things get even borderline dramatic in her life, she can’t help imagining what the scene unfolding round her would look and sound like if Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, and the rest of the TV Ewings were playing her friends and colleagues, Dallas drawls and all.

Unfortunately, Girlie hasn’t gotten to Dallas yet, so for the time being there’s a new life in Manila to get used to, with wealthy friend Charlie always willing to foot the restaurant or bar bill or drive Girlie around town in her brand new Mercedes if only to impress her penniless friend with her largesse.

DALLASpress9 Things get considerably more complicated in Girlie’s life when who should arrive from America to insure the on-schedule opening of the Manila call center but American Spirit executive Brad (Jim Kane), who soon finds himself every bit as attracted to Girlie as Sandeep is and none too pleased that his Indian competition has gotten there first. (If only Brad were from Dallas instead of “America’s armpit” Cleveland.)

DALLASpress1 Dallas Non-Stop should be of interest to L.A. theatergoers for no other reason than its glimpse into contemporary Filipino life. That playwright Alvarez has come up with both multi-layered characters and a fresh, unpredictable plot makes Dallas Non-Stop even more of a treat, particularly as directed by the ever masterful Jon Lawrence Rivera.

Girlie may be naïve to the point of not even knowing what French kissing is till Charlie explains it to her, but the goddesses of nighttime soapdom have instructed her in what’s needed to get ahead in life, and if Pam Ewing would throw caution to the wind achieve her goals, then so doggonit will Girlie.

Alvarez’s characters defy easy pigeonholing. Charlie may have mastered the art of the blow-job, but she’s never “had sex.” Rodrigo may not be officially “out” at work, but he’s not above flirting with the sexy Brad, whose chest hair he finds particularly tantalizing. Chichay may be the epitome of motherly warmth, but she’s perfectly willing to tell Brad off for his immoral ways, albeit indirectly. Both Sandeep and Brad may honestly be attracted to—and care for—Girlie, but neither is about to let a little thing like work ethics stop him from pursuing a subordinate if she’s as irresistible as Girlie.

DALLASpress7 With characters as well-written as these, it’s Playwrights’ Arena’s good fortune that they are brought to vivid life by a uniformly topnotch cast. Yu is a terrifically appealing Girlie, and gives the part real poignancy when Alvarez’s script demands it. Khurmi makes us believe in Sandeep’s inner goodness while Kane keeps us guessing as to Brad’s motives, and kudos to both for this. Felix, Kabasares, and Yatcko are every bit as impressive in supporting roles, and all six score bonus points for their Tex-sensational transformations in fantasy sequences.

Rising scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo has given the production’s abstract set an intriguing airport runway look and feel, complimented during scene changes by cast members waving light signals as if directing out-going and in-coming flights. Adam Flemming’s projections on either side of Murillo’s set cue us in to whether we’re at a luxury Manila hotel or a local Chilis franchise or the airline call center. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting design once again demonstrates why he is one of L.A.’s premier talents. Howard Ho’s dance music-flavored sound design keeps cast and audience energy high. Snaps too to the sound effect that has us believing, along with Pivnick’s lighting, that Girlie and Sandeep are dipping their feet into the hotel pool. Mylette Nora’s costume choices are character perfect. Giovanni Ortega’s dialect coaching insures authentic speech patterns, whether Filipino, Indian, or Texan, though the thickness of Girlie’s country accent can at time impede easy comprehension.

Dallas Non-Stop is produced by Diane Levine. Flor San Roman as stage manager. Raul Clayton Staggs in casting director.

On a purely practical note, Dallas Non-Stop’s Saturday through Monday schedule means that even the busiest theatergoer can likely make time to spend with Girlie and her friends. I couldn’t be happier to have been able to take advantage of a Monday performance. This is one play and production I’m delighted I didn’t have to miss.

Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 25, 2013
Photos: Playwrights’ Arena

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