Mu Performing Arts wrestles with the Asian-American dream

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Randy Reyes plays tot, who finds freedom as Hulk Hogan.

After Sandbox Theatre's boxing-themed Queens, the unofficial Andy Boss Thrust Stage Olympics continue at Park Square Theatre with Mu Performing Arts' world premiere of Victor Maog's tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan. The boxing ring has now been turned into a pro-wrestling venue for the real and imagined battles of a young immigrant in Reagan-era America.

The boy is named tot (Randy Reyes), and he's rejoining his parents after an eight-year separation during which tot was raised by his grandmother (Mary Ann Prado) in the Philippines while his mother (Hope Nordquist) and father (Eric "Pogi" Sumangil) worked to establish themselves in California. Now nine, tot is finally brought to live with his barely remembered parents, and meets his younger sister, Kitty (Stephanie Bertumen, Reyes' real-life sister).

Tot is fascinated with pro wrestling, a spectacle that resonates with the seething anger the boy feels over having been dislocated from the only life he's ever known. He imagines a wrestler named the Orbiter (Torsten Johnson), who becomes a vehicle for tot's allegorical battle with the American Dream (incarnated by Bertumen wearing a star-spangled muscle suit).

Maog's complex script has elements of satire, but fundamentally it's a heart-heavy dramatization of how it might feel to be a child like tot, struggling with culture shock and racism while also coming to terms with the loss of a beloved guardian.

As director, Reyes lucidly tracks the play's multiple layers — which often overlap, as when the simultaneous actions of tot and the Orbiter mirror each other in their parallel universes. Both as actor and director, Reyes finds exactly the right tone, embracing the story's absurd elements without losing touch with its very real, pained humanity.

The entire cast is very good, particularly the women. Nordquist is riveting as a mother trying to rebuild a relationship with her son under difficult circumstances. As tot's grandmother, Prado embodies quiet dignity without falling into saintly stereotype. Reyes and Bertumen are surprisingly convincing as kids, Reyes constantly punching the air or running in circles in a perfect portrait of a child's frustration.

Though it's been a long time since Hulk Hogan was a paragon of pop-culture masculinity, the themes of this Untold, Yet Spectacular Story resonate deeply as America's presidential election becomes a referendum on the demonization of immigrants. Over the course of the show, Neil Diamond's immigrant anthem "America" is heard multiple times, and in this context it sounds chillingly ironic. 

IF YOU GO:

tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan
Park Square Theatre
20 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
Through June 26; 651-291-7005



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