While not perfect, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil's The Debutante's Ball offers many delights, giving us an engaging group of young characters as they walk the line between American and Filipino cultures.
The play centers on the titular ball, which has been a longstanding tradition in the Twin Cities Filipino community. The three young women all have their reasons for participating, as do the three young men who will be their escorts.
Over the course of several weeks, they form a bond as they work with Tita Belinda, their autocratic dance instructor. There aren't a lot of surprises throughout the play. One of the debutantes, Ana, obviously has a lot of outside stress, while her knowledge of Filipino culture seems more encyclopedic than lived.
The conflict Ana has with her parents about their native culture and how it fits into Minnesota gives the story its drive. It's aided by a budding relationship between Ana and A.J., a very shy escort with cultural struggles of his own.
It takes some time for the characters to fully come together. An early scene where the three women try on possible ball gowns is particularly stiff. Yet as the play unfolds, a real warmth grows among the six the of them, and these kids from diverse backgrounds form a community.
The play is also often very funny. As Tita Belinda, Sherwin Resurreccion builds a character that is one part strict teacher and one part scion of the community, who is using this opportunity to keep the Filipino culture alive.
Sumangil also adds in plenty of interludes, including a continuing soap opera and a couple of dance and rap breaks, to build up some more comedy (the soap opera is played wonderfully over the top) and more cultural connections for the characters.
IF YOU GO:
The Debutante's Ball Through April 12 History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., Minneapolis $15-$38 For tickets and more information, call 651-292-4323 or visit online.