What's it about?
While it tells the specific stories of Filipino individuals who grew up or grew old in America, at its core House Rules is a play about family.
What'd I experience?
Not long ago, I met a guy. He embodies everything my ideal man does: uses proper grammar and spelling, wears all black all the time, doesn't hate women, etc.
Yet something just did not click as I sat across from him in his favorite coffee shop, ready to fall in love. He talked on and on about himself, leaving little room for me to contribute anything to the conversations beyond more questions for him to answer. Soon enough my eyes drifted over to the different elements of the room we were in: the minimalist beauty of our transparent coffee mugs, the tranquil blue of the wall behind him, the shine of the polish on my nails. He was cute, but I was tired of listening.
Maybe because I met this guy for our first coffee date right before heading to HERE Arts to see House Rules, my experience with the play was as exhausting as my experience with that date.
As with my date, I knew House Rules would include some of the things that I find ideal in a play: I knew it would be innovative, having experienced that at HERE before and I knew it would have actors of color because it was produced by Ma-Yi theatre company, one of the leading producers of Asian-American plays in the country.
Yet something just did not click as I sat by the stage, hoping to declare House Rules my new favorite play. The actors just yelled at each other in every other scene, leaving me exhausted from the kind of drama that I don’t generally allow in my own life. I found my eyes drifting, this time to different seats on stage: the bright orange chairs with a lasercut design, the blue sofa with the low armrests, the grey chairs with skinny plastic arms that suffer the unfortunate fate of being recognized as doctors’ office chairs. The show looked great, but I was tired of listening to its yelling. So. Much. Yelling.
In the same way that I enjoyed seeing my date’s smile in between his rambles, there were parts of the show that I really enjoyed. Namely, I enjoyed that other people seemed to enjoy it. Every so often, the actors threw in a word or two in Tagalog and a part of the theatre seemed to lose their minds laughing. I didn’t get those jokes, because I have little knowledge of Filipino culture and no knowledge of the Tagalog language, but just this once, it actually felt kind of blissful to not get the joke.
I left the theatre feeling drained from watching people yelling at each other for nearly two hours (but let’s be real, the date was very much on my mind, too). I wondered why I didn’t enjoy the show even though it had everything I wanted in a show; I wondered if it was wrong of me to not enjoy something created by people of color, people like me. I realized that what I didn’t like about the show was its incessant yelling, something that has nothing to do with it being created by people of color, and everything to do with portraying a complicated and frustrating relationship with family.
To someone with a more direct connection to Filipino culture than just being a person of color like me, I don’t doubt that House Rules would be something of a gift. I see the stories of people of any kind of Asian descent seldom told by those to whom they belong, especially in the western world. House Rules disrupts this unfortunate silence of Asian voices with its yells and shouts, and for that I do adore it.