East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color in the country and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work, continues its 50th anniversary season, “Golden,” with the world premiere production of “Criers for Hire” by playwright Giovanni Ortega, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera.
Aurora, Remedios, and Eugenia are three of the most sought-after professional funeral criers in Monterey Park. They are eager to welcome Aurora’s 14-year-old daughter Ligaya (nicknamed Gaya) from the Philippines into their world and teach her their somber trade. However, they soon realize that Gaya has the opposite effect on people, making them laugh instead of cry. What ensues is a hilarious and heartwarming story of cultural identity, generational conflict, and finding home in a new country.
“Playwright Giovanni Ortega has been one of our home grown artists who started out as an actor and slowly began to start writing and directing plays,” said Tim Dang, EWP producing artistic director. “It has been a pleasure to see his career develop and now see him as a member of the theater department faculty at Pomona College.”
The cast features Joan Almedilla (“Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon,” EWP’s “Tea with Music,” “Chess”), Nicole Barredo (“Miss Saigon,” EWP’s “Beijing Spring”), Samantha Cutaran (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Rudy Martinez (“Disney 365,” NBC’s “Heartbeat”), and Giselle “G” Töngi (host, “Kababayan Today”).
Ortega made his debut on the EWP stage in 2005 playing the role of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in the hit musical “Imelda.” In 2011, Ortega wrote “ALLOS,” the story of writer Carlos Bulosan, which was commissioned by EWP for its Theater for Youth Program. The following year, Chicago’s CIRCA Pintig Theater Company produced it as part of “Migrant Stories.” During the same time, EWP included an excerpt of his work in its Theater for Youth touring production “Our American Voice.”
His directing credits include EWP’s New Works Festival and several productions at Pomona College, including “Spring Awakening.” His acting credits include “Romance of Magno Rubio” at Inside the Ford and “Dogeaters” at Center Theatre Group.
As an author, he took the literary artist category for FPAC Pahayag Project for the most sought-after author with “Leaves from the Silverlake Barrio,” and a collection of his poetry was included in an anthology of mixed-heritage writing in “Completely Mixed Up.” Ortega is a visiting assistant professor at the Pomona College Department of Theatre and Dance.
The design team for “Criers for Hire” includes Christopher Scott Murillo (set), R. Christopher Stokes (lighting), Mylette Nora (costumes), Howard Ho (sound), and Lily Bartenstein (props/projection). Stage manager is Alyssa Escalante.
“Criers for Hire” is produced with a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and is presented in community partnership with Asia Society and FilAm Arts.
All performances will be staged at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St. (between First and Temple) in Little Tokyo.
Previews are Thursday, Feb. 11, through Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m. All preview seats are $23.
Opening night for “Criers for Hire” is Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m., preceded at 7 p.m. by a cocktail reception and followed by a reception with the cast and creative team. Opening Night is sponsored by Edison International. Call theater for availability.
“Pay-what-you-can” performance is on Thursday, Feb. 18. A talkback with the cast and creative team is on Sunday, Feb. 28, immediately following the performance. The production runs until March 13.
Regular performances run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online at www.eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000. Regular tickets range from $28 to $38. Student, senior, and group discounts available. Dates, prices and details are subject to change.