Review: Kisapmata's first love story both tender and timely

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There are many kinds of love stories from puppy love and summer love to second-chance love and golden age love.

Calgary playwright Bianca Miranda’s Kisapmata, receiving its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre until Feb. 18, is a love story about first love.

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Her two women characters are named only A and B, presumably to indicate any two bodies.

A, a Canadian Filipino, was born, lives and works in Calgary. B is an exchange intern from the Philippines. When they acknowledge their mutual attraction, B warns that this can only be a fling because she not only has to return home but needs to. She is the sole supporter of her family. A insists they can still have a deep relationship, and that’s certainly what she wants.

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In her program notes, Miranda says that while growing up in the Philippines, she and her mother bonded by watching teleseryes or soap operas. Kisapmata is essentially a television soap opera. It’s episodic, told through flashbacks, strives for heightened emotions, and uses moral and emotional conflicts to advance the plot. There’s also a smattering of situation comedy in Kisapmata because Miranda manages to integrate a good deal of humour.

Kisapmata by Lunchbox Theatre, Courtesy Ben Laird cal

That Kisapmata is about first love does not mean her characters are young or chaste, but that the attraction becomes, especially for A, a first intense, all-consuming passion, and one that lingers at least 10 years after the affair. The play opens with A receiving a phone message from the Philippines that triggers memories of that fateful earlier pairing.

The hook for the audience is that Michelle Diaz makes the young A so disarming and giddy without making her seem needy. It’s fun watching her become smitten with the talented, stern, self-confident woman that Isabella Pedersen makes B. It’s definitely the opposites attract syndrome and a source of much of the humour.

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Using only a different pair of glasses and a mini shawl, Diaz is able to age quickly and credibly. When the older A remembers her first meeting with B, and important incidents during their affair, Diaz imbues these speeches with a gentle poignancy, never resorting to tears, making them all the more powerful.

There’s definitely a bit of eat, pray, love, karaoke in Kisapmata which not only adds to the humour but introduces the audience to Filipino culture.

One of the flaws in Miranda’s play is that so much is told rather than shown, a pitfall of memory plays,  and that it is episodic. However, director Gina Puntil, set designer Cassie Holmes, and video and projection designer Thomas Geddes give Diaz and Pedersen a visually interesting environment in which to work.

Puntil and Miranda allow the kiss to come much too early in the play, diminishing its impact. They ask us to assume the relationship is intimate so we should also be allowed to assume the characters kiss often. A imagines how she wishes their parting had happened, and it’s during this scene, the kiss should occur because it is so tender.

When artistic director Bronwyn Steinberg welcomed Kisapmata’s opening day crowd, she said Lunchbox Theatre was proud to be showcasing a queer love story given the current political climate in Alberta.

The play runs in the Vertigo Studio Theatre until Feb. 18 with varied performance times Tuesdays through Sundays so check out for times and availability.

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