By Berto Fernández
San Diego’s own Diversionary Theatre, the third oldest LGBTQIA+ theatre in the nation, is committed to producing riveting and thought-provoking theatre for our community. After a highly successful 2022/2023 lineup, the company opens their 38th season, appropriately themed “Liberate”, with Sara Porkalob’s one-woman show Dragon Mama.
Porkalob is a Seattle, Washington based acclaimed creative artist, activist, and storyteller invested in being a voice for the BIPOC community and building platforms for their stories to be featured and revered. This need for her cultural narrative to be heard, pushed her to create The Dragon Cycle, which is a trilogy of musicals about her Filipino American gangster family. Cleverly built, each play presents a generation of her family’s female protagonists, grandmother, mother, and granddaughter, in their journey. All through Porkalob’s magnetic characterizations.
In Dragon Mama, the second of the trilogy, (as summarized by the production marketing team) Maria yearns for a Gayer, more diverse life in rural Washington state. When presented with an opportunity to make a quick fortune, she must make an important decision: leave her debt-ridden family and newborn daughter for the wild unknown of Alaska, or stay close to home, family, and intergenerational ghosts. Traversing 25 years, Dragon Mama is a one-woman adventure filled with Queer love in a barren land, Filipino family lore, and a dope ’90s R&B soundtrack.
The show debuted in 2019 at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University gaining praise from critics and audiences equally, even as the show continues to evolve, making it a fresh take every time Porkalob puts up a new production of it. The San Diego premiere of the show is directed by Andrew Russell, who partners with Sara to work out problems in the text and technical aspects she’s encountered in previous productions.
Porkalob embodies 24 different characters in this production that will surely mesmerize all Diversionary audiences. She explores, from the point of view of her mother, the financial struggles during her childhood, the challenges of being raised in a single parent home with other siblings to take care of. Tough working environment and long hours take a toll on the family are issues brought up in the piece that frame the cultural obstacles the Filipino culture in the US face.
Humor is the healing tool that a lot of us rely on as a coping mechanism with our day-to-day life. Dragon Mamaexemplifies this statement to a tee. Through different fascinating characterizations, compelling singing, and brilliant storytelling, this show will surely pull at your heart strings. I haven’t had the opportunity to see the show yet, but theatre colleagues and friends have been raving about it, so I can’t wait to experience the magic of Dragon Mama in the flesh. You should too.
We are lucky to have a professional LGBTQ+ theatre company bringing compelling Queer storytelling to the stage, and we must continue supporting them. Following this production, Diversionary brings the Tennessee Williams classic The Glass Menagerie to the stage, in what will surely be a riveting production. After that, the West Coast premiere (in co-production with Moxie Theatre) of Notes On Killing Seven Oversight, Management And Economic Stability Board Members By Mara Vélez Meléndez. And finishing up the season, TL;DL: Thelma Louise; Dyke Remix a World-Premiere Musical By EllaRose Chary & Brandon James Gwinn, a Queer Rock odyssey where kick-ass girl bands rule, and conventional identities are crushed.