Outside of the dominant figures in U.S. politics, relatively few foreign leaders — and even fewer of their spouses — are immediately connoted in the American mind by their given names. Some gossip wags might, for example, suggest that Carla (as in Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) is one, but that seems rather a stretch unless you’re a true Francophile. Angela (as in Merkel)? Vladimir (as in Putin)? Unlikely. Elizabeth (as in Queen)? More unlikely.
Yet if one were to employ the name Imelda in casual conversation, many Americans would know it: the wife of Ferdinand Marcos, the former/infamous President of the Philippines, remains seared in our psyche. Those shoes. Those accusations. Global litigation. Did she or didn’t she steal from her people and financially ransack her country? Was she the Phillippines’ modern-day equivalent of Argentina’s Eva Peron or something closer to Hilary Clinton?
Photos by Carol Rosegg
All of this underscores why a new musical being presented by New York’s Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, in association with Los Angeles’ East West Players, is simply entitled Imelda. Running through Oct. 18 at the Julia Miles Theater (424 W. 55th St., 212-239-6200), Imelda is, according to the press materials,
a portrait of the ambitious and controversial woman often referred to as the “Steel Butterfly.” The musical spans the 1940s to 1980s, the pivotal years after The Philippines gained its independence. Imelda Marcos wanted to set her country as an equal players on the world stage and gain the respect of the world.
With direction by Tim Dang, who is producing artistic director of East West Players (and premiered the show back in 2005), Imeldafeatures a book by Sachi Oyama, music by Nathan Wang and lyrics by Aaron Coleman. And it’s star is Jaycee Macapugay in the title role.
And now, 5 questions Jaycee Macapugay has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Do you draw from your own personal experiences during a performance? The answer is absolutely. One of my favorite quotes is “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.” Imagination is important to an actor, but so is personal experience. Both are necessary to form your point of view when playing a role.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
A very good friend of mine who isn’t in the acting industry recently asked me, “So when are you going to stop doing this?” I had to clarify in return, asking “What do you mean by this?” She meant performing, acting. But I knew her subtext- When will I stop playing around with this acting hobby, or when am I gonna grow up?
My answer: I’m an artist for life. It’s a blessing and a curse. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
It happened after a show, during my first professional theatre job. I played Kim in Miss Saigon. An older audience member asked me if I had a really bad boob job. Reason: The sound team was concerned about my mic failing during the show, so they gave me two mic packs to wear, with one pack being the emergency one. The costume designer thought putting the packs in my bra would be clever. However, I guess the effect from the audience perspective looked “boxy,” if you know what I mean. I didn’t know any better at the time, since it was my first show. After seeing the production photos, I saw what they saw. From that point on, mic packs go around my waist or in the wig.
4) On July 2, Imelda Marcos turned 80. What life lessons do you think she’s learned in the 20-plus years since the People Power Revolution, and are you incorporating any of that knowledge into your portrayal of her? Have you ever met Imelda-would you want to meet her? What would you ask her if you could ask her anything?
I don’t think Imelda would have changed a thing. If anything, I believe her viewpoints have grown only stronger with time. To quote her directly from the Ramona Diaz documentary in 2003 (released 17 years after People Power revolution), “Thank God I never lost that childlike innocence, and the purity of vision and naivety. Childlike innocence was the most useful, because if I was a bit wiser, I would not have been able to do anything. I was so glad I was not smart.”
It would be a once in a lifetime experience to meet Madame Marcos. In preparing for this role, I’ve spoken to several people who’ve met her or had a story about her. I soak up every word. I would meet her in a heartbeat. I’m keeping my question to her a secret.
5) With everything Imelda Marcos has been accused of-greed and corruption, collusion in the assassination of Benigno Aquino-is she redeemable as a character? If so or if not, why or why not?
Since I’m playing the role of Imelda Marcos in the musical, I have to be careful in answering this question. I cannot judge Imelda as redeemable vs. unredeemable, because it’s my job to serve the play and not justify her behavior. It’s my job to see the humanity in whatever role I play. Specifically with Imelda, I’ve accepted her humanity, plight, and dilemma. In our show, you may or may not like what she’s doing, but you see and possibly understand why, based on where she came from.
6) Do you wear fabulous shoes in Imelda? If you could choose your shoes for this show, what brands would be at the top of your list? I’m picturing fierce Jimmy Choos…
Talk about using my imagination for this question! First of all, I love this question, especially since, as of late, I’ve been an extremely starving artist. And yes, my shoes are fabulous in Imelda. Our costume designer, Ivy Chou, is flying my shoes in from Los Angeles. Just saying that sounds cool. However, I don’t think any of the shoes are haute couture. So if I could pick my dream shoe labels for this show, it would be Christian Louboutin, for their flirty and distinctive heels, Gucci because their shoes are classic and sexy, and finally Dolce & Gabbana, because there’s something about the way their shoes perfectly cradle a foot.