Off-Broadway Theater Review: HERE LIES LOVE (The Public Theatre)

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by Victoria Linchong on May 6, 2014

in Theater-New York


Move over Evita, there’s another Queen of Hearts in town. And she likes diamonds too. I’m talking about Imelda Marcos—she of the thousand pairs of shoes—who is the centerpiece of a dazzling new pop operetta by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. It’s called Here Lies Love, which is what Imelda said she wanted inscribed on her tombstone. I mean, who says things like that? She also called herself a slave and Trevor Salter, Conrad Ricamora, Maria-Christina Oliveras, and Janelle Velasquez in HERE LIES LOVE at The Public to the Philippine people. No wonder she’s captured media attention since she was a teenager. The woman has an ego so inflated that it positively floats, and she talks in sound bites: quasi-poetic, sentimental, and outrageous. Byrne makes great use of some of her quirkiest comments as song lyrics, consummately setting them to an encyclopedic variety of irresistibly toe-tapping music ranging from disco, funk, and zouk to house and dubstep. After a critically acclaimed run last year, Here Lies Love is back at The Public Theatre and it’s one of the best parties in town. Go and be prepared to dance for an hour and a half. Just don’t go expecting anything about shoes.

Instead, by using Marcos’ words, Byrne gives us a complex and uncomfortably sympathetic portrait of a woman who could give Marie Antoinette a run for ostentation and narcissism. But you don’t have to know anything about the Marcos regime or recent Filipino history to appreciate this unique piece. It’s definitely not Ruthie Ann Miles in HERE LIES LOVE at The Public Theatrethe usual sit-down musical. In fact, there aren’t any seats. The LuEsther Theater at The Public has been stripped down into its bare walls and transformed by set designer David Korins into a flashy disco, complete with giant glitter ball and zinging laser lights.  The whole play is presented as a big dance party, beginning with a peppy Asian bleach-haired DJ (Kelvin Moon Loh) who exhorts the audience to dance to the nonstop music and even gives everyone a couple of steps. As if anyone needs to be encouraged. You’d have to be dead not to be physically moved. And if the music doesn’t get you going, well then the stagehands in pink jumpsuits will: It’s up to them to usher you out of the pathway of traveling platforms on which most of the action takes place.

Ruthie Ann Miles in HERE LIES LOVE at The Public Theatre.I said most of the action takes place on the platforms. Director Alex Timbers is incredibly imaginative in the staging of this highly immersive show. Actors hop nimbly from platform to platform, often directly interacting with the audience, transforming them into a political rally or a funeral procession or the glitterati at one of Imelda’s shindigs. It’s an ingenious blend of fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, not only in Imelda’s zany imagination and the creative use of actual transcripts and photographs, but also in the blurring of cast and audience, without the whiff of condescension that is usually present in interactive theater.

Ruthie Ann Miles (center) and the cast of HERE LIES LOVE at The Public Theatre.The play is also refreshing for its entirely Asian-American ensemble cast, led by Ruthie Ann Miller as a magnetic Imelda Marcos, Jose Llana as a snaky Ferdinand Marcos, and Conrad Ricamora as straitlaced first love and political opponent Ninoy Aquino. Wearing Clark Kent glasses and a skinny white suit, Ricamora indignantly bursts into dissonant yelps as he denounces Imelda in “The Fabulous One,” the one song that sounds like a direct descendant of the Talking Heads. Other standout numbers in a show full of them include “Eleven Days,” in which Imelda rocks out about getting married to Marcos eleven days after meeting him, and “Order 1081,” a keening ballad about the onset of martial law in the Philippines.

Ruthie Ann Miles (center) and the cast in HERE LIES LOVE at The Public Theatre.

The eclecticism of Byrne’s music is matched by Annie-B Parsons’ choreography, which mixes traditional Philippine folk dance with contemporary movement. Peter Nigrini provides an added depth with his use of actual photographs and videos in the hyperkinetic 360-degree videoscape, while Clint Ramos amps up the glamour with period-perfect and inventive costumes.

Melody Butiu, Ruthie Ann Miles (center) and the cast in HERE LIES LOVE at The Public Theatre.

Byrne has called Here Lies Love a deconstruction of Imelda’s life through song, but it’s also a deconstruction of theater down to its bacchanalian origins. It’s an ecstatic, immersive piece that also charts the rise and fall of a dictatorship and probes the psychosis of power. Megalomania was never so much fun.

Jose Llana in HERE LIES LOVE at The Public Theatre.

photos by Joan Marcus

Here Lies Love
The Public Theatre
LuEsther Hall, 425 Lafayette St
scheduled to end on January 3, 2015
for tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit

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