“The best thing about majoring in Invisibility Studies,” jokes Emil Guillermo early on in his one-person show, Emil Amok! All Pucked Up: Harvard, NPR and more, making its DC premiere right now at the Capital Fringe, “is that you don’t need to show up to the final.” This moment is indicative of how the next hour will proceed—humor mixed with tales of what it was like being one of the few (if not only) Filipino individuals in the predominantly white worlds of Harvard University and professional journalism from the 1970s to today.
Though Emil drove across the country from San Francisco (with one breakdown in Des Moines) to perform here, he’s no stranger to DC. He spent a number of years as a journalist for NPR, including a stint from 1989 to 1991 as host of “All Things Considered.” In assuming this role, he became the first Asian American man, and first Filipino American, period, to host a regularly scheduled national news broadcast (which is why he sometimes refers to himself as “the male Connie Chung”).
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The tension between the desire to succeed in all-white spaces and to stay true to one’s cultural heritage is well-trodden territory for one-person Fringe shows (Emil chocks his success in radio at least partially up to “white voice privilege”), but he puts a unique spin on the concept and weaves his own personal history into the larger narrative of Filipino integration into the United States in the 20th Century (“I put the ‘ass’ in ‘assimilation’”).
In doing so, Emil jumps from the story of James Robert Amok, a self-described “Igrotte head hunter” who made his living working as a side show attraction at Coney Island in the early 1900s, to the time he showed up to a fancy NPR party at Union Station, checked his tuxedo jacket, and then was mistaken for a cater waiter for the rest of the night.
Emil Amok! All Pucked Up: Harvard, NPR and more closes July 28, 2019.
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Emil’s stories are interesting and engaging; I only wished they had been presented in a way that followed a more intentional narrative. As it is, Emil Amok! can feel a bit meandering, or even rambling, at times, more like a standup set, which is a shame, given the long string of not-particularly-original Trump jokes in the middle that mostly fell flat.
Still, in the midst of a heatwave, sitting in an aggressively air-conditioned room in St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church listening to a lauded journalist and humorist recount stories that rarely make it to the national narrative is a refreshing experience in more ways than one. At the end of the hour, when Emil thanks the audience for seeing him as his authentic, non-invisible self—well, that’s what make theatre so worthwhile, isn’t it?
Emil Amok! All Pucked Up: Harvard, NPR and more, written and performed by Emil Amok Guillermo. Reviewed by John Bavoso.