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updated: 6/20/2013 3:13 PM

Culture helps Wheeling actress connect to 'Mahal'

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  • Wheeling native Jillian Jocson plays Kim Mercado in "Mahal," the story of a Filipino-American family struggling with the death of their matriarch.

    Wheeling native Jillian Jocson plays Kim Mercado in "Mahal," the story of a Filipino-American family struggling with the death of their matriarch.

By Riley Simpson

Wheeling native Jillian Jocson couldn't put the script down.

She planned to read only half of Danny Bernardo's "Mahal" before going to bed. But she laughed and cried all the way through, seeing her own Filipino family in the Reyes clan.

"I felt so connected," Jocson said.

Bailiwick Chicago's "Mahal" starts previews Wednesday, June 26, at Chicago's Stage 773. Jocson stars as Kim Mercado, whose mother's death leaves family members to clash and try to find middle ground over subjects like cultural identity, assimilation and interracial relationships.

Jocson said she and her Filipino castmates definitely relate to the conflicting "old school" traditions and Filipino-American culture.

Jocson was born in the U.S., so she learned about the Philippines secondhand from her parents. They encouraged her and her siblings to embrace Filipino traditions, but never forced the issue.

The same goes for most of her castmates, Jocson said, which helped them find common ground.

"We all feel such a close tie to our culture," Jocson said. "It's easy for us to come together and have that relationship, that Filipino bond."

Another big bonding moment was the first read-through of "Mahal."

Instead of getting together at their rehearsal space, the cast dined at the Pecking Order, a Filipino restaurant in Chicago.

Jocson said it was a nice way for the cast to introduce themselves.

"Food is how Filipinos bond," Jocson said. "It's kind of a way for us to cope with situations.

"We're big on food," Jocson added with a laugh.

Food is also big in "Mahal," since playwright Bernardo made family meals integral parts of the play.

Even offstage, Jocson said someone always brings food to rehearsals and the cast continually finds themselves at the Pecking Order.

"(Food) is the culture of the play," Jocson said.

In Jocson's career, she's had Chinese and Thai roles, but Kim Reyes marks her first Filipino character. She said there aren't many Filipino roles or plays in theater today, and she enjoyed the chance to work with actors who share her background.

"We see how similar we are," Jocson said. "We all find and discover our heritage."

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