In the earlier parts of his Asian Boys trilogy, Nicky Paraiso explored with a ruminative yet passionate voice his growing up queer and Filipino, with a strong-willed mother, in a Queens landscape of loss and ambivalent belonging. In House/Boy, the third installment, he sings of his father, who has previously remained mostly in the background as the strong silent male—in a xenophobic society the imposed role for immigrant men of color, valued for their hard work but resented for their bravado and flamboyance.
It makes perfect sense that Paraiso should use as his paradigm the houseboy, a ubiquitous fixture in Philippine households. Two such figure prominently, one fictional—the Filipino houseboy in John Huston’s film Reflections in a Golden Eye, based on the Carson McCullers novel—and one real, the bakla (gay) houseboy of his mother, who returns to her ancestral home. Both have fascinating backstories that deepen the cabaret-style narrative. Paraiso’s father, a Pullman porter, is some kind of houseboy too, as he takes care of the Queens house he and his wife have bought for their only son, pouring their life savings into it. By then, “houseboy” takes on larger metaphorical significance, with implications of not being quite a man in a house (read: America) that won’t quite accept him.
Under Ralph B. Peña’s astute direction, House/Boy has enough campy flourishes to both check and complement the strong emotions bristling below the surface. Paraiso creates a lovely parallel between the dying king, in The King and I, and the author’s dad, who awaits his son in the less-than-royal Queens household. With a piano and some well-chosen songs, Paraiso has shepherded expertly and movingly the different parts of his taleunder one well-wrought roof.