Saturday, October 1, 2016

Changing Partners (PETA)

http://theaterfansmanila.com/event/changing-partners/
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Alex is 45. Cris is turning 30. The former is the COO of a reputable company and loves watching replays of Glee when doing nothing at home. The latter prefers anime, and frequents Greenhills to patronize class A Nikes. The 15-year age gap serves as a recurring source of friction between the couple, yet somehow they find ways to make the relationship work. Age disparity aside, Cris’ BFF Angel (always mentioned but doesn't appear) is also a perpetual bone of contention, with undying suspicions that an affair is taking place. As their live-in setup reaches its six-year anniversary, cracks begin to manifest as their arguments multiply and become more and more repetitive day after day. The two attempt to mend fences from time to time through conversation and song, but sometimes some relationships are just not meant to last.

While the poster suggests yet another love square full of heartache, betrayal, and intimate round-robin relations, the piece you end up seeing onstage just catches you unawares. Perhaps, this is because of the cliché but forever relevant issues of cheating and maintaining a relationship. While the premise has been dealt with ad nauseam through various mediums of popular culture, sometimes it’s the attack that leaves a mark in our heads, something that Changing Partners successfully does as early as fifteen minutes into its runtime.

Clocking in at around an hour and 20 minutes, this musical is quite a short one, but never unexciting. The playwright took the title a little bit too literally, and this is where the clever twist reigns supreme. The character of Alex is shared by Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo, while that of Cris is split between Sandino Martin and Anna Luna. What do we mean by “sharing”? This is the interesting part guaranteed to leave you scratching your heads for around ten minutes or so before finally catching on.

There is a change of actor involved every fifteen minutes. The play begins with Isidro and Martin discussing how their relationship is frowned upon by society, her being Alex and him being Cris. The latter then runs into the bathroom and comes back as the same character, but this time portrayed by Luna wearing the same shirt and boxer shorts. Also noticeable is the change in Isidro’s nuances from feminine to a little bit smug and tomboyish. Another quarter of an hour passes and Isidro is replaced by Lorenzo, with the characters and their circumstances remaining the same but reverting to that of a heterosexual relationship. As another fifteen minutes come to pass, Martin takes back the role of Cris, with both men’s portrayal now laced with homosexual undertones. The quartet finally appear together onstage during the last 20 minutes or so, with two actors SIMULTANEOUSLY playing each character, exchanging tirades.

And that final part is where you realize that whoever wrote this had a masterpiece in his hands, as far as contemporary relationships are concerned. We can never be sure about this musical’s thesis, but the main argument seems to hint at the similarities of the dilemmas that most couples have to face, REGARDLESS of their gender orientation. Changing the actors but not the characters nor their ongoing narrative, you get to see a train wreck of a relationship waiting to hit rock bottom from the perspective of two homosexual and two heterosexual couples, in a span of six years condensed in less than two hours.

Of course, such a feat could not be achieved if you don’t have an able ensemble of actors. Isidro is believable both as a cougar and a lesbian, but her strength really lies on her effortless singing. The same can be said about Lorenzo, sans the singing part. There were many moments when the piano, the only musical accompaniment they had for the entire show, just overpowered his singing voice. Nonetheless, it was his fluid shifting between macho and homo that was well-received by the audience.

Luna was faultless both as an actress and a singer, but somehow overshadowed by her three co-stars. Martin was the revelation of the night. Without a lot of acting credits to his name, at least from mainstream media to merit some name recall, you get to wonder how he ended up in that cast of talented thespians. Can he even sing? And then he opens his mouth to do so and your doubts are immediately put to rest. He can even manage his falsetto quite well. Needless to say, he was able to hold his own.

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