Saturday, March 10, 2018

'night, Mother (PETA)

An otherwise routine evening takes an interesting turn when Jessie (Eugene Domingo) tells her mother out of the blue that she is going to commit suicide before the night is over. Alarmed, Thelma (Sherry Lara) works hard to convince her daughter that life is worth living. She also makes it a point to repeatedly blame herself for her daughter’s choice, believing that she has failed her as a mother. For her part, Jessie is steadfast, already convinced that her decision to end it all is the best solution for all parties involved. As the evening gets darker and emotions start to run amok, secrets are revealed and tears are shed, but will all the drama suffice to save one of them from the clutches of impending death?

I’ve seen many plays and musicals, many of them tragic, but there hasn’t been one as traumatic as this. This is why the open forum after the curtain call is well-appreciated. For a material this disturbing, such debriefing is necessary to calm everyone down. What we don’t know for sure is if this is indeed an event included in every staging of the play. In any case, kudos to PETA for coming up with such an idea, if it is something they have done so by themselves, that is. The Q&A session has been really helpful in shedding light on the delicate yet timely and relevant issues of depression and suicide.

The genuine surprise for me was the fact that the play has been translated to Tagalog and localized to suit the Philippine setting. There were two or three foreigners that night, and one of them left halfway. Maybe because he didn’t understand what the heck was going on? It would have been nice to see a disclaimer on Ticketworld about that. I mean, we all know that PETA’s productions are mostly in Tagalog, but not everyone does.

The set is aptly designed to resemble a typical family home. You can clearly see the living room and the dining area, while a narrow corridor is visible a few steps up leading to one of the bedrooms. The production design makes you feel as though you have invited yourself to Thelma’s home, accidentally witnessing a painful moment in her life that you have to endure for an hour and a half. The lighting sets the mood for some scenes, but its involvement is kept to a minimum. This is one of those theater pieces that will heavily rely on the strength of its actors. Luckily, neither one fails to deliver.

Being theater veterans, Domingo and Lara are good actors. For the former, she still throws in a funny adlib once or twice but she is well-aware that the play is not a comedy so she tones it down. It is, perhaps, her stage presence that really keeps you glued to the play. The latter, on the other hand, has some moments of temporarily being lost, like she forgot her line for a second there. She immediately bounces back and ends up getting a louder round of applause than Domingo during curtain call, which is well-deserved because she managed to embody the other party involved in such narratives: those who get left behind.

That is one of the strengths of this play. It presents a generally taboo topic with a very human face. It shows you that suicide is not just all about the person himself, but rather everyone around him that will have to deal with the aftermath. It is a good thing because it tackles the different dimensions of the issue, leading the viewer to think about it as a multi-faceted dilemma. Another bonus is that the play unfolds in real-time, which helps in making everything feel more immediate, almost real, and perhaps the closest you can get to experiencing an actual suicide attempt. We all know that this is theater, but the intimate setting lends a tinge of realism to it.

Jessie and Thelma personify the issue well-enough alright, but several individuals from the audience also helped humanize it in a way. During the open forum, a woman stood up holding back tears and told the psychiatrist onstage that the play was hard for her to watch because her son committed suicide by hanging some time ago. And then there was another mother who expressed her appreciation for the production of the play because she belongs to an organization that handles similar scenarios in real life. Aside from being emotionally-charged, the Q&A also answered a lot of questions that we usually have about these issues but are too embarrassed to ask. Hopefully, this play will help in publicizing such issues to some extent. After all, education is what we really need for better understanding.

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