Saturday, July 28, 2018

Rak of Aegis (PETA)


After a series of typhoons and torrential rain showers, Baranggay Venizia becomes a maze of flooded streets and alleys, yet the residents make do by virtue of their resourcefulness and optimistic outlook in life. Aileen (Kim Molina) wants to capitalize on their misfortune to pursue her dreams. The plan is to record a video showcasing her pipes while wading in the leptospirosis-infested waters. The video will reach Ellen Degeneres, leading to a guesting that will make her famous. Her father, Kiel (Renz Verano), does not agree, and instead tells her daughter to take her full-time job seriously. As the town continues to get significant attention from the outside world after the video goes viral, Baranggay Captain Mary Jane (Carla Guevara-Laforteza) must decide whether to embrace their new livelihood heavily reliant on the flood or to get to the bottom of it and solve the problem once and for all, losing their newfound fame.

The set design is awesome. There is a literal flood onstage and it even rains in one of the scenes, hence the warning that you might get wet if you sit in front. There are obstructions depending on where you sit, though. I was assigned a seat to the left side of the stage and never saw the flood, not to mention my view was obscured by the second floor of Aileen’s house. I suggest buying a seat on the second floor or at the middle for a more complete viewing experience. In any case, they do their best to maximize the little space they get from PETA’s rather tiny stage.

Jukebox musicals are the norm nowadays. There’s been one for the Eraserheads and Sugarfree. There’s another one coming featuring the songs of APO Hiking Society. Musicals like this succeed because they feed your nostalgia, that yearning for a bygone era that everyone can look back to with rose-colored glasses.

The decision to come up with a narrative based on Aegis’ discography is surely a brave one, though. There is no argument at all that these girls can sing. I think we all know by now that they have lungs of steel. It’s just that the subject matter that they sing about can be both damn relatable yet rather polarizing. Who really sings about their Christmas bonus and 13th month pay? But that’s the allure of it. They sing songs that we all want to sing but wouldn’t dare to. That’s why they are such guilty pleasures most of the time.

In Rak of Aegis, the songs are tweaked a bit to fit the main storyline. The songs about love are easier to accommodate, while others are adapted with appropriate sequences, some of which are kind of hypnotizing to say the least. The cast and the ensemble are so game, and many of the actors play multiple roles that are so diverse that you can’t help but appreciate their versatility. Many of them have their own shining moments, like Jimmy Marquez’s Jewel pulling off his own Doble-Karaoke and Verano reminding us of his power belting heydays. Did I mention Molina and how she plays around with her singing? Belting an Aegis song is one thing, playing around with it is a different animal altogether. It’s always a pleasure listening to such a vocally powerful ensemble.

What I don’t really get about Rak of Aegis is whether it is a celebration of what they refer to as “Filipino resilience” or a savage mockery of it. This argument is important because it digs deep into the national ethos. Are we really a nation of resilient optimists or just a bunch of naïve idiots who would readily settle for mediocrity and subpar standards of living because we have no other choice? Perhaps that’s what makes this musical so interesting, because underneath all the laughter hides the elephant in the room that not a lot of people would want to address. But of course, that’s not fun. And so, we just sing and dance.

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