Saturday, June 22, 2024

VIRGIN LABFEST 19: Set E - Sagad


DOMINADOR GONZALES: NATIONAL ARTIST - There are rumors that this year’s National Artist Award will be given to Dominador Gonzales (Joel Saracho), who could be the first openly homosexual recipient should all the gossip turn into reality. He is visited by his former student and mentee Oliver (Bong Cabrera), a flamboyantly gay writer who has left his craft to stagnate, trading it off with a BPO job that guarantees fixed monthly income. Hearing about his mentor’s impending award, he intends to use their relationship so he could go back to the limelight. Unfortunately, “Dmon” has other plans.

New to the Virgin Labfest? Always choose Set E. This is a set of three plays that were the best and most popular from the previous year, meaning these are basically reruns. One can easily see how DOMINADOR GONZALES: NATIONAL ARTIST fits the mold. Expect a lot of laughs via self-deprecation and snappy comebacks when you have a gay storyline. This play guarantees that and also manages to tackle ever relevant topics in the LGBTQ community, particularly in the Philippines. A theme discussed that I really appreciate is divorcing the artist and the art which seems like a big issue lately, what with Cancel Culture and the like being ever so rampant nowadays.

ROOM 209 - Anghelo Perez (Jao Catarus) follows the footsteps of his father and older brother Captain Anthony (Gino Ramirez) as he navigates his freshman year at the Philippine Military Academy. Unbeknownst to him, he won’t make it out alive as the upperclassmen make sure to make his life a living hell, picking on him for having the family connections. As his body slowly succumbs to the physical abuse it has been trying to endure since day one, Anghelo will soon become a cautionary tale warning aspiring cadets about the risks of wanting to belong to such an organization.

I am not a big fan of storylines involving police or military academies because they only seem to glorify the use of violence in exchange for assured loyalty. I had to ask myself what the point of ROOM 209 was until it suddenly dawned on me that it is an expose on the hazing-related deaths at the PMA. Apparently, more than 50 cadets have died of questionable causes since its inception, most of them covered up by the higher-ups. After all, “loyalty” is one of their buzzwords, right? Overall, this is a really uncomfortable play to watch but then again, such is the inconvenience of the truth. This story needs to be told.

ANG AWIT NG DALAGANG MARMOL - A group of theater actors rehearse their new play based on a controversial kundiman entitled Jocelynang Baliwag. The Director (Adrienne Vergara) envisions a play with strong symbolisms of the Motherland, and everything seems to be going according to plan when one week before their scheduled debut, a Dramaturg (Kath Castillo) crashes the party and points out each and every historical inconsistency she could find. In the end, will artistic license trump historical accuracy? How important is it for art to stay loyal to its subject’s truth despite the work itself being a piece of fiction?

This starts off strong with a lot of impressive vocal chops you only ever hear in the staging of a kundiman, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. As such, relieving is the entrance of the Director revealing that you are watching a play within a play, exposing you to all the intricacies involved in coming up with such a show. There are many times when the material just goes meta, which can be confusing to the audience. The good thing is that it snaps you out of it just as quickly through wit and humorous ad libs. It’s already funny on its own, though I imagine it would be even more hilarious if you belong to the theater industry and can relate to their dilemmas.

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