Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rak of Aegis (2016)

"Heto ako, basang-basa sa ulan, walang masisilungan, walang malalapitan. Sana'y may luha pa akong mailuluha at nang mabawasan ang aking kalungkutan." (Aegis, 1998)


I am not familiar with Aegis (the Filipino rock band) though I've heard their songs frequently being sung at videoke bars by friends. The band is known for power ballads with raw vocal belting by the singer/s. And their songs are highly relatable to Filipinos. A stroke of genius, it truly was, when someone thought of putting the band's song into a musical. The final product is the Philippine Educational and Theatre Association's (PETA) "Rak of Aegis".

I trooped to PETA's Phinma Theatre in Quezon City with Krishna, Man, Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and Pogs on a Friday afternoon. We braved the EDSA traffic and the small side roads leading to the theatre (thank you, Waze!). It took us a bit more than three hours to get there, as expected, but we came just in time to find parking and have dinner with Caloy, Pogs' friend from UPLB. 

Eewww!! Why is the stage full of garbage?!? What kind of audience watched the previous show? The nerve! They actually threw garbage onstage?!? These were my thoughts when I first laid eyes on the stage. It was really icky! Pogs heard my reaction and he explained that the play was set in a village that was flooded; hence the water, the trash, and the rest of the set design. And my head goes: the show is set in a squatters' area? Sounds so much like RENT, with the setting in that musical being the Alphabet City.

Anyway, with my mind at ease, I began to relax. The trash was intentional after all. As we settled in, we knew it was going to be fun show as the announcer's voiceover reminders proved to be hilarious. I mean, who wouldn't laugh when he warned audience members to not sing along with the performers or else they'd be taken outside the lobby to belt an Aegis song for everyone to hear? Or how about this public safety announcement: "Smoking, eating, and drinking are rhyming words."?

And then the play started. A young woman wanted to gain fame and fortune via getting her singing talent discovered on YouTube. The guy who navigates the boat to transport people to and fro the flooded village thoroughfare was in love with her and helped her get her anguished, watery performance online. The woman's parents were both unemployed and the village's industry (shoemaking) couldn't keep up with the competition of mass-produced shoes. The barangay captain had to deal with the flood and the diseases it caused, the failing shoe business, her belligerent but talented teenage son, her unrequited love for the young woman's father, and the temptation to be swayed by influential and rich people. The woman did get the fame that she was dreaming of but her father didn't like the get-rich-quick scheme; he believed in earning one's keep through hard work and perseverance. The woman's mother got sick with leptospirosis, an infection that typically afflicts people who are exposed to floodwaters. A rich landowner and real estate developer, who was blamed for the flooding, gave funding for a concert that would help the village finance its health centre (supposedly) and the shoe factory. And we all know who's going to sing in the middle of the flooded street, right? Unfortunately, the flood receded on the day of the concert and it had to be cancelled. There were mixed emotions. Some wanted to stop the flood from going down because they saw the money-making potential of the concert while the others were happy that the water's actually going down. In the end, the village folk got the happy ending that they predictably would have (given that this follows the formula of Filipino productions). 

Just my opinion: I didn't like the story so much. I'm not saying that it's not good... but it was a let-down for me. Yes, it's supposed to showcase people's difficult plight during post-typhoon floods; yes, it's supposed to show the Filipino's unwavering positivity in the face of difficulty; yes, it's telling us not to throw garbage so that the roads won't get flooded. The performers were all great singers. They belted the Aegis songs effortlessly. I felt it was a good way to spend two hours but it just left me wanting more out of the plot. I found the ending weak. Maybe I felt that the producers didn't know how to end the play. Or they just wanted to force a happy ending; otherwise it won't be pleasing to the general public.  I don't know... 

Maybe I was expecting something a bit more powerful because the premise was about engaging the audience to encourage social change. Other musicals got me to think about their pet issues, at least. Like the Philippine production of RENT that got me thinking about AIDS for six years now, and got me writing a few blog posts about it. Or the Australian production of the Phantom of the Opera, which I saw as a student, at the Sydney Opera House (or did I see this at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre? I can't remember now). The Philippine run of Les Misérables got me thinking about how I take freedom for granted; freedom that was the fruit of the sacrifices of my forebears. Okay, maybe it's unfair to compare Rak of Aegis with international plays. But still, I felt it paled in comparison with a school play I saw in the basement of the Student Union building of UPLB 18 years ago... a straight play in which the characters were chess pieces on a board, almost akin to Professor McGonagall's transfigured chess set in Harry Potter. Of course I've already forgotten the play's title but it had a profound effect on how I watch plays to this day.

Despite leaving me wanting more out of it, I did enjoy Rak of Aegis. It's assured in its comedy; it's unconvincingly dramatic; and it definitely was a fun show to watch.