#theatermiron in the house with that eheads musical

So I decided to add another larangan to review in this film review blog ko, para masaya naman. Tutal kapag bumibili ka sa teatro ng tikets, bumibili ka rin sa takilya, di ba? Box office. Same same. So sige, isama na natin ang mga napapanood na musicals and stage plays dito for review. At ang bibinyag kay #theatermiron ay itong piyesang ito, na napanood nang libre, salamat sa Resorts World na ginawa siyang available online for free nitong weekend dahil ECQ.

ANG HULING EL BIMBO The Musical

Director, choreographer: Dexter Santos

Writer: Dingdong Novenario

Producer: Full House Theater Company, Resorts World Manila

Pitch: Gather the most memorable Eraserheads’ greatest hits and fuse them into a two-act musical stage play that touches upon life in the ’90s and life 20 years after.

Catch: So a story about rape is now considered as “nostalgia” pala. Okay… sige… Trigger warning galore ito. Kapit, mga beh.

It’s interesting to see how this musical was sold to us audiences as a look-back type of story where we were promised a sentimental jamming session using the phenomenal Erashereads’ songs, ones that almost everyone in UP Diliman and their siblings were rocking to back in the ’90s. That was when copies of Ultraelectromagneticpop! came out, and the Eheads soon became a household name nationally, eventually becoming a cultural sensation that we still celebrate today. Hence this musical nga. So for someone like me who was roaming around the Peyups campus during the beginning of these four Peyups students’  legacy, trip down memory lane ngang mapakinggan ang mga kanta nila. Tapos bonus pa na nasa isang musical, so may kuwento, a la Mamma Mia the musical ng Abba.

I have two favorites when it comes to this style of transferring artistic works into another artistic work. Una siyempre ang rakrakan sa Rak of Aegis ng PETA, featuring the songs of Aegis sung in between a timely story about this hapless barangay that’s always submerged in floods (Winner ang production design nito sa stage beh! Baha nga sa teatro! Gujab PD.) so its residents aspire to have a better life away from this situation — and the focus was on this girl who wanted to become a YouTube sensation. Grabe, storyline pa lang, ulam na eh! Galing ng themes at plot, di ba? Tapos makabagbag-damdaming kakanta pa sila ng Aegis classics (Siyempre may “Basang-Basa sa Ulan” kasi nga baha hahaha char!). I am so glad I caught this one sa PETA dati. Energy! Fun! Singalong! Laughs! Sulit ang bayad grabe. Sarap pang ulit-ulitin.

Second favorite is a movie musical, adaptation naman of APO Hiking Society songs that I grew up with, thanks to my dad and mom na love na love ang APO, kaya love ko na rin ang classic songs nila. Kaya ka-date ko ang mom ko when the movie I Do Bidoo Bidoo: Heto nAPO Sila! came out in 2012 featuring the APO songs woven into the tale of a college-age couple na aksidenteng nabuntis si ati so nasangkot na ang napaka-langit/lupa difference na pamilya nila (richina galore-ish si gel, semi-pooritakalaw si boylet) and ang issue ay kung ikakasal ba sila o hindi. The plot might sound trite but this one will surprise you, kasi maganda ang story flow at swak talaga ang songs ng APO sa situations kaya it worked really, really well.

So when I heard about this musical plying the same route using Eheads songs of my ’90s youth, akala ko not to miss ito. Akala ko ganun din ang magiging takbo  ng kuwento, na mga batang ’90s ito for sure, o kaya may nostalgia sa ’90s pero puwedeng present time ang setting, ganyan. Akala ko may mga moments ito na parang mapapa-singalong ka rin tulad nung sa Aegis, o kaya may pa-senti moments kapag senti songs na ang tutugtog tulad nung sa APO film. Well, ang dami kong akala. Siyempre, in the immortal words of Eheads pa rin, “marami ang namamatay sa maling akala.” Tama naman. Muntik na ‘kong himatayin nung napanood ko siya eh. And the catch would tell you why.

Sorry to begin the review with that spoiler alert of a catch, but I do believe that this musical sold us the wrong sentiments to begin with. It played us along with that nostalgia trip. At NKKLK ang PR na ginamit nila about the story. Basa:

Juicecolored. Talaga??? Dito ako namatay eh: “It’s an original story that should resonate with people who understand how the powerful bond between friends shapes our lives.” Hay jusko. Lift your head, Bayli don’t be scared. Kaya mo ‘to.

I am indeed a person who understands that a powerful bond between friends definitely shapes our lives, makes living bearable even, and for some, this bond is a lifeline, like a real mamamatay-ako-kapag-hindi-mo-ako-tinulungan lifeline, not the pakyut tweetums lang na friendship. But sorry, the bond in this musical wasn’t powerful enough, not in a Mighty Bond way nor even the Elmer’s Glue kind, for crying out loud. Parang tigpipisong paste lang na binili sa kanto, alam mo ‘yun. The plot centered on three college male barkada who met one girl na naging barkada rin nila eventually. The four had a “strong bond” of friendship (daw), and they even had a special pinky-finger-swearing-true-friendship sort of ritual to prove it. Cute. Friends forever ang peg… until the girl gets raped, and the boys witnessed the crime — AND CHOSE TO IGNORE IT.

Sorry all caps dahil intense lang ‘yung pinuntahan ng storyline up to that point. Act 1 was all about setting up the friendship ng three boys from different walks of life from the time they became freshies (sa UPD I assume), meeting an ROTC commandant na ruthless na may kikil sa isang tindahang nagngangalang Toyang kung saan nagtatrabaho si girl named Joy (oo, Tagalog ni Ligaya, pare ko) dahil tiya niya ang may-ari, and how the three boys named Anthony (a closeted gay man), Emman (na naging kuya-kuya-han ni Joy), and Hector (naging sila ni Joy) became close like brothers, and Joy was part of that barkada. Masaya lang, until parating na ang graduation and the tropa drove all the way to an overlooking hill (Antipolo I think) and celebrated the boys’ pending graduation. Joy was inspired to get an education, too, kasi hopeful ang atmosphere ng barkada at caring for each other ang peg, so supportive naman ang boys… until a group of hooligans chanced upon them, threatened them with violence, and raped Joy in the process while the three were held inside the car at gunpoint. Okay. ANG TRAGIC GRABE. But okay, let’s see where this goes, this rather flimsy excuse of a plot na nga as it is. Baka may hope after this.

But no. Choose your own adventure tayo. How did the boys choose to deal with Joy’s rape, you think?

A – Help her by consoling her.

B – Take her to the hospital for treatment or medico-legal if they’re aware of such a thing.

C – Go to the police to report the crime.

D – None of the above.

Mapapasigaw ka rin kung umasa ka rin, tulad ko, na any of A to C ang pinili nila.But no – it’s D. D talaga! None.

DI BA, LANGHIYA, NAGMUKHA AKONG TANGA, PINAASA NIYA LANG AKO. Lecheng Act 1 ito, oo. Juskooooooo. Ano ba namaaaan itoooooo.

And then before breaking for intermission, Act 1 ended with the three boys seeing Joy waiting for them outside the graduation hall, sampaguita leis in tow, isinabit isa-isa sa mga kapita-pitagang bagong batsilyer ng anumang kursong kanilang pinagdalubhasaan sa kolehiyo.  Joy seemed to have recovered quickly from her terrible ordeal, or at least that’s how she’s trying to deal with it — which is tough, super, but admirable nonetheless. Besides, it’s in the nature of Joy’s character to be a toughie no matter what, school of hard knocks PhD holder and all, kaya siya ‘yung tipo ng babaeng kakayanin ang ganitong challenge, kung kinakailangan. And the boys saw that. But guess who didn’t want to face the music here — the boys. Parang mas na-trauma pa sila sa rape incident kesa sa na-rape ah, with the way they wanted to shy away from Joy when they saw her, talagang iniiwasan like how you’d avoid crossing paths with barangay tanods at the Academic Oval when you just took a joint. ‘Yung ayaw mong makalabosong iwas ba. That kind. Okay fine, andun na ko, tinutukan kayo ng baril, pero ‘yung kasama niyo, niyurak ang puri at dangal, o. Alam ko hindi ito contest ng trauma, pero di ba dapat may collective compassion na naganap sa inyo, kung talagang ganyan kayo ka-close? Where’s that goddamn pinky-swear now, graduates?

Sof if Act 1 was flimsy as hell with some dapat-may-trigger-warning-ito-sa-umpisa scenes, Act 2 is just a straight-up descent to weak plot madness. Act 1 opened in medias res nga pala, with the boys presented as men 20 years after graduation, being called in for some “strange reason” sa presinto or morgue ba (Can’t recall; flimsy plot points make me sleepy, di pa ba halata?) because Joy was found dead, and the three men’s cellphone numbers were the frequently called numbers ni Joy kaya tinawagan sila. The men felt Iike they were hiding some kind of secret, like they just got the deadliest phone call of their life, and by the end of Act 1 nga, we now know why due to the long ’90s college flashback. So Act 2 was just a long, long, looong deliberation of the three men’s guilt, with scenes in between that juxtaposed how Joy’s life turned out for the worse (the tindahan became a KTV and she became–wait for it–a prostitute. Ang daming ’90s plots pero sa ’70s catalog talaga humugot ng story arc? Okay fine.).

Wagi sana kung talagang na-exercise ni Joy ang kanyang pagiging PhD sa School of Hard Knocks eh, pero literal na pahada lang ang naging dating niya (sorry academic joke, “pahada” is what we used to call “PhD” back when I was teaching sa UPD — because same same). So, like a page out of bad ’80s films din, Joy became a hardened drug runner and beholden forever sa ROTC commandant na ngayon ay corrupt konsehal na. Can this plot get any worse, you say? In the immortal words of infomercials: But wait, there’s more! Like the girl in the El Bimbo song, their childhood friend had a daughter whom Joy named–wait for it–Ligaya. Ano, kaya pa ng powers, Amor Powers?

Act 2 showed how the three men felt burdened by that awful, awful “secret” nila, yet it showed how they were still able to lead richly fruitful lives: Hector the ex became a successful director, Anthony has a cushy government job but still closeted and married, and Emman married that woman he was pining for noon pang bata sila, and got a good job din somewhere (can’t remember zzz). Meanwhile, Joy tries hard to make life peachy for Ligaya, even with an ailing Tiya na siya namang inaalagaan niya ngayon. Apparently, she tries to call the men to ask for help, and only one of them lent money (utang for Joy, tulong na lang daw like a hugas-kamay kind for the dude who gave it to her, sorry zzz can’t remember who). With the way they acted, it’s like Joy was a nuisance in their lives, and the three haven’t seen each other pala since graduation and that awful, awful “secret” event. Ewan. Tapos ayan nga, si Joy ang namatay, natauhan bigla ang mga boylets, and vowed to help Ligaya or something something blah blah ad nauseam. Ewan ko mga beh, by this time, suko na ko ehhh. Dinaan ko na lang sa maboteng usapan ang part na ito, tutal curtain na. Goodness, I can just imagine if sa teatro ko ito napanood. I might have shouted BOOOOOO. And group hug to my friends/contacts who said they felt the same way when they watched it live. Refund?

My main beef about this whole damn show is the fact that the story is not a happy-happy-joy-joy “nostalgic journey” about a “powerful bond of friendship” blah but about how three men were racked with guilt all their lives upon witnessing the rape of their friend years ago, and they didn’t do anything about it. No, I don’t want these men to be heroes for Joy; Joy is already the hero of her own journey, thankyouverymuch. What I wanted to see is for these three men to see that what happened to Joy is wrong, foul, the lowest of the low, and they should have dealt with it as such — not a “guilty secret” that you keep buried within you and shoo away instances of reminders when you chance upon them, the number one being the poor woman calling you and calling you and calling you but you keep on dismissing her. Assholes! This is the story of assholes, plain and simple.  By Act 2 I was like, “Ay, nakakakanta ka pa, asshole? Eh asshole ka eh. Asshole!” Na slight naiiyak ako kasi si Jon Santos ‘yung isang nag-play ng character (the closeted gay man, who else) eh super-love ko si Jon ever, galing na performer grabe. Haaaaay.

If this is the point of the show, fine, I’d gladly accept it if it were presented on the get-go siguro, to see how they will deal with it and all that emotional journey chorva. But please, this is not a freaking “sentimental journey” or a “timeless tale of friendship” utang na loob por diyos por santo mahabagin. If a show presents the treatment of rape survivors like this, that the way to deal with it is to DENY IT HAPPENED (Guess which character opted for this: Hector, ‘yung naging jowa ni Joy! Jowa mo na-rape, dedma na lang? Anak ka NG!!!), then there is something utterly, terribly, HORRIBLY wrong about what you want to say about women being raped in general. And to dismiss this dismissal as “Ang tagal na nun!” “Bata pa tayo nun!” “Nung ’90s pa ‘yun eh,” just please remember that a woman will bring her rape story with her to the grave; all the girl wanted for you fuckers is to commiserate with her kahit papaano, or help her when she was in dire straits na, kasi nga hindi niya naabot ang mga pangarap niya, di tulad niyo. If this is the show’s idea of a “powerful bond of friendship” then I am dreading what their idea of “life in hell” is like. Good effin’ lord. ALAK!

I get it that the story is trying na maisabuhay ang kantang ito mismo. But they missed the point being 1) nawalan sila ng connection kay Paralumangurl all these years at 2) hindi incidental ang bad event noong childhood sa kalunos-lunos na hinantong ni gurl sa adulthood kaya puwede pang magkaroon ng element of wistful romantic longing as an adult. So for these stage musical men to sing “Sa panaginip na lang pala kita maisasayaw” while looking at a dead Joy is not acceptable, at all, because you ugoks abandoned her deliberately. No nostalgia for you, shoo!

Magkokomento pa ba ako sa aalog-alog na production values? ‘Wag na, pa-birthday ko na lang ‘yang tech niyo (Saka dami eh! Antok na ko zzz bad plot zzz bad plot). Kudos na lang sa mga magagaling na aktor kahit papaano (kahit minsan parang labu-labo lang ang blocking kapag ensemble dancing-singing number NKKLK). There’s a good effort naman of trying to integrate the Eheads songs in the story. But to have them sandwiched in such a story loses their taste, sa totoo lang, especially their–wait for it–nostalgiaaaaaaa. Makaka-singalong pa ba ‘ko sa lagay na ‘yan habang nakikita ko kung paano niyo dinededma ‘yung kaibigan niyong na-rape? Don’t me. Para lang itong ‘yung Riverdale na ginawang young hot teacher si Miss Grundy AT nagkaroon sila ng sexual relations ni Archie Andrews beh. Pilot pa lang, wasak na ko! Desperately seeking Susan este childhood, shet ka Netflix isa ka pa.

Alam mo ang tunay na nostalgia dito for me? Seeing my first car on stage! That Lancer box-type is the kind I drove when I first learned how to, back in ’92-’93 nga yata, at dala ko na ‘yan sa Peyups during my whole stint as a film major in MassComm (I missed Ely by two years yata kasi shiftee ako). Diyan namin pinapatugtog ng barkada ang cassette ng Eheads at iba pa. Kaya malaki ang inis ko sa show na ito kasi may emotional investment ako bilang audience bilang may role ang mga kanta nila sa buhay-Peyups ko. Pero hindi matatahimik ang feminist self ko kung malaya kong tatanggapin ang warped presentation nila ng how to deal with a rape incident/survivor. You can’t nitpick to like the nostalgia part of the Eheads and ignore the uncomfortable messaging it’s obviously saying which people keep glossing over. Naloloka akong basahin ‘yung mga praise release sa show na ito. ‘Kainis ang PR spin grabe.

Well anyway, tinapos ko pa ring panoorin, sunk cost na eh. But cost-benefit analysis, you can’t like one part while ignoring the rest nga. What message would you like to bring home after watching this? Your answer might define who you are regarding this issue, I suppose — and you might be surprised by what you find. If you liked the show, fine, that’s your opinion. But I sincerely hope you don’t ignore the “other” story here, no matter how uneasy it would be to face it. ‘Yun lang naman eh. No, I’m not asking you to be a hero for the oppressed, but that would be a win if you become one. What I’m asking is for the world not to gloss over rape as something to dismiss, or to treat a friend na na-rape na ganyan-ganyan lang, dismissed. People who get raped can’t just sing “puwede bang itigil muna ang pag-ikot ng mundo” kasi sa moment na nire-rape sila, huminto na ang mundo, right there and then.  Ilang awit pa ba ang aawitin para maintindihan ang konseptong ito? Apparently for this show’s makers, marami pa.

Anyway, hanggang dito na lamang at maraming salamat. Check ko pa BP ko. Saka ALAK!

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