The flooded ghetto greeted me as soon as I walked in the theater.
Mountains of miniature houses dangled on the backdrop, tiny windows lit from the inside, canals with floating debris ringing the stage, rickety planks and multi-level platforms – now represent the heroine’s living space, next her workplace, then the streets of her community, Barangay Venizia – some local version of a half-submerged Venice.
Mio Infante did a great job with his set design and allowed me to get acquainted with it as soon as the theater gates opened.
Of course, sitting in the center balcony during the full-house matinee, I didn’t get as intimate as spectators on the ringside seat, who got splashed, a la Sea World, during the show.
Still, I can’t help but wonder whether actors have fallen in the waters or literally broken their legs doing “grand jetes” over those ramps in the course of five runs over two years and 200 performances.
The rock/comedy-musical “Rak of Aegis” happens to be one of Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA)’s longest-running productions because obviously, it keeps the audience amply entertained.
And yes, the title was a pun on “Rock of Ages”, the five-time Tony-nominated rock musical featuring classic rock songs from ‘80s glam metal bands.
For its part, “Rak” strung together 20 songs of heartbreak from the Aegis Filipino 90’s rock band to flesh out the story of Aileen, played by Alisah Bonaobra, an ambitious saleslady dreaming to go viral as a You Tube singer so Ellen DeGeneres can discover her.
At this time, Venizia has been flooded for two months and her dad, Kiel, played by OJ Mariano, wants to find out why.
The flood destroyed the shoe business of his employer, ex-sweethert, Barangay Captain Mary Jane, played by Sweet Plantado-Tiongson, who also happens to be the mother of Aileen’s suitor, Kenny, played by Vince Lim.
Venizia’s residents blame the flood on the nearby subdivision, Villa Arkadia, then voila. They use it for a ghetto-tourism cum concert to launch Aileen’s singing career.
As always, PETA injected its trademark message of social awareness into the play. Just before the concert, the flood subsides and the Venizians absurdly found themselves wishing the flood to return.
Inevitably, the characters are forced to question themselves. The resilience with which they faced disaster ceases to become a virtue and seems more akin now to foolhardiness. And they have to find a way to redeem themselves.
A good thing too, that the musical didn’t fall for the formula love plot. It wasn’t Kenny, the suitor with the matinee idol looks, who gets the girl but the funny-faced, shirt-shredding boatman, Tolits, played by Pepe Herrera.
While Alisah showed she has the vocal chords to meet the demands of her role, it was OJ and Pepe’s singing which I found most riveting.
In the end, it was a riot, with the twirling umbrellas ala “Singing In the Rain” and the actors dancing in Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers and classic Chucks, bathed in vibrant multi-colored lights, with sunflowers and creepers pushing out of the floorboards.
(“Rak of Aegis” runs from June 17 to Aug. 28, 2016, Tuesdays to Fridays, 8PM and Saturdays to Sundays, 3PM and 8PM, at the PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City.)