Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Rak Experience for a Non-Raker

The truth is, I've been blogging even before I knew the word blog. Simply because I love writing out loud. Sharing my gutspill and mind farts to anyone who cares to listen slash read. But for the past few years, I've seriously lapsed in the habit. Yes, there are the usual culprits--work, life, sloth, and Facebook. But I guess there was also something about how blogging--its communities, its culture--has evolved that scared me a little bit. And I wasn't quite ready to print a business card, analyze my SEOs, and sell my soul for freebies just to feel like a real blogger. So I just lay low for a bit, blogged intermittently, but never really got the nerve to delete or stop all together.

Once in a while, after a particularly palate-titillating dish, or a fabulous trip, I feel the itch to blog. But never have I felt the overwhelming rage to rave and to successfully overcome inertia. Until today. And it's funny how a musical made me do it. I actually just left a very long comment on Facebook, but then I thought to myself that it was too long for a comment, so I might as well post a blog. So here I am, rusty at blogging, and here it is, my review of Rak of Aegis. Copied and pasted from Facebook.

I am ashamed to admit that I did not expect much. The first time it ran, I scoffed at the pun and assumed it would be a spoof of Rock of Ages and a mockery of the band Aegis. I thought it would be a loosely spun string of songs that would be illogically stretched out to accommodate the band's repertoire.

To begin with, my narrow music comfort zone did not accommodate the folksy, rocky genre of a band who sings with a strange accent. And then it did not help that on the night itself, I was exhausted from an all-day training workshop with 40 participants, some of whom were rowdy and required subtle disciplining. I felt I would much rather go home to have my much-needed massage.

I grossly underestimated PETA, Aegis, and the power of artistic entertainment to wash away fatigue. One of the quips in the musical was, O for Owkward. And I knew then that I would rate this O for Owesome.

The production values made me want to be a stage designer apprentice, and the performance made me ache in envy at my inability to sing in tune.

Experience Design advocate and theorist Brenda Laurel would approve of how the stage brings the audience into the milieu. I could almost smell the stench of the flood and feel the itch caused by millions of germs in the putrid air. This, they achieved by wrapping the audience around the stage, a stylized yet realistic depiction of Manila's marshy slums. The bubble and sunflower scenes were a bright respite from the dirty brown overload and showed how well the production could laugh at itself.

The costumes were spot on for the characters, who probably sourced their fashion needs from ukay-ukay stores. Plus there were the more outrageous, campy touches from the fantasy scenes. The lovely variety of botas, the cheap version of Plueys, appealed to my aesthetically-alert eyes.

And of course, the performances--Aicelle Santos is a marvel. As fame-hungry, I've-got-to-be-discovered-by-Ellen-de-Genere Aileen, she is convincing and endearing--she disarms you and gets you rooting for her. As a singer, she can belt it out for the diva numbers, and she can tone it down to a tender lilt for the love scenes. She can screech her frustrations in a booming voice that fills the theater, and then she can just as quickly bring it down to a hopeless sigh.

Jerald Napoles is a blast! He looks perfect for the role, for his present life as a love struck gondolier, and for his crazy druggie back story. It would have been easy for him to cross the line to annoying character, but he stays just near the border of lovable. He made we wish I had my own Tolits, utterly in love with me while also being an endless source of life-affirming bellow laughs. (Oh wait, I do.)

The humor! Laugh out loud wit that never goes too low, too dark, too toilet. Satire that does not try too hard. Kudos to PETA for its fresh, relevant injection of Bong Revilla elements.

And the last thing I expected was the message itself (shows you how little I know about PETA, which I now know is always big about social relevance). It is a depiction of poverty, the type that makes people want to stop hoping, the kind where one is never up in the wheel of life. It is a commentary on the Filipino's fondness for get-rich-quick schemes, or in this case, get-out-of-this-miserable-existence-quick schemes. If it was their intention to rouse and guilt out its apathetic middle class audience when they sang Gumising na Tayo, then they succeeded with me. Yet in the end, there is redemption, a message that when it's bleak where you are, it's not magical circumstances that can get you out, but good old Filipino talent and abilidad. One can always hope. And back up that hope with change and action.

Yes,Rak of Aegis rocks. And if you haven't yet, you've got to see it, even if you have to brave flood, rain, hale, and traffic to get there.