By Joseph Cortes, VERA Files
If there is anything that man fears more than death, it is loneliness. Death comes at the end of a life, or suddenly as in an accident. But loneliness stares you in the face your whole life. It is hard to evade its gaze. The thought of growing old and dying alone is the reason behind the need to be a couple. It is this longing for companionship, driven by the desire for self-preservation, which fuels all relationships.
Loneliness and ageing are at the heart of "Sayaw ng mga Seniorita," which was Gantimpala Theater's production in the recently concluded National Theater Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Written by award-winning writer and director Jose Javier Reyes, "Sayaw" looks at how five gay men, some of them seniors—hence, the seniorita in the title—have lived their lives as they celebrate a friend's 60th birthday. This discourse on death, old age, loneliness and love is couched in laugh-a-minute comedy that lightens the impact of Reyes' story. How else would you make the play's serious theme palatable to an audience that already finds much to relate with in this story?
Trust that gay men put a widely divergent spin on loneliness. That they can still be catty and at the same time caring of their friends and their follies is tribute to the camaraderie homosexuals have with their kin, no matter their age. Rading de Guzman (Soxie Topacio), a well-off antique dealer and collector and the evening's celebrant, has found love and companionship in the arms of Oliver Samson (Chase Cervera), his nurse and live-in partner of more than 15 years.
Terry Mangubat (Joel Lamangan), an affluent businessman, evades loneliness through numerous random encounters with escorts and masseurs. Romeo Cajanding (Arnell Ignacio), a talent manager and male bikini contest organizer, finds solace in the arms of his talents, mostly minors seeking a break in show business. Dr. Gerry Almario (Manny Castañeda), aesthetic surgeon to stars, has prepared for old age by marrying and siring children who will guide him in old age, while living a secret life. Raquel Villasor (Bb. Gandanghari), a transsexual socialite, has found comfort with an Arabian sheikh who has given her the world.
Rarely has the Batute been filled to the capacity for a performance. Indeed, "Sayaw ng mga Seniorita" is stellar, the only show with a cast of established television and film actors among all NTF productions. The repartee between the five leads was in perfect sync that they manage to turn a few missed lines into witty moments. At times, they seem not to be acting at all nor reciting lines the way the banter flows naturally among them.
Jun Pablo, who directs the production, must have had an easy time guiding his actors all of them veterans. It is fascinating to see Lamangan, who has gone into directing full time, act again; his spot-on delivery a la Nora Aunor during key moments sent the crowd giggling.
Topacio, also a well-known director, merely sashayed into his role with his three costume changes, so much more than Gandanghari who wore the same gown all night. Gandanghari, in her first stage appearance, did not disappoint, inhabiting a role that hews closely to his showbiz persona. In giving his character a true feminine similarity, he had to tone down his voice, which sometimes rendered him inaudible to those sitting at the back. Manny Castañeda brought his flair for comedy to the fore with his shifts from the swishy doctor and patron of physique contests to devoted, masculine husband; his is a familiar character. Ignacio, a last minute replacement for two other actors, was the most flamboyant; his character is the most familiar to those who patronize male pageants.
"Sayaw" is a sweet diversion, just a little under two hours, which some might find too short. When the audience finds itself relating to the material at hand, the minutes seem not to matter. Many of the jokes and cues in this play are based on stories within the gay community, and the characters would be familiar if you move within this milieu. However, one's appreciation of this show is not dependent on an acquaintance of this world. Just come to the show prepared to have lots of laughs and a good time; you'll surely get that at the end of the evening.
Be warned, though, that the show is for a mature audience only. The whole play is peppered with cuss words, references, gestures and simulations of sex, including a reenactment of a bikini contest toned down for PG consumption. The frank discussion of Raquel's gender and apparatus is also a delicate topic that might not sit well with some.
Lending support in this production are Doreen Bernal, China Cojuangco, Paul Jake Paule, Johnron Tañada, Royce Chua and Christian Paul Meteoro. Justine Ferrer alternates for Bb. Gandanghari in some performances.
Gantimpala Theater's production of "Sayaw ng Mga Seniorita" will have additional performances at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo on Nov. 23 and 24 and Dec. 1, 7 and 8. For ticket reservations and inquiries, call 998-5622 or 0939-9087633.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")