I am anti-hype, so I was reluctant spending a fraction of my savings to watch a play about men justifying their existence on the violence that permeates the modern world. Vagina Monologues for men? But since it was a barkada decision, sige na nga. So off we trooped to the RCBC Plaza to watch "The Male Voice".
What I didn't expect was a consistently powerful set of monologues that reek with honesty and an opulence of stories that for the next 2 hours transfixed me on my seat. Divided in 15 parts, the stories start coming alive in carefully placed monologues that were culled from interviews of real people. These are a variety of anecdotes about a child's first "palo" to another child's deadly kiss to his mother, a homecoming that unravels a lifetime of secrets, etc. Since I was caught unaware the play had no intermission, I didn't dare leave the theater for a toilet break. I couldn't. Joaqui Valdes was charming his way through a monologue about a popular macho dancer and escort. Not only did he perfectly personify "Adonis", he somehow justified Adonis' descent into moral oblivion, it was almost unbelievable when things turned 180 degrees and we find him bearing his soldier's gun. But then reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, isn't it?
It is hard to pick favorites in a cast that pulls heavy punches. Michael Williams was downright hilarious in Victor/Victoria, it's hard not to recognize the internal facility of an actor who is veteran to some of the most complex characters on Philippine Stage. However, in Victor/Victoria, Williams simply comes of age. He was sympathetic and engaging in every line that comes out of his mouth, I so wanted to meet him and shake his hand. Even in less serious piece like "The Belt" - an anecdote about a guy's shopping experience with a girl when they detoured to shop for a belt in a Bangkok market! Williams took hold of the material and transformed it into his own experience. I could swear he was telling his own story. This anecdote gave me an insight into the male viewpoint when girls like me get ourselves in a tizzy shopping! Should we apologize for finding materials other than a much-needed "belt"? I am inclined not to - but I'll try to be more understanding of guys' exasperation. There are elements of nature that are hard to control. That includes our penchance to roam and shop! Excuse moi! That was funny!
In Tommy Abuel's performances lie years of well-honed experience. I was shaken by his "Apat na Sulok ng Kalayaan ni Bobby", about a convict who finds salvation at the penitentiary, then he finds his son joining him in jail. It was hard not to sympathize with his plight. Miren, my friend, would cower down her seat everytime Abuel shouts at the audience (in "Si Adonis, Si Dennis", etc.). He was just such a powerful presence, I find my friends saying, "Nakakatakot naman sya." Tommy Abuel's power lies in his facility to deliver words like his life depended on them. They embody clarity and strength, I couldn't help shed a tear as he concluded his monologue.
Then there's Joel Trinidad. In "Kuya's Picture", he narrates a life cloistered within the secret walls of family betrayal. He was consistently empathic - as though there is a vicarious experience that suddenly needed closure. From his initially muted ramblings to a building guilelessness that belies a thespian at work, Joel Trinidad was a force to reckon with. He displays the same grit in the thought-provoking "LRT/MRT" about sexual equality in the realm of riding the LRT/MRT!
Now, let me point out that one of my favorite scenes was the ingeniously interconnected monologues of a couple of HIV cases in "The Stain" (Batik), performed by Rem Zamora and Pete Delfin. This piece is carefully structured to parallel the lives of men who have fallen victims into the reality of HIV/AIDS - one promiscuous (an escort who would travel as far as Australia) and one discrete. There are lessons to be learned here - that it will take a single moment of carelessness (thoughtlessness) to suffer a consequence as morbid as HIV. Rem Zamora was intense and absolutely persuasive though his monologue is characterized by a very subdued delivery. He was so believable, Tina, my seatmate kept saying, "It's his story, I'm sure! It is his story!" And I was tempted to ask after the show. Pete Delfin was similarly engaging. The power of these vignettes come from the way these seemingly, excessively cumbersome tales of human experience are told matter-of-factly - sans melodrama. These amazing tales of grief and excesses have been carefully tempered, giving them the respect that they deserve. After all, these stories are not mere caricatures. They are real stories - and they haven't been taken advantaged of.
It was easy to fall into the mistake of milking the peculiarity of these individual situations, but THIS is New Voice Company. This is the company that turned the Liza Minelli's song "Cabaret" from a frisky ebullient Broadway song to a more appropriate moody, cheerless, haunting version (sung by Ms. Monique Wilson) that perfectly suited the fate of what befell the Jews during the Holocaust.
Monologues are a tricky thing to perform. Even big named stars in the Westend and Broadway try to avoid one-man shows. They are daunting. For one, you have to be pretty secure of your capacity to engage your audience the whole time you are on stage. In monologues, an actor will have to solely interact with the audience. It is more difficult than sharing the stage with others. Though in TMV, there were several interactions among the 4 actors on stage, they were mostly left to their own devise. What a fantastic ensemble. If there was a competent Theater Awards in the Philippines like the Tony's, this ensemble should win hands down! And I salute New Voice Company for a brilliant material and fantastic show.