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REVIEW: A Matter of Privilege: a review of the new original play ‘Patintero sa Ayala Avenue’

‘Patinteto sa Ayala Avenue’ is a strong debut, regardless of what I think about its politics, and brings in a fresh new voice in Philippine Theater in English.

Full disclaimer: I am a founding member of CAST (Company of Actors in Streamlined Theater) and have been a part of their first two seasons before the pandemic. But I have not been an active member since the pandemic and I have no participation whatsoever in this latest season or in their latest production, the new original play ‘Patintero sa Ayala Avenue’ written and directed by Rafael Jimenez and starring Zoe de Ocampo and Teia Contreras. I sat down on the opening night as an audience member and a critic. I may be friends with the producer but had no idea what I was about to witness.

‘Patintero sa Ayala Avenue’ is a play written by Rafael Jimenez, his thesis for his degree in Theater from Mint and it is a powerhouse of emotions, almost entirely a monologue by its lead character, simply known as The Boy, except for a few scenes with The Boy’s 10-year-old sister Nora. The Boy is a high school student in a prestigious boarding school in Manila, but he is failing four out of his five subjects and faces expulsion. It begins pretty much with Zoe de Ocampo talking to someone named Mike. “Dear Mike” he starts, almost like he’s writing a letter. He talks about his current predicament and with a light change, he goes from an internal monologue into a real-world conversation – whether it’s his problematic roommate or the principal of his school – and we discover that The Boy is not in a good place.

Photo courtesy of May Celeste

He shares his observations about the bullies of his school and the effects it has on other students – one extreme case follows that someone tried to take his life – and what’s implied but never spoken out until much later is how he has a lot of issues with his parents, most especially his father, who is a director. It’s so bad that he decides to sneak out of the boarding house (it involves bribery) and walking around Poblacion. He shares his candid views about the red-light district that is Burgos street, mentioning more than once the number of foreigners (white folk) with a Filipina in their arms. He tries to stay the night at the hotel in front of Filling Station but can’t get a room because he’s underage and meets a woman who he tries to flirt with until he discovers she’s a sex worker. We follow The Boy through his traipse around Makati, constantly asking about where the Christmas lighting decor that adorn Ayala Avenue go when the Christmas season is over, while telling Mike about all his angers and frustrations about the world. Very quickly, we discover that The Boy is also unreliable narrator, because even his musings to Mike are also filtered by his own need to look like he’s in the right.

The Boy discusses family relations, memories of a happier, simple past, and his thoughts about suicide or running away to Baguio. We seem date girls and screw that up because he’s kind of misogynistic and overall toxic and what we get is a snapshot of the dark, inner world of the privileged youth. 

What makes it hard to bear is while any suffering should be dealt with sympathy and empathy, The Boy is not without options. He’s wealthy. Who else gets to run away and tries to book a room at a hotel so he can spend the night. This is a kid who has run away from home and will book a Grab to go from Ayala Triangle to Glorietta. He complains that all Filipino movies are bad (he uses harsher terms than that) and all because his dad is a film director and he hates his dad. When he is with his guy friends, he takes on the posture of the toxic male and it bleeds into his dealings with the girls that he likes.

Photo courtesy of May Celeste

For one hour, all of the first act, we have to follow this boy’s misadventures and its hard to empathize when he has so many options that are available to him. There’s even a moment when he talks to a pares vendor and The Boy becomes the vendor, all hunched, smoking a cigarette, and talking about how life doesn’t mean anything because it’s all going to end. The vendor is the only other character The Boy interacts with that The Boy inhabits and voices out and this adds an extra layer of privilege that comes from the playwright and not just the character. These vendors who work under the neon lights of Burgos are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve come to know because I live in Poblacion. The working class don’t think about the world ending, they live in the moment. They are happy that they can work, that they can provide. They are the first to tell us stories about the things they’ve seen (and they’ve seen plenty) and it’s what I cannot stand about poverty porn because most of the working class, and even lower class know how to have fun, to laugh, and to take each day on its own merits.

Everything comes together by the second act, when the specifics of The Boy’s backstory lay out everything that the first act was just symptoms of his own lashing out. But by that point, I’m no longer on his side, and this play needs us to be on his side. He’s someone who needs a friend, an older figure (definitely parental) but there’s no one there. The audience can become that person, the only one who can care about him, but we don’t. The play didn’t give us that option. So, when we finally see him interact with his sister, Nora, the only person he loves and possibly loves him back, it comes too late for the audience to imbibe the message that the play tries to give.

What makes it a powerful debut, nonetheless, is that it felt very authentic to the milieu and the sensibilities of the character. The references, the use of language: all of these were unapologetically cued in to its zeitgeist and that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a demanding work for both the audience and its cast. The playwright loves his character and while there’s nothing wrong about writing about privileged people, the writing must open itself up to larger perspectives that can make it inclusive to a larger audience who will not share these experiences. 

Photo courtesy of May Celeste

Zoe de Ocampo is a promising powerhouse, who is able to capture and engage the audience all by his lonesome up on that stage. I think what he needs is more experience as the demanding play asks him to immediately shift from internal monologue (his letters to Mike) to the one-man dialogue with characters in the play (who are not present). There are nuances and shifts that need to be more refined because it’s so subtle that the delivery can come across as monotone through the whole play. The way he talks to the sex worker should be different from when he talks to his guy friends, his abusive rommate, or a pares vendor in Burgos. It’s most prominent when he speaks to Nora, played effectively by Teia Contreras. That’s where the shift becomes really clear. With more experience – both on stage and off stage – De Ocampo is going to do very exciting things for Philippine theater.

‘Patinteto sa Ayala Avenue’ is a strong debut, regardless of what I think about its politics, and brings in a fresh new voice in Philippine Theater in English. Most original Filiipno plays I’ve seen are in Filipino and most English plays I’ve caught are revivals of Western work. New voices like these should be heard and these are important steps to their growth. With all the success recent theater productions have been getting, ‘Patintero sa Ayala Avenue’ is proof that Philippine theater is blooming.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review

‘Patintero sa Ayala Avenue’ last week runs from July 6 to July 7 at The Mirror Studios. Tickets details are found on CAST’s Facebook Page and Instagram.

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