Floy Quintos’ ‘Laro’ is a bold and daring play that examines how, in the world of gay relationships, sex acts as currency. The prize should be love; but as the eleven vignettes presented within the play, it is used to negotiate power, liberation, and as measurement for one’s self-worth. As steamy and edgy as this play gets, ‘Laro’ is far from the fun and games that the title implies. The writing is an assault against the social conditions that have kept gay men from expressing themselves fully. This is a dark play that examines the dark hidden spaces where gay men negotiate with their bodies for a semblance of what it means to be whole.
These are the stories that transpire behind closed doors, away from judging eyes, and where the characters are at their most bare, but only because that has value.
‘Laro’ is a series of duets; two actors in one scene portraying life and love and sex as a game where no one is a winner. There’s a callboy and a policeman and their surprising connection that is uncovered during a raid. There’s a seemingly straight bar owner and the transwoman performer who has caught his eye. The same transwoman has a scene with her boyfriend, whom she supports. That boyfriend has a scene with a gay man he just met online. That gay man comes home to his live-in partner, who has a totally different view of what it means to thrive in this society who is not accepting of gay people. The live-in partner then has a scene with a young man whose basketball team he supports. The young man unloads his anger and fears to his cousin, who is a writer. The writer then interviews a model, who is trying to dodge career-damaging rumors. The model then confronts his patron, a bitter and cynical businessman, who then finally has a scene with the callboy from the very first scene.
Each scene is a deep dark look at how sex is so intrinsic into gay relationships -- how it defines your self-worth, how it can put food on your table, at how it can free you from the oppressive societal structures, and how it is sometimes used as a substitute for a love that seems completely out of reach.
Director John Mark Yap maximizes the limited space of Arts Above into a thrust stage so that the audience is right there in front of the action and the intimacy of venue demands that nothing be hidden. There’s a whole lot of sex in ‘Laro,’ and violence too -- both physical and emotional -- but there’s a feeling that the production is playing safe. The characters go as far as undressing down to their underwear but in the moments where they simulate sex, we can see it that it’s just simulation.
This play is so strong and dark and gritty and it needed complete and utter belief that it was actually happening on stage. Had it been a proscenium or there was more distance between audience and the actors, it could have passed. Being so close, it took you away from the need and the primal emotions that comes with these narratives. The play is so real and the performances were so real that it needed to be real all the way into the sex scenes and violence as well.
But the performances! Andre Miguel is a revelation (and I don’t use that word often) as the callboy of the first and last scene. His approach was completely uninhibited and gritty. It was unrefined and coming from the gut, and it’s one of the more standout performances in this amazing ensemble. Jay Gonzaga is the epitome of human perfection, and the choice to play the dumb actor may have been an easier way out, but the emotions were so raw and vivid that being so close to him as he is broken down by his patron plays off wonderfuly. Phi Palmos as the transgender woman is wonderfully textured while Gio Gahol’s boyfriend is equal parts vile and charming. It’s primal and yet very familiar. Vince De Jesus’ cynical and bitter businessman is a painful image of a man destroyed by a series of disappointments; a marvelous study of a person coming to terms with what he has turned into. The nuance and textures he puts on his character explodes in his final scene with Andre Miguel.
It’s a fitting play to produce at the start of Pride Month. One of the many struggles that the community is facing is how we deal with each other and Floy Quintos’ play ‘Laro’ puts that into focus. The staging couldn’t have come at a better time.
Artist Playground's 'LARO' by Floy Quintos has 4 more shows on June 8 and 9, 3pm and 7pm, at Arts Above in West Venue Building (BIR), West Avenue, QC. Tickets are at P600 each. You can purchase tickets online (https://ticket2me.net/e/2327/laro)