I think I’ve seen PETA’s ‘Rak of Aegis’ about 5 times. I even saw two shows in the same season because I wanted to see the alternates. It really is our version of ‘Les Miserables’ as it is endless (as it should be) utilizing the songs of Aegis (with musical direction and arrangement by Myke Salomon) and direction by Maribel Legarda that brings the flooded Barangay Venizia unto the stage for all of us to see. I can watch it every year and see a showcase of our homegrown talents’ vocal prowess (a majority of the songs are showstopping belters) and wonderful comedic timing.
But the pandemic is here and the closest I’ll ever get to Barangay Venizia this year is ‘Rak of Aegis’ online. Announced at the start of the show, the recording is of the 7th season (with Aicelle Santos, Pepe Herrera, Robert Sena, Isay Alvarez-Sena, Poppert Bernadas, Jimi Marquez, and Joan Co) and was shot for PETA’s personal use only, so it’s taken from 2 angles of the stage: one full shot and one that can take close up shots. The camera work isn’t refined — sometimes the close-up camera is caught focusing as it shifts from one character to the next — and it doesn’t really get as immersive as you would want it to.
I saw the show three times from the balcony and twice seated in the orchestra on the side, stage left. So what’s nice is that the angles of the show catch parts of the show I never got to see. Also, the close-ups were great because it’s a sight you never get to see in the theater (especially of someone with poor eyesight like myself). It also adds to the recording that you can see the audience, so it emphasizes the live capture feel.
Because, if there’s anything about Liza Magtoto’s script, it’s how she makes that whole barangay come alive. From the opening sequence with the neighborhood waking up and getting busy and you see all this unfold before you, there’s nothing quite like it. On stage, your eyes are traveling all over the place to see the busy-ness of the scene (wonderful stage direction by Maribel Legarda), and to actually see the boat float in the river in the middle of the stage is just incredible.
And when it rains while they are singing the classic song ‘Basang Basa sa Ulan,’ it’s pure theater magic.
A lot of this is absent from the video recording.
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But what is gained is seeing the details of the individual moments of brilliance from the cast when it goes to the close-up camera: the genuine flow of emotions coming out of Aicelle Santos and Joan Co as they really hit hard their heartbreaking mother-daughter scene in Act II concerning Aileen’s need to find a job, that tender moment between Poppert Bernadas and Isay Alvarez-Sena when they finally reconcile their differences, and being able to catch the detail of commitment and dedication of the ensemble as they work in the background during a scene, which you would not normally see on live theater.
The songs are still wonderfully performed and sung. I’m an Aegis fan and their songs, transformed in this way, are just so powerful for me.
What’s interesting in this time of pandemic is how the flooding of Barangay Venizia becomes a metaphor for something else entirely as you are watching this show. Watching this show online during this time showcases how symbolic the plight of the community of Barangay Venizia is; that the play objectifies it as the flooding but it’s really anything else that seeks to keep us down — horrible pandemic response, the hollow promises of government officials, and the elite stepping over the poor for their own comfort.
While the theater industry has to remain closed for the safety of the cast, crew, and the audience, I’m still happy that I was able to visit Barangay Venizia again, even if it is in a diminished capacity. It’s better than not going at all. Buying a ticket will ensure that, when the time comes for theaters to open once more and it is safe to watch a play or a musical, we will get to see ‘Rak of Aegis’ again live and in person.
Rak of Aegis online extends one more weekend, August 14 to 15, for an encore. Video On Demand (P500) and Livestream (P350) tickets are now available for booking. Buy your tickets here.