When I first saw the play pre-pandemic, I marveled in my first review about how Rody Vera’s ‘Under My Skin,’ with the direction of Melvin Lee, was an in-your-face experience that “foregoes the literary for the literal’ without sacrificing the lyricism of the artform.
But ‘Under my Skin’ had to end its run two weeks earlier than expected because of the pandemic but the story still needs to be told. It took PETA ten months to get things moving and restaged the show in an empty PETA theater and shot it for a streaming audience. They did this in 12 hours following the strict protocols for shooting.
The end result? An even more visceral experience that uncovers new textures within the play that the live stage version can’t replicate. On stage, the play feels like an onslaught. On-screen, with the cinematic techniques of close-ups and cutaways, with the camera changing angles, ‘Under my Skin’ achieves a new sense of intimacy.
Cherry Pie Picache, who plays Dr. Gemma Almonte, a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases and the narrator of this immense piece, has to constantly shift from delivering stirring monologues that relate the history of HIV in the country to the audience while, in a split-second, turns her attention to the characters on stage and play doctor. In the live setting, her monologues are directed to the audience, requiring an amazing sense of stage presence to get everyone from the front row to the balcony seats (which Picache managed wonderfully). In this filmed version, her monologues are directed straight to the camera. Now, she’s talking directly to you, whoever is watching and the effect is like a puncture.
‘Under my Skin’ follows Dr. Gemma as she diagnoses a host of characters and helps them through the waves of emotions that follow. There’s Dino, a 14-year old played by Dylan Ray Talon, who discovers his status and his mother, played magnificently by Kitsi Pagaspas, who has to deal with this new discovery about her child’s hidden life. There’s Mary Rose, played by a solid She Maala, who is destroyed when she realises her 5-year-old son contracted it from her during childbirth, as she never knew she was positive. There’s the couple of Jonathan (Mike Liwag) and Greg (Gio Gahol), who must navigate the difficult emotions that come when realising the virus had come between them. There’s Syd (an arresting Eko Baquial, who was incredible on the stage version and comes even more alive on the filmed version), who has to reevaluate his life choices as his ex and his friends around him are succumbing to HIV. And then there’s the showstopping Comedy Bar Owner, played with such gusto by Dudz Teraňa, who takes a solo monologue and turns it into one part stand-up comedy routine and one part painful confessional. It highlights how humor is also a defense in such a discovery.
With the new medium, Melvin Lee makes full use of the versatility of the camera and editing to highlight some of the strengths of the play’s writing. Dr. Gemma Almonte is almost omnipresent, juggling two different scenes with two different characters and while, on stage, it’s a matter of blocking. What Melvin Lee does is focus our sights on what needs to be seen and then moves in for a close-up at just the right moment. It’s a dance that maintains the energy and complexity of the scene and really telegraphs how all these stories are intrinsically connected to each other.
While the stage version of ‘Under My Skin’ makes full use of what Walter Benjamin calls the “aura of art,” hitting us like a sledgehammer, as I said in my earlier review, and making full use of live theater’s urgency, this filmed version goes for intimacy. This version feels more personal. You feel part of the conversation. And that’s the most important thing for a play like this.
Because there’s a bit of adjustment in the data that the piece shares. Our number of registered HIV cases have gone up to over 90,000 people. The HIV rates have continued to rise during the pandemic as testing decreased, meaning more and more people are testing positive. And the median age is getting younger and younger.
‘Under my Skin’ humanizes that conversation but it also throws all of the pertinent information that anyone needs when facing HIV. We need this show now more than ever. I hope you watch it.
Under My Skin is streaming this November 26 to 28 and November 30 to December 5, 2021. Tickets are still available at P180 for Livestream and P250 for Video on Demand. Buy your tickets online at
www.ticket2me.net, bit.ly/undermyskinonline, or through any of the Under My Skin Online
showbuyers. For bulk sales and more sales information, contact Mitch Go at 0917-5391112.
From Stage to Screen: PETA’s ‘Under My Skin’ is Streaming Online This November and December
Here’s How You Can Stream PETA’s Under My Skin This November!
The Urgency of PETA’s ‘Under My Skin’ Hits Like a Sledgehammer