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Featured Image - A Game of Trolls

Beneath the Horrors: A Review of PETA’s ‘A Game of Trolls’

Theater has always addressed the needs of its community, and 'A Game of Trolls' answers that call.

To celebrate PETA’s 55th year anniversary, the theater company is streaming a recording of its 2017 musical ‘A Game of Trolls.’ It’s a production that was necessitated by events back in 2017, the continued return to prominence of the late dictator’s family, and the proliferation of fake news and misinformation about the Martial Law era. Five years later, the show’s message still rings loud and clear, the impetus to screen this show is as timely as ever, with the upcoming elections and all.

Written by Liza Magtoto, directed by Maribel Legarda, and with songs composed by Vincent De Jesus, ‘A Game of Trolls’ takes on a more in-your-face approach to narrative, using the play as a platform to give voice to the people who have suffered under the horrors of the Martial Law era. It’s the story of Hector, an operator on a troll farm, who must come to terms with his mother, who was absent for most of his life due to her activist endeavors. The catalyst for this confrontation comes in a supernatural form, as he uploads photos of Martial Law victims into his computer’s cloud and they come to visit to recount their stories of suffering, loss, and pain.

In a way, it takes a similar narrative frame as Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ where voices of the dead come to tell their stories to change the present and, hopefully, to steer the future into something better. 

A Review of PETA's 'A Game of Trolls'

Using this narrative framework allows the play to take a didactic approach to storytelling. Hector must fend off the ghost and their stories as he defends his work as a troll and justifies his estranged relations with his mother.

At the front and center of this play are the real-life stories that are interwoven into this narrative and while this gives the show its weight, it comes at the price of the story of Hector, his mother, and his friends. While the recounting of the atrocities during the dictatorship is important, it overshadows and sublimates the plotline and undercuts the learning of the main characters.

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Hector has to change because of the sheer force of the hauntings of the past rather than an action he takes on his own. Later on, he suffers a backlash for the work he does as a troll but this feels like a subplot. Again, the stories of the horrors of Martial Law completely overshadow the narrative. The aspect of Hector being a troll isn’t fully explored and the resolution that unfolds between his strained relationship with his mother comes too easy.

A Review of PETA's 'A Game of Trolls'

It doesn’t help that this is not Vincent de Jesus’ most affecting work. Unlike his work in ‘Himala: the musical’ or ‘Changing Partners,’ there are only two songs that have really captivating melodies. 

The recording is also not the best in terms of coverage of this production. There are only two angles and the sound blows up on my speakers. Hopefully, subtitles will be added to future releases. Because of the limited coverage, it’s hard to see the full stagecraft at work. This is a very busy play, with lots of stage movement as the cast manipulates the blocks after each scene to create a new formation to mark the change in location. There is a video wall that is constantly screening old footage of the Philippines in the 70s and 80s, newspaper headlines, and graphics that align with what’s happening on stage.

I feel that this show would have such a powerful effect when seen live. Myke Solomon is always captivating on stage and Gold Villar Lim seems to hit every beat in her portrayal of Cons, Hector’s socially aware roommate, and his adversary online as a troll. But the distance of the coverage doesn’t always pick up what is probably amazing in a live performance.

It’s when the play actually gets down to the humanity of Hector – like his everyday interactions with Cons – that the show’s potential rises. The person behind the troll, outside of all this discussion about the history and the past, is what can ground the play into something palpable. Because the large motherhood statements about freedom and democracy and the complexities of the relationship of a child who feels abandoned by his activist mother can only be felt and understood through the person underneath. I was hoping for more of that. It gets swallowed by the play’s thrust to ensure that the stories are not forgotten. 

A Review of PETA's 'A Game of Trolls'

But I’m not the audience of this play. This production seems hell-bent on ensuring that misinformation and fake news doesn’t erase the voices of the victims. It takes a clear and defiant stand on what must be remembered and what we must resist. This play is for all the youth who may be victims of propaganda and revisionism. It’s for people who need ammunition when engaging with people who spread lies.

For that, I can see its importance. For that, I completely understand PETA’s release of this play on streaming just months before the elections and on its 55th anniversary. Theater has always addressed the needs of its community, and ‘A Game of Trolls’ answers that call.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review




A Game of Trolls is streaming via ktx.ph for P150 (Video On Demand with 24-hour access) on April 8, 22, and 23, 2022.

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