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REVIEW: PETA’s CONTROL + SHIFT is breaking new ground with new material

It feels like a statement to start the new year for PETA to usher in a new era of exploring socially relevant plays that has been the theater company’s bailiwick.

CONTROL + SHIFT is a series of 8 new works (both short plays and short contemporary dance performances) that hopes to “spotlight the theme of narrative change” as it is mentioned at the start of the show. Running for two weekends (January 12-14 and January 19-21), the performances are set to reframe the ways with which we speak about each other as, according to the preface at the start of the show, that we are drowning in a world full of misinformation and disinformation.

It feels like a statement to start the new year for PETA to usher in a new era of exploring socially relevant plays that has been the theater company’s bailiwick. I was able to catch Set A, which had three short plays and one contemporary dance performance, which was an exciting way to start a new year of theater for me.

SET A

Momsilogues
Written by Zoe Damag, Julia Enriquez, Pia Viola, Gold Villar-Lim
Directed by Gold Villar-LimPerformed by Kitsi Pagaspas, Julia Enriquez, Pia Viola

This play is about three mothers who come together to cook for a school activity and in the ensuing bonding activity end up revealing striking issues involving women. They range from the difficulties of being a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, to giving up your dreams because of an unplanned pregnancy, and even juggling a family and career on your own.

‘Momsilogues’ takes its time to get into the meat of the story – the three monologues of each mother and the issues they represent – and it builds the world and the characters carefully. It gives you time to get to know them. What’s interesting is the way the writers allow the women to push each other’s buttons, to test their boundaries, before they break down into a real moment of vulnerability and gives these women a chance to support each other. There is an attempt to take a symbolic approach here: each mother is an ingredient to tapsilog, and it’s incorporated into the narration how each one is like a fried egg, the tapa, or the fried rice. At first, it doesn’t work, but by the time the play is done, it sort of hits home. It helps that the actresses are really cooking tapa on stage (they offer it to the audience at the end of the show).

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Pagaspas, Enriquez, and Viola do a strong job at bringing these characters to life. There are times when the “woke and progressive” mom gets a little cloying – her lines feel a little forced and scripted – but the overall effect of the entire play, especially the monologue about the mom taking care of the child on the spectrum really hits its mark.

Ang Mga Halimaw sa Compound Z
Written by Sabrina Basilio
Directed by Norbs Portales
Performed by Felicity Kyle Napuli, Sabrina Basilio, Kiki Baento, Nicole Manlulo, Donn Boco, Jason Barcial, Ada Tayao

Of the four performances, ‘Ang Mga Halimaw sa Compound Z’ is the one that doesn’t quite work. The short play is set in a science fiction world where monsters live amongst men. People turn into monsters and, in a place called Compound Z, the monsters are being rehabilitated so they can become human again and reintegrate into society. A reporter visits the compound to interview some of the monsters there for an article about the cure, but she has an agenda of her own.

The reason the play doesn’t quite succeed is that the play’s running time isn’t enough to build the world properly. The concept needs more time (maybe a full-length play?) to fully flesh out its world. There are many symbolic elements here – the monsters can be metaphors for activists or insurgents, the religious order that runs compound Z can be analogous to a tyrannical government – but the world needs to develop more. The work is also not character-driven, but plot driven, and so the story might also be stronger if explored as a film.

Due to the constraints of time, trying to fit within the duration of a one-act play, a lot of the story feels rushed and a lot of is discussed rather than acted out. The play never really gives us any example of how these monsters are monstrous and, for this concept to work, we really need to see it in action. ‘Ang Mga Halimaw sa Compound Z’ is an interesting experiment, but I think the true take away here is that the story is meant for a different medium.

Albularyo
Direction, concept, and choreography by Carlon Matobato
Dramaturgy by Ian SegarraPerformed by Carlon Matobato, Noelle Polack, Ekis Gimenes, Mico Esquivel, Carlos Deriaga, Raflesia Bravo

A contemporary dance piece, ‘Albularyo’ shows us a faith healer as he battles spirits to in the contemporary world. The ballet configures video to amplify the performance and creates a series of segments, the faith healer takes on several dancers who are trying to cause harm – from smoke demons to spirits that chatter and talk and even one that consumes – and it creates a dazzling spell. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a contemporary dance performance and seeing Raflesia Bravo dance again is always a welcome treat.

‘Albularyo’ is a moody piece that teeters towards the repetitive but manages a strong ending and powerful performances. 

Children of the Algo
Written by Mixkaela Villalon
Directed by John Moran
Performed by Ado Villanueva, Jan Magcaling, James Pe Lim, Mika Nitro

This was a fantastic piece. The four actors mimic the experience of skimming through social media – Tiktok or Instagram or Facebook reels – and it’s just a dazzling display of content acted out live. Each actor goes through different ways by which these social media influencers engage with their audience. From unboxing videos to pseudo-intimate confessionals, to showing us their home, or talking about their daily expenses. The play, at first, seems like it has no rhyme or reason. Just a never ending display of content and the more the play unfolds, the more the play seems to say how social media is so vapid, noisy, and insubstantial (at least that’s what I got from it).

But as one of the content creators start to realize that life is not fair for everyone, and a strong typhoon connects all four content creators together, reality is fractured and one creator manages to break into other people’s content, the play manages to create a strong criticism against the way social media has affected the way we see the world.

This is a brilliant play that feels new and is coming in strong with something important to say about the way we see the world and how it is filtered by our interactions in social media. 

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review


CONTROL + SHIFT is running at the PETA Theater Center until January 21. For tickets, please contact Trish at +639-15-311-8199.

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