Note: Sometimes writing reviews tend to come more easily after a round of drinks with a friend. I would therefore like to thank Alexis Abola, my erstwhile classmate in UP Diliman. I warn that there will be spoilers here, but I am certain that some of my readers are among the “200 people” who routinely watch local theater.
I urge everyone to watch this play—it is running at 2 p.m. today and its last weekend (not The Lost Weekend, another “art vs. commerce” piece) is next weekend.
The key to understanding this particular production is what one of the Theater Arts seniors at the Ateneo de Manila told me: “This play is very personal for us.” Fluid by Floy Quintos, which was adapted and directed by the author himself, deals with well-trodden territory, which is the question of “art vs. commerce” and other artistic dilemmas. Such a play would assume a twofold role for the Theater Arts seniors. First, it would be an opportunity to raise money by showing off their talents in various aspects of the theater. Second, it would be an exercise in reflection, whereby they could ask themselves about the implications of their calling. (Of course, if one does not appreciate the habit of self-reflection, one could call it a collective exercise in navel-gazing.)
Hence, the question I must answer, in the light of the fact that the source material is not new, is what has been done with it. The play is structured first as a series of vignettes and monologues, much of which is comedic, and then in the second act as a farce. It is very much, to use an oft-abused theological term, an inculturation of themes that have been tackled in more serious settings. (Next semester’s seminar: “Art and Commerce: Texts in the Theory of the Contexts of Art.”) The play does not resolve the conflict one way or another; my interlocutor last night, however, suggested that the character of the art critic/Philharmonic coordinator, played by Trency Caga-anan, may have been the author’s voice commenting on the whole sorry affair. (The role, in this case, brings together a clown in a Shakesperean comedy/tragedy and, as Exie Abola suggests, a Greek chorus.) In fact, as Gibbs Cadiz suggests in his short review, if the play did take its cue from a real incident, the author’s aim may have been to tell that real story otherwise. And this, for me, was its strongest point.
Paul Ricouer says that the capacity of narrative enables us to tell our stories otherwise. It allows us to refigure time in order to explore other possibilities; but most of all, it brings us an awareness of ourselves from elsewhere. What made this play meaningful for them, and for me, was precisely that this narrative fulfilled that promise.
Yet I would not want to say this was outright brilliance. I found the plot of the artist and his patron to be at times predictable. It was early in the farce that I could guess, correctly, how this plot would end. Maybe it is because that this was, amongst the stories of this play, the most serious in tone, and thus uncomfortably close to familiar ground. In this sense, what saved it was perhaps the actor who played the painter. I suspect there was something about the choice to do this as an exaggeration of my favorite artistic cliche, the “young, angry, starving artist.” (Apparently, Quintos may have had in mind a number of people I sometimes meet when the Ateneo Art Gallery has its launches, or some of the people who were in the nearby bars where Exie and I had beer.)
With that caveat, I would commend this play precisely because it is not only a good piece of reflection for those of us who are interested in the arts, but also because this has been, of all the fund-raising efforts the Fine Arts majors have staged, the cleverest. It is precisely in telling people, “Here’s what we can do,” that they can get our support for January 2008, when we will have the Seventh Fine Arts Festival. Please watch it.
For an alternative view, my namesake Ren Robles published a review on his Multiply site.