Back during the early years of CCP’s Virgin Labfest came along an unexpected gem of a one-act play; that, with two characters killing the hours on a rooftop in Pasay City, thinking about what to do with an unexpected blessing. Their tête-à-tête may have lasted for less than an hour, but the hilarity of their jokes, the depth of their circumstances and the tragedies of their pasts linger even after the curtains have fallen. The first, and only time, I saw it made me reflect on my own life when I grow old. With its performances and the material’s profound simplicity, Jose Dennis Teodisio’s GEE-GEE AT WATERINA gets to be remembered.
This year, Artist Playground translates this VLF play into a one-act song and dance. Teodisio stretches his first VLF play into GEE-GEE AT WATERINA ANG MUSICAL, which is now running in Arts Above along West Avenue in Quezon City.
Former Filipino Japanese Comfort Gay Waterina just receives a check as payment for the film rights to her life story. City Councilor Gee-Gee, who owns the nursing home for old gay men where Waterina lives, has arranged this big break for her. As the night progresses, the two think about what to do with the money. Ageing Waterina, who has been living from hand-to-mouth – save for the kindness of friends – has something in her hands that’s just too overwhelming. And with death silently creeping into their lives, they dream with silent hopes that they make the best of their final years.
Roeder Camañag has proven he can do any role given to him. He plays the ageing Waterina with resigned glamour and worn-out extravagance. In this musical, Camañag depicts an elderly gay man who has accepted how the years have tired her out, yet leaving that hint of past vivacity and undeniable vibrance. His voice for Waterina is croaky and dissonant, never dismissing that delicately feeble character in search for a hopeful end.
And while Camañag surprises the audience with this interpretation for Waterina, Norman Peñaflorida conquers the stage with an unanticipated performance as the amiably hilarious Gee-Gee. Here, he brandishes the 90s political gay personality, Justo Justo, with his own reading. He starts off with uncontrolled flamboyance, generously filling the stage with character and presence. He delivers jokes and punches them quite wildly. As Gee-gee, Peñaflorida captures the crowd with undeniable charisma, one we expect from a politician and a social ‘matriarch.’ But as Teodisio’s narrative unfolds, Peñalflorida’s Gee-Gee transforms into someone quite revering, reflective and rational.
As Teodisio expands his materials with additional libretto, and as Jesse Lucas sprinkles the scenes with music, Director Andrew De Real, orchestrates this one and a half hour tête-à-tête with an array of blocks and characterization. Lucas’ music is undeniably unrivalled, and here he proves, once again, that his magic for the musical stage makes one wonder where he has been these past years. However, though understandably done with good intentions, De Real’s direction bustles in a growing pile of visuals on stage. It is quite centered and controlled, ultimately making it feel rather contrived, and too big for the Arts Above platform. Thus, the seemingly harmless discourse between his two characters feel like a laborious one hour and a half task, that by the time you reach the core of the matter, you’re just too exhausted to care.
See, GEE-GEE AT WATERINA’s beauty lies on its brutal frankness, matchless fluidity and its ever-shifting micro themes of being gay, loving and growing old. Its text offers an intriguing flow of discourse stream that seems to lack direction, but will soon bring you to an envisioned core. In between the self-depreciating jokes and old school references, we see deeper truths about ageing and solitude.
Furthermore, Teodisio’s narrative touches on our curious interest to know the truth, or at least a slightly bended version of it. Somewhere deep inside, we cling to more interesting stories that tickle the mind, and delve into territories that are too large for us to comprehend. As the two characters engage in a nightly powwow, we struggle to find out what really is (how much is the film rights?) and what really happened (comfort gay?). Walter Dempsey’s story made it to the headlines and to the silver screen simply because he said so. Though there may have been witnesses, they were all either dead or gone; there were no strong evidences, nor proof that they really happened. Nonetheless, we embraced it. Probably, we willingly suspend our disbelief to somehow expand our understanding of sexuality, violence and our own history as a people. That is why, in retrospect, Dempsey’s life evolved into something quite interesting for most us.
And this was consequently changed by this new form. With over-the-top production numbers, we stagger raggedly through the venture that seems to showcase unnecessary pageantry than touch. Lost is Teodisio’s original fluidity and our undying search for truth, as seemingly contrived production numbers burst so loudly to replace potentially reflective transitions. Had these been managed more thoughtfully, it would have driven off more emotional key points to its advantage.
Perhaps I’m just used to Artist Playrground’s more insightful and intimate works in the past years. For someone who’d been a fan of their productions, I can only blame my fanatic self.
Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed GEE-GEE AT WATERINA THE MUSICAL. It is entertaining, fun, and an enjoyable escapade. It, too, comes with performances that’s worth the ticket price. Also, with Lucas’ genius, the possibilities are surprising. But it stops there.