“The play begins with the janitor finding graffiti on the bathroom wall. It seems that someone has had thoughts of taking their own life. The show then progresses to introduce the different characters, and one by one, their darkest secrets are revealed, but the identity of the bathroom vandal remains a mystery.
As final exams draw near, crazy things start to happen. More graffiti start to show up and just like that, our 8 characters are thrown into a swirling vortex of drama and insecurity, flushing them down into hopelessness and despair. And all of this happens in the unlikeliest place: the public toilet.”
Toilet is an original musical that is being staged by Ateneo Blue Repertory, and watching it was figuratively a trippy journey to the past–and for my friends and I, a literal trip as well because it was being staged in the Ateneo Exhibit Hall–the home of our own staged original plays back in 2006.
But we’re not here to talk about the past. Or my friends and I. We’re here to discuss Toilet. And what went on in it. So here we go:
I think Toilet shows a lot of promise–it just doesn’t always deliver. Story-wise, the musical plays it safe with teen angst in a high school setting. Unfortunately, due to an overpopulation of characters, you can barely follow the story. In the first act, anyway. The second act is cleaner, and has a better handle on what the story is supposed to be about: suicide.
Yes, the synopsis says there’s a suicide. The janitor character begins the musical by saying that it’s a story that deals with an unexpected suicide. But watching the first act, it is never clear that suicide was even in the cards. And I blame it all on overpopulation.
Toilet has eight main characters. Eight. Most of them are underdeveloped stereotypes straining to break free of their mold. One of them successfully does so, the others don’t. And when your musical is about the unmasking of these stereotypes to show the real person underneath, and you fail to take these characters out of their formulas, then the musical sort of fails, right?
Fortunately for Toilet, the music (and the second act) saves it. The musical is not a failure. It just has a lot of stuff to work out. Maybe for when they decide to stage it again.
Before I continue, I would like to make a disclaimer. I’m an adult. I’ve been in a work force for almost eight years now, and most of the problems raised in Toilet are stuff I never had to face because my high school was… Well, I studied in a Chinese school. When something offends us, we look away. So that’s probably one reason why I can’t relate to the sexually-active students of Toilet.
Most of the student feedback I’ve seen online are positive. So I guess the generation now can relate better to the material. But I believe in grounding. This is a term my friend used when we were discussing the musical after watching it. Grounding–making things real, or making it feel real for the audience. Wicked does this wonderfully. So does Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal. And those are musicals based on fantastical universes. What grounded them was the fact that they had heart.
Toilet needs to find its heart.
And the time to workshop the whole musical before they stage it again.
Because, really, when you watch the musical, you will see the potential. You will see that there is a gem underneath the overpopulated stage. And I’m not just saying this because Ateneo Blue Repertory gambled with an original production, although I really want to congratulate them on doing so.
Toilet is a diamond that’s yet to be mined. I hope more people watch it so Ateneo Blue Repertory will risk staging it again. With revisions, of course. You, of course, are encouraged to make your own mind up–so catch the production at the Ateneo Exhibit Hall weekends until March 1.