Theater: F(r)iction, A New Musical

"F(r)iction"

“It’s the stories we believe that make us who we are”. Life is full of twists and turns, dead ends and blank spaces. “Friction: A New Musical” follows the journey of a brilliant upcoming writer who finds help from a stranger that challenges his whole concept of reality.

It’s never easy giving birth to new material, and it’s never easy to hear what other people have to say about your work when they see it. Which is why I want to commend the creative minds behind Friction for venturing out with a new musical after the diamond-in-the-rough production of Toilet, the Musical.

Unlike Toilet, Friction knows and celebrates its limits. And, most importantly for me, it doesn’t feel overcrowded. Not with just three actors on stage.

Red Concepcion is serviceable in the lead role. He takes on his character with gusto, but I felt certain hesitations in scenes where I needed to see him more vulnerable. Gabriella Pangilinan, as the girlfriend, is a little better. In the entirety of the first act, I felt for her, and I empathized with her. And then we get to the second act. As she confronts the lead character, we see her pull back a little. I didn’t feel the rage that I was expecting her to feel, nor the despair at her realization of what was going on.

The one actor I can’t say anything bad about is Fred Lo. I liked how he gave two distinct voices to the two character he plays. There is strength in the way he voices the psychiatrist that’s supposed to help our lead character write, and there is a palpable uncertainty in the way he voices the stranger. I don’t know if it was a directorial decision, if so, good on director Toff de Venecia for having that sight because not every director would have an actor do that–not for any theater production with a short run like Friction.

And that brings me to the direction; Friction was staged at Saint Benilde’s black box theater–a small space that director de Venecia utilizes really well, along with the sparse furnishings. The entrances and exits of the actors tell as much of the story as the dialogue, and if there is one thing I would wish for this production, it’s just enough budget to allow for Gabriella’s wardrobe to reflect the passage of time that her movements are supposed to invoke.

Now, let’s talk about the story–

Friction feels like a study on how writers’ work. I don’t know if that was the intent, I didn’t ask, but it sure felt like one. Especially in the first act when we’re not entirely sure what the musical is about yet. Truth be told, the first act felt formulaic. You can see clearly where the story was going, and you can even draw comparisons to Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom. I’m still on the fence if that’s a good thing. Friction just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Until the second act begins.

In case Friction gets staged again, I will refrain from spoiling what actually happens.

The second act takes a foreshadowed twist into a direction that is expectedly unexpected. Because it’s well plotted, the twist doesn’t feel out of the blue, but it definitely gives the musical new life wherein the audience is taken to the edge of their seats. You will want to know what happens next because everything is up in the air, because nothing is safe, because there are people involved who will get hurt… And, let’s admit it, for a story to be good, there has to be something that needs to be at risk somewhere–something that the characters and the audience are supposed to care about. And Friction delivers in how it wraps up its story.

I like how it ended. I don’t love it because the writers went the Nicholas Sparks route during the denouement… But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My dislike for the Nicholas Sparks way of dealing with problems is a personal preference. It works for most people. So I don’t hate it. Let’s settle with like. Especially since I don’t regret watching the musical, and I didn’t feel the need to tear it to pieces after watching.

Friction is a good musical. Solid and dependable. And a good follow-up to Toilet, the Musical, which I hope will still see the light of day in the future–with a better script.

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Theater: Rak of Aegis

"Rak of Aegis"

A rock comedy musical using the songs of Aegis will tackle Filipino resilience, or how the country faces and resolves compromising situations, whether this be a natural disaster or a broken heart. S et in a subdivision that has been flooded for two months, “Rock of Aegis” will revolve around the love interests of the main characters, whose names are derived from those of Aegis band members as a tribute to the Filipino novelty rock group that made waves in the 90’s.

If I can only say one thing about Rak of Aegis, it is this: it’s entertaining. But this is a blog and I have to expound, so I’ll say this instead:

Rak of Aegis takes your expectations, smashes it, and then sings vocal acrobatics while dancing on top of your smashed expectations. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing… You will have to watch it yourself to decide. For me though… It’s definitely not one of the better Filipino musicals in existence.

Wait. What? Yes, Rak of Aegis is not a perfect musical. Story-wise, it’s a bit of a mess. There are four story lines with no clear focus of which is the most important…until they tie it all up in the end. That’s when you realize that the most important character in the musical is the one thing you don’t really pay attention to–except for the spectacle it presents.

And this is a shame. I actually think any one of the four stories could have been made the main arc–while letting the other three flourish as subplots that become a surprise part of the main thread all along in the end.

Rak of Aegis also does a disservice to its wonderful cast of actors, all of whom bring their A-game in the performances, because its story lacks focus from beginning…up until the beginning of the second arc.

No one leads the musical. You don’t have a Marc Cohen. You don’t have an Elphaba… or a G(a)linda. You don’t have a Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Heck, you don’t even have a Maxie. The musical doesn’t know if it’s going to be a love story for the younger cast, or a love story for the older ones; It doesn’t know if it’s a call to action (it does become that in the end), or a family story.

The good thing is, although the story is confused, the music is definitely not. Rak of Aegis is unapologetic in its use of their source material: the Aegis songs. They mix and match verses from different songs, giving new life to the raucious videoke staples. And you’ll even be pleasantly surprised at how they rearranged some of the songs to make them into a heart-wrenching, if gut-busting, ballads about losing the one you love.

And then there’s the ensemble. They’re the most hardworking bunch of people in this production, I’m sure… Well, behind the set managers and their props people. It is to them that I credit how infectious the joy of Rak of Aegis is. They’re unwavering energy, on top of their larger-than-life presence (while portraying different characters) are a hoot to watch.

I maintain my stance that Rak of Aegis could still use some edits on the way its story unfolds, but I am sure of one thing: this musical will follow the footsteps of Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal in inspiring a new cult…following.

Rak of Aegis continues its run at the PETA Theater until March 9, 2014.