Review: Freudian spills in Ateneo's 'Games People Play'

Posted at 04/23/14 1:41 PM

A scene from "Games People Play"

"Games People Play" is having a limited re-run at the Black Box Theater of the Old Communications Building inside the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The Black Box Theater is a small intimate theater venue, much like Huseng Batute at the CCP or the smaller room in Whitespace, but even smaller (its capacity is only 80 people). Unlike the other two venues, for this play, the seats do not go all around the actors. They are in a typical theater arrangement, with the stage in front of the audience.

The stage is just a wide empty space, with cardboard boxes cut and formed to be shaped as a small church, a small castle and a forest. That is the set for the whole one hour and 20 minute play. There would also be homemade lighting fixtures also using cardboard as the shades.

Director and production designer Ed Lacson, Jr. explained that this was because of this play's origins as his masteral project, hence no budget. The makeshift lighting was a challenge given by his professor. He stayed with the same props and lighting up to now. But aside from that, he really enjoyed playing with cardboard boxes, hence his material of choice.

The script was written by Glenn Sevilla Mas as his final project for his MFA in Playwriting in Washington, DC. This would eventually win second prize for full-length play in the 2007 Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, one of nine times that Mas placed in this category in this prestigious literary competition.

His original play was in straight English with some phrases of Kinaray-a, since he hails from Antique province. For this staging of the play though, actor Abner Delina suggested they use Ilonggo phrases instead. The distinct lilt of the Ilonggo accent was proudly heard here.

There were only three actors in the whole play. There were three main characters: childhood friends Luna (Thea Yrastorza), Diego (Kalil Almonte) and Julio (Abner Delina). With these names, I assumed Mas' favorite movie must have been "Y Tu Mama Tambien," where one of the lead actors was Diego Luna, and Julio is the character of Gael Garcia Bernal. The three actors would portray the kids as they grow from age six at the beginning to age 28 by the end. These same three actors would don some accessories, change their voices and play their parents as well. They worked very well together.

The first half of the play was fun, full of childhood innocence and mischief as we see three kids from ages 6-10, playing hide and seek, telling ghost stories and joining games at the local festival.

The second act though, as the kids reach the age of 11, the whole play transforms into a totally different one. The naughty and playful sexual undertones in the first half were starkly, graphically and painfully realized in the second half.

At the end, there was an epilogue about an awkward reunion of the three friends at age 28. Despite everything they went through together as children, they seem to have nothing to say to each other.

While the first half was really funny and entertaining, the second half caught me totally by surprise. So this is what posters meant by "for mature audiences only." The shift in tone was very drastic and even shocking, especially when it was repeatedly emphasized that these kids were only 11 years old at that time those squirmy events were happening. I'm not sure, but I imagined this part of the play was set in a rural community more than 15 years ago, when salacious material were not as easily accessible as now. Call me sheltered or naive, but I did not find those "games" realistic for children. I felt the actors did not also really act too child-like at all during this point in the play.

If shock value was what the playwright intended, he got it. Mas seemed to be on a Freudian high when he wrote this play, with sex figuring very prominently in the entire second half. And to think that this play was originally written as his final project in Playwriting in a Catholic university -- haha! It can be uncomfortable to sit through. Not everyone can identify with such childhood experiences. You simply could not watch this with your parents.

But nevertheless, the material is really bold, different and thought-provoking. It is definitely worth your time to watch it.

"Games People Play" runs at the Fine Arts Blackbox Theater, Ateneo de Manila University. There are only five shows left in this limited run: April 23, 24, 25 and 26 (7:30 p.m.) and April 26 (2:30 p.m.). Tickets only at P150 each.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."