Arts & CultureFeatured

Bringing question of faith, family, and sexuality to the Virgin Labfest stage

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — At the Virgin Labfest, you get a little bit of everything — sneaky punchlines that come out of nowhere, real water pouring onto the stage as rain, and a double-ended dildo in a game of tug of war. “Pintog,” which translates to swell, is the theme of this year’s festival, indicative of the ebb and flow of emotions, dynamics, and direction.

In a slice of this month, the Cultural Center of the Philippines transforms into a hub welcoming unpolished stories that are explorative in nature.

For Set B, Dip Mariposque‘s The Divine Family explores the dysfunctional household of the Divina family during the lockdown. We first see Caloy negotiating with his brother about which room is available after their grandmother has passed away. The eldest child, Emily, also returns home, seemingly reformed from her stubborn old self. Meanwhile, Enzo is the embittered middle child left to take care of their grandma before and after her death and is burdened by the family secrets. The situation gets more tense when their absent mother comes home pregnant, and the three are torn between forgiving her and unearthing her shortcomings throughout their lives.


This play’s capacity to bear the meaty and dramatic aspects of familial ties and relationships and cut the tension with Emily’s religious interjections is telling of its multi-dimensional storytelling and assembly of talented actors. The sound design contextualizes the unsettling scenes and is instrumental in not leaving the audience in the dark towards its ending.

Lino BalmesNingas rouses a sleepy fire station with the arrival of a woman acting suggestively in the beginning but reveals herself as the unborn child of the fireman on standby. In her quest to be born, she must make her father name her and convince him that her life is worth living despite the pain life will put her through.

The moral dilemma between the responsibility for one’s life and giving chance to have days that outnumber the sadness is weighted well through the character of the languorous fireman in his solitude.

Ripe in time for the pride month, themes of exploring sexuality, acceptance, and fidelity also take centerstage. Love on the Brain by Rick Patriarca tackles the difficulty of modern dating when Mike, a rising influencer, discovers that he’s dating an HIV-positive patient, Ryan, who contracted it from his ex-lover, Jake. Ryan now realizes the difference between the two men, must overcome the paranoia that comes with his disease, and come to terms with having to let go of his new relationship.

Despite its theme, this staging gets to the reality of grappling with what it means to live with HIV and the effects social media influence has on personal choices.

Identité by Jhudiel Clare Sosa is easily one of the festival’s most entertaining plays, with much taboo in discussion beneath its titillating props. A mother visiting her daughter in the city is stunned at the discovery of her daughter’s dildos and the latter’s agency and sexuality.

The comedy is further magnified by the nuances and provincial mindset of the mother projecting her parenting failure onto her daughter. The commentary on generational differences, as well as the premise of sexuality as something that estranges the daughter, makes it a compelling watch.

What must be called to attention is the tendency to sidestep matters they tackle in favor of the production’s entertainment value. The power of theater to provoke and introspect is watered down by the theatrics and need to entice.

One play in this reviewer’s watchlist that is safe from this criticism is Vengeance of the Gods by Hans Pieter Arao. Heavy-handed in its dialogue, the play revolves around a lawyer convincing a construction worker to sue his employer for poisoning the latter’s daughter because of the company’s improper waste management. Through the discussion, the faith of the natives and the price of modernization are called into question.

Herlyn Alegre‘s Sentenaryo gets real on family dynamics when a 100-year-old man’s grandchild, daughter, and second wife all display their greed and entitlement to the cash benefit from the government. The three’s conniving plan is no match to the low-level corruption beyond their control.

One-act plays are challenging to stage as they need to pique the audience’s interest to get them invested and retain momentum until their end. In this year’s festival, stories are left unresolved, but there’s still something to appreciate for every kind of sense of humor.

For many VLF artists and production teams, they share more than a stage, they share a community of theatre-goers all looking for a change of pace and anticipating of fresh takes on social and individualstic points.

Virgin Labfest 19 Pintog is running from June 12 to 30 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Tanghalang Ignacio Gomez Black Box Theater.

Partner with adobo Magazine

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button