A few days ago, I was all set to go to my yoga class, when my friend Nick Guila called me up, inviting me to watch Rivalry: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical. I said, sure, why not? (He’s such a bad friend, he made me run the whole Emerald Avenue, making me think that the play was starting, all the while, I still had an hour. But that’s in the past.)
As the title of this post goes and as a few friends of mine would know, after watching this play, I have a hankering for a boy from La Salle as well. Although to be frank about it, it has less to do with the quality of the play we watched and is actually based on the fact that I am such an envious person that when I see something I like want to have it as well. Case in point: A Boy from La Salle.
You probably don’t care about me anyway so enough about my own wish for a boy from La Salle, so on to the play itself – the very first thing that struck me was the audience. Now you may not think this is important but the composition of the audience is reflective of the play’s target market. While there were many young-looking college students sporting green and blue, what surprised me was the presence of so many old people. (And no, let’s not euphemize. Old is old.) Probably alumni seeking to relive their glory days. I was actually wondering at the beginning if this were a show about alumni – let’s face it – some of the cast members just do not look like college students.
The first thing that sprung on me was the set. Perhaps this is my own bias as a UP student but, while I get that that was supposed to resemble Araneta, it looks a lot like People’s Power. I didn’t like it very much – while it was admittedly versatile and is tied back to the whole college basketball motif, it felt too generic. To put pictures of people as the major set piece requires a deeper necessity, something this lacked – which actually segways me into the text itself. It was quite…meh.
Of course, one can argue that the play does not aim to be deeper (cf. Rent, Avenue Q) and simply be a feel-good romp (cf. Legally Blonde: The Musical) and that’s fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. (The most feel-good theatrical show is still a lot better than most of the things on primetime TV anyway.) It is established that as a musical, this is not ground-breaking, this is not brilliant, this is something that is supposed to be fun and that is alright.
The biggest problem was that at one point in the musical, I lost any feelings I had and started to wonder why I should care about these people.
Let me justify. First point, we’re supposed to care about the rivalry. A decent enough goal. The problem for me was it was lacking in uniqueness. In the middle of act I, you can remove the “Ateneo” and “La Salle” quality and change it to…”Sharks” and “Jets” or “Montagues” and “Capulets” or really any other old rivalry. In other words, a rivalry play has already been done, probably done better. Unlayering the local color (wow, it’s about Ateneo? That’s so….needy – I mean, local), there is nothing there to keep me holding on. The Atenean-ness and the La Salle-ness of it is only present in the first song and practically lost itself in the middle. Fine, one could argue that they are supposed to seem practically the same, but it loses the dichotomy of the two groups of people. I could not figure out a substantial difference.
I go to the fact that I lack a solid lead character to hang on. I am in the belief that within the first ten minutes of any play, we should know who to root for. Apparently, we’re supposed to care about the La Salle guy (jesus, I’m so bad with names, I’ll just call him LS guy.) He’s supposed to be the lead. Problem is, with the Felix Rivera character (FR) meeting up with the annoying Miriam girl (aMg), the playwright is setting-up a dramatic trope. Within the first ten minutes, the audience should know who the lead character is – and we had FR to grasp when apparently it’s about the LS guy. Fine, I can see the effort with how FR is talking to OJ Mariano character (OJ) about LS but it becomes forgettable. In other words, FR initially becomes the lead and it becomes hard to sympathize with LS because of that. (BTW, the OJ character doesn’t really have a story. Apparently, he’s really pressured.)
Why is aMg annoying? On the face level, the girl in the play sound so whiny. They apparently all speak in this high-pitched, bitchy, shallow tone. On a more important note, aMg has no character – she is a recycling of girls like the one from High School Musical. Second, she is wearing some sort of a jacket, probably to make her stand-out from the other annoying Miriam girls. That is just plain cheating, IMHO. I mean, sure, best way to show that this annoying Miriam girl is different from the other annoying Miriam girls is to make her wear a jacket. Also, she has absolutely no character arc, I have no idea what her problem is, why she’s so sexually repressed. She has no character, just generic angst. Also, apparently, she can change her mating decision as quick as a snap. (That was a problematic scene for me – it’s such a sexist idea that she has no say on her decision to choose a boyfriend. Fine, you can argue it is set in 1968, but it was written in contemporary times. Although you could also say Miriam girls are like that. The playwright did not even bother ending her arc. Hmmmm.)
The one good thing about this play is that it proves that one could still write a play (moreso, a musical) in English and still be Filipino. This is a problem that is dividing the playwrights of today (as opposed to the fictionists and the poets). The issue of language and what makes a play Filipino is being debated on two fronts. I think, and perhaps this is just because we’re talking about Ateneo and La Salle and the 1960’s, the English dialogue worked here and I felt that the language (and how the dialogue was crafted) was quite spot on.
The social relevance scene irked me. It felt unneeded and it is reminiscent of Chris Martinez’s ending scene in Last Order sa Penguin. It basically reads like the playwright realizing that no one really cares about the shallowness of the perceived problems of the lead characters and decides to make it witty by making it self-aware of that fault. It comes off too heavy-handed, we see the playwright’s hand crafting it – it feel unnatural in the sequence of the play.
I was also so annoyed by the ending. It was anti-climactic. I GET IT – You’re pitting two forces of more or less equal power and you want to leave the ending up for grabs. That is a tough situation – but whoever said writing plays was easy? It felt like a cop-out that instead of resolving the situation, the playwright had to result to ending the play at that stage. I also did not get why FR had to get shot – that was another deus ex machina by the playwright to pretend that these middle-class people actually have problems. By having FR shot, he basically used that as a catalyst to pull all the warring characters together. Effective, but still a cheap trick.
I feel that this work would be better as a movie rather than as a play. Generally, this play feel so disjoined. It lacks the substance the great dramas have to last the test of time. It fails to capture the essence of being “Atenean” and “La Sallean” that is crucial to the success of this play. It relies heavily on literary tropes to forwards its message and sacrifices three-dimensional characterization for that. Cute, fine, I’ll give it that. I still don’t care though. I still do want a boyfriend from La Salle.
I want to give this play one star. It is witty and, for all intents and purposes, the dialogue is well-crafted – it is just specific problems in the plot that irk me. It is also interesting because it is written in English. However, I believe that Felix Rivera’s presence in the musical merits another star. So one star for the play and one star for Felix Rivera. So, final rank is two stars. :-)