Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review of TP's MELANIE: Engaging HIV Education

December 4, 2014

"Melanie" is a gay beautician who died from the complications of AIDS. From that tragic start, his friends begin to be aware of their own risky sexual behavior and the reality of HIV infection. They discuss the disease among themselves: its risk factors, its preventive measures, its laboratory testing, its medical management, its urban myths and its social stigma.

The cast is led by Phi Palmos who plays Babes, Melanie's transgender colleague in the beauty parlor. Babes would engage various characters in conversations about various aspects of HIV. There was his nephew Donn (Marco Viana), Donn's lover Jay (JV Ibesate), the promiscuous professor Raul (Jonathan Tadioan), the homophobic girl Nina (Antonette Go), among others. 

Tadioan and Palmos talk about risky relationships

Held in the intimate confines of Tanghalang Huseng Batute (or Studio Theater) of the CCP, "Melanie" is a different kind of theater experience. It employs a style called "Forum Theater," where the cast involves members of the audience in their conversations. This way, some members of the audience get to voice out their own opinions and ideas about HIV and AIDS.

Initially, the treatment of the topic was light and humorous. However as the play went on, owing to the critical importance of the play's advocacy, the tone turned serious until the haunting end. 

I have seen Phi Palmos before in PETA's big hit musical this year, "Rak of Aegis" where he stole scenes as a gay neighbor. Aside from the lines in the script, he also needed to be on his toes when he engages audience members in extemporaneous conversation. He is lucky if the audience member he picked was gregarious. But if he picked someone reticent, he would have to dig deeper to get that person to talk and to keep the energy of the show up. The big highlight of the show was a hilarious sequence when Palmos picked a girl from the audience to demonstrate how to put on a condom.

Viana, Palmos and audience member put on a condom

I am very impressed with the TP Artists in the cast! Viana, Ibesate, and Tadioan are all in the cast of TP's concurrent production "Prinsipe Munti". How they can juggle two shows and not get their lines mixed up is truly amazing. This is not to forget that they were all fresh from the critically-acclaimed TP production of the formidable "Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" just last month.

After the show, the cast had a Question and Answer session with the audience members about HIV and AIDS. It was clear that several youngsters are still confused about these matters. Palmos, Viana and the others were all quite adept and knowledgeable to answer the varied questions. The cast it turned out were all graduates of seminars on HIV 101 and Stigma Reduction in order to equip them with the proper information. They forgot the meaning of the acronym ELISA (the test used to confirm HIV infection). It means Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay.

They mention that they would vary the emphasis of the play depending on the venue where they are showing it and its HIV profile. In Manila and Davao, they focused on gay relationships. In Cebu, they would shift more focus to intravenous drug usage, since most of their HIV cases were related to that.

Palmos leads the Q&A session

Kudos to writer Layeta Bucoy and director Tuxqs Rutaquio (the same team who behind "Prinsipe Munti") for this vital educational program (a joint project with UNICEF) which will probably be a recurrent and touring production for TP. Its premiere was last October 2013. This year, it was restaged this week in line with World AIDS Day last December 1.

Here are some important information about VCT or Voluntary Counselling and Testing given at to the audience after the show:

"Melanie" will have shows on December 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12 and 14, all at 7 pm. Tickets are sold at P800 and P600, with 20% discounts for senior citizens, government employees, military personnel and PWDs. Tickets can be bought at the CCP Box Office or via Ticketworld. Call Tanghalang Pilipino for further details 8321125 local 1621.

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