Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review of PETA's CHAROT!: Charter Change Catch-22

February 10, 2019

One of the very first PETA musicals I had ever seen was Vincent de Jesus's "Si Juan Tamad, Ang Diyablo at Ang Limang Milyong Boto" (MY REVIEW) back in February 2010. Nine years later, almost exactly to the day, I was back at the PETA Theater again to watch another play about Philippine politics and elections. This new musical is by J-mee Katanyag and Michelle Ngu, entitled "Charot!" with music by Vince Lim.

It was already Election Day in May 2020. The proposed "Charter of Togetherness" endorsed by President Papsy (Jack Yabut) was up for a referendum to determine if the Filipino people will ratify it or not. The word "Charot" (gayspeak for "just kidding") was being sardonically used as a derogatory nickname for this charter by those against it. The main story of the play follows eight individuals who were on their way to their polling precinct to vote.

Gardo Vicente and CJ Navato
as Millennial Girl and Boy

There was a hyper-excited vlogger Millennial Girl (Gardo Vicente) who wanted to document her election devirginization together with her cynical boyfriend Millennial Boy (CJ Navato). There was a pregnant Nanay (Kitsi Pagaspas) whose store's very existence relied on her casting a vote. There was a street vendor (Norbs Portales), a gay ex-OFW carpool driver (Lemuel Silvestre), a SuperMall salesgirl (Rhapsody Li), a very busty nurse Grethel Tuba (Gold Villar-Lim) and a traffic enforcer they called Boss (Jason Barcial). 

Act 1 was about their plight while stranded on top of their vehicles in a traffic standstill on a flyover on a very flooded EDSA. This part was a largely a descriptive comparison between the behavior between the upper and lower socioeconomic classes when it came to their various reasons for voting, as well as their behavior during a stressful crisis. Stranded with them in this part was Mary Grace (Meann Espinosa), a self-important, self-absorbed rich girl whose peg everyone will recognize. 

Act 2 was the real meat of the story, with the original group was divided into two subgroups. Five of them hitched a ride on a helicopter with a Pro-Charter pilot (Jack Yabut again). Five of them hitched a ride on a speedboat with an Anti-Charot activist nun Sister Joy (Meann Espinosa again). En route to the polling center, the two groups would learn more vital pros and cons about Federalism and the important choice that they were going to make in that referendum. The answer was just a simple Yes or No, but the irreversible result will significantly alter the country's way of life.

Discussing Anti-Charot Issues

I enjoyed the very catchy songs with music written and arranged by Vince Lim with pithy witty lyrics by Michelle Ngu. The script of Katanyag and Ngu stuffed in all sorts of pop culture references, current or past, political or otherwise, from a controversial Presidential kiss to Catriona Gray's lava walk. It was a lot of fun catching all these little details which got squeezed in the mix. It was an interactive show, with the audience encouraged to join in online polls on their gadgets. Conducted in real time, there is free inhouse wifi provided for this purpose.

The wacky cast went all out with their slapstick comedy, but remained real convincing during their serious moments. Everybody will get his and her own spot number to showcase their inidividual talents. 

Gardo (yes she's female) Vicente and "Goin Bulilit" original CJ Navato played Millenial Girl and Boy whose relationship will also go through the wringer on that fateful day. (Teetin Villanueva and Bene Manaois alternate in these roles.) Kitsi Pagaspas was so delightfully over-the-top as the desperate Nanay. Gold Villar-Lim slayed her big silicone implants and the high notes as Grethel Tuba. (Jimma Nariz alternates as Grethel.)

Rhapsody Li was very impressive in her Supermall Lady rap and dance number. (Icee Po alternates as Supermall Lady.) Jason Barcial seemed to be channeling Gen. Bato de la Rosa in his performance as Boss. (Roi Calilong alternates as Boss.) Norbs Portales was cheerfully shameless as the "jologs" street vendor. Lemuel Silvestre's "beki" character was untypically subdued as gay characters in PETA go. (Gio Gahol alternates as Beki.)

Gathering at the Ballot Box

After an acclaimed restrained performance in "Manila Notes" last December, Meann Espinosa showed off her more rambunctious side in her three distinct characters here. In Act 1, her impersonations of Kris Aquino and Karen Davila were especially spot on and hilarious. In Act 2, her Sister Joy was an authoritative and credible subject matter expert, to get the important message of the play through to the audience. 

Jack Yabut also played three distinct characters. His appearances as President Papsy and a construction worker in Act 1 were short but funny. But in Act 2, as the helicopter pilot, we hear him present all the pro-charter change and pro- federalism arguments. Towards the end of this segment of the show, he revealed a startling detail regarding the federalism agenda I myself was not aware about. 

Rhapsody Li, Lemuel Silvestre, Jason Barcial, Norbs Portales in foreground
CJ Navato and Gold Villar-Lim in background

The comparative discussion about Federalism and Charter Change was eye-opening and sobering. They even distributed FAQ leaflets for the audience to reflect on some more after the show. An open forum was held after the show to allow audiences to vent their sentiments about the show they just watched with the writers and some cast members.

The writers try to be fair in presenting the pros and cons, although their real stand and sentiments seemed quite apparent. I feel that the people who will be watching this play will probably be those who think like the writers. However, in the true spirit of PETA, this play really needs to go out into the communities and reach the grassroots in order to spread their cautionary message. 

The creative team of Charot! is led by director Maribel Legarda with her assistant director Ian Segarra, who was also the choreographer. Boni Juan designed the simple yet imaginative sets with the props made of recycled materials. Gio Gahol (costume stylist), Jonjon Villareal (lights designer) and Ellen Ramos (video and animation) were the other talents working behind the scenes. 


CHAROT! runs at the PETA Phinma Theater (No.5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City) from February 8 to March 17, 2019 with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and matinees at 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets selling at ₱1,500 for VIP, ₱1,200 for ORCHESTRA CENTER, ₱1,000 for ORCHESTRA SIDE, ₱1,200 for BALCONY CENTER and ₱600 for BALCONY SIDE. 



Teetin Villanueva and Bene Manaois 
as Millennial Girl and Millennial Boy

I watched "Charot" for a second time to catch the performances of Teetin Villanueva and Bene Manaois as Millennial Girl and Millennial Boy respectively. I've see Teetin in some Dulaang UP shows, and knew very well how well she can sing and perform. Since the last show I saw her in was "Kundiman Party," it was just quite jarring that she played a PPS (President Papsi Supporter) here, a role which did not seem to fit her. 

The revelation of the show was Bene, whom I had never seen before. He had quite a strong stage presence, as evidenced by the shrieks of the Miriam girls in the audience for him. The other alternate cast member I saw in this show was the pretty Jimma Nariz as the boobsy Grethel Tuba. I had not seen her in previous shows, but she also possessed strong belting pipes and comic chops necessary for this role

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