In whatever shape or form, the starving, honest artist who loses his battle against a more commercial world—in his lifetime, anyway—has become a favorite-topic-cum-stereotype in many plays and movies.
The situation is all too familiar: He paints and/or writes poetry, unseen and unheard by an ignorant crowd, until his works get their proper recognition years down the line. But the hero would have been dead by then, unable to bask in his posthumous rewards.
Fortunately, this is not the case in “Fluid,” the brisk two-act play written and directed by Floy Quintos. This time, its three embattled artist-characters do not just live to fight another day, they actually get to “talk back” to their eternal antagonist at the other side of the fence. More than that, they get to make a stand for their art, but this time, without going down in the flames.
Perhaps it is the teacher, and not just the artist, in Quintos who was motivated to create this production. Because this is a play that must be seen by those few brave souls who want to pursue their passion uncompromisingly, and might need some encouragement in the process.
“Fluid” had been staged, and rightfully so, in campus theater; after previous successful runs in the University of the Philippines in 2005 and in Ateneo de Manila University in 2008, it is now being restaged by the Benilde Technical Theater Batch 111 at the School of Design and the Arts, College of St. Benilde, until July 26.
Tongue in cheek
What makes this production a delight to watch, and which makes its more-than-two-hour running time a breeze, is its wit. Quintos’ trademark snappy dialogue does not pull its punches and effortlessly mixes the humorous with the profound. The situations presented in the play are all too real and easily relatable. The author’s biases do surface occasionally, but still with tongue firmly in cheek.
There are the expected digs at mainstream entertainment, show-biz icons and making a name in Broadway-type shows. Adding to the homegrown appeal, which the audience (presumably stage people or students) immediately responds to, are bits of homage to one’s theatrical alma mater or theatrical company.
The energy is upbeat and light, with almost no dead spaces of sound or movement in between. The lean six-member cast (with the occasional extras) runs around a spacious stage more or less defined by a series of panels that act as a backdrop to the current scenario or, as in the last scene, an impromptu wall that allows them to hide, maneuver, enter and exit.
The setup generally works, thanks to the spirited cast, although a scene that requires the audience to feel the presence of a larger crowd still feels a little too thin, threatening to dilute the impact of a pivotal speech.
But there’s good balance. For every “cute” moment that has the audience in stitches—like a supposedly straight upcoming star showing his strenuously hidden feminine side at the sudden appearance of a former male lover—there are lines, dropped at the right moment, that do make the audience pause and ponder.
In the tradition of many leading campus theater companies, Quintos has some of his ingénues playing off against more seasoned performers who have notched dozens of shows in their CV. The uncouth roughness and vulgarity of Amir (Kalil Almonte) finds an icy match in Ana Abad Santos’ Mira, a socialite who wants him to conform his genius to her class.
The boyish, androgynous look of upcoming star Jom (JC Santos) both collides against and seduces the earnest earthiness of Alben (Russell Legaspi), a stage actor surviving by waiting on tables. Alben gets his second wind, and presumably theatrical renaissance, from the encouragement of art reviewer Renata (Amihan Ruiz).
And no comeuppance is perhaps sweeter than Renata’s, an orchestra manager fired from a wedding where her orchestra has been contracted to play. The villain in that scene is the social-climbing events coordinator Simone (Gel Basa), who couldn’t care less about the dignity and integrity of the musicians.
Renata would reinvent herself and reemerge as an art reviewer, becoming the sane, influential voice representing the defense of all art forms, and who will put Philistines like Simone in their place. Now she can also act as guide, mother figure and protector to lost, weary kindred souls like Amir and Alben.
At the end of the day, despite their humble (materially speaking) demeanor, it is Renata, Amir and Alben who stand tall. And, despite their fancy clothes and posh accents, it is Simone, Mira and Jom who look more than a little lost.
It is a turnabout we rarely see on the stage—and, given the enthusiastic applause of the audience—perhaps something more than a few of us want to see in real life.
CSB Technical Theater Program Batch 111’s production of “Fluid” has two remaining performances on Saturday, July 26, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., at the SDA Theater, 5/F, School of Design and the Arts, College of St. Benilde. For tickets, call Stephanie Ocampo at 0917-9285737.