MANILA -- For someone to come in blind without any advance information, Floy Quintos’ "The Reconciliation Dinner" seems like a neutral play taking shots at the noisiest sides of the past two elections.
As the play starts, a familiar bombastic anthem plays out loud as a prelude to a friendly dinner. PR practitioner Dina Medina, played by Stella Cañete-Mendoza with such snootiness, and husband Bert, portrayed with such brutish glee by Randy Villarama, are setting the table for close friends, baker-entrepreneur Susan and husband Fred Valderama, both given an optimistic, albeit naïve, qualities by Frances Makil-Ignacio and Jojo Cayabyab respectively.
A word here, a word there, and suddenly, this friendly dinner becomes not-so-friendly. What follows is the slow death of a friendship through seven years and two presidencies.
In "Dear Evan Hansen"-ish projections of posts and reels, Quintos and director Dexter Martinez Santos expose how social media deteriorated from a way to keep in touch through birthday greetings and pictures of tiramisu cheesecake, as it tore people apart by echoing the politics of each side. Seemingly innocuous posts can now be interpreted as petty personal attacks that end up as no-holds-barred bardagulan. A country doesn’t break apart with wars; one destroys it with paper cuts, that is little cuts and wounds between friendships and relationships and unity. One can just imagine how many acquaintances, friends and families are no more because of this squabbling.
The whole cast gets their time in the spotlight. Mica Pineda takes the snootiness of her mom and the superiority complex of her dad to make Mica, the Medinas’ highly educated daughter, a character really hard to root for. It's not difficult to see why Nelsito Gomez's Ely, Mica's rational data analyst husband, lives a life of quiet desperation.
Phi Palmos’ Norby, the Valderamas’ drag queen son, steals the stage with zingers, one-liners, and by just being outright fabulous.
Pay attention to the train of thought monologues by each of the characters, each one, a commentary spiced up with the characters going through grief, joy, frustration, and rage, recalling real issues from the two elections and their aftermath. These were totally relatable and it was heartening to see how vocal and how emotional the audience took in these scenes.
Quintos takes a shotgun and takes no prisoners – Kakampinks/Dilawans or DDS/BBM be damned. The “wokeness,” kaartehan, and sanctimonious holier-than-thou tendencies of the Kakampinks; the penchant for believing fake news, trolling, and ad-hominems of the Reds. It’s only near the end of the play during the titular reconciliation dinner that the play truly unholsters its true colors.
The dinner itself happens after seven years in the play’s timeline where circumstances have compelled the two families to kiss and make up. The dinner itself is like seeing Filipinos through a microscope. It seems okay, it seems normal but one can feel the tension bubbling just beneath the surface. It just takes a little scratch to blow everything up.
"The Reconciliation Dinner" was first staged as a one-weekend-only production at the University of the Philippines last year, six months after the elections. I applaud the producers for bringing it out for more people to see.
In these times, it is a brave piece that may open wounds we thought have healed. It’s also brave that it ends the way it does. Art imitates life in the sense that it will strike a chord with those going through their own reconciliation dinners.
In the end, one may ask if "The Reconciliation Dinner" is a hopeful piece of theater. The absolute best thing I can say about it is that made me do something I didn’t think I could when I look back at the past seven years.
It made me laugh.
As in really, laugh out loud without malice at the black comedy of the past near-decade with the wit of Quintos backed up by an amazing cast. Despite all the anger, the frustration, the disappointment, and the resignation to accept things the way they are, "The Reconciliation Dinner" showed just how one could still find joy in these trying times.
And if that isn’t hope, I don’t know what is.
"The Reconciliation Dinner" runs on May 20-21, 27-28 with 3 p.m. matinees and 8 p.m. evening performances at the Power Mac Center Spotlight at the Circuit Makati.