In ‘Beautiful Strangers,’ lost souls combat loneliness in strange ways

There are many ways to fill a void. In response to feelings of loneliness or existential dread, some turn to the kinds of solutions one might hear a therapist prescribe — a routine, meaningful relationships, a strong support network, maybe an antidepressant or two. Others try to fill the void with other things — alcohol, drugs, the familiarity of trauma, moments of feigned intimacy. We don’t always know what’s good for us.

This is one lesson, I think, that the play Beautiful Strangers, a joint effort between The Icarus Theater Collaborative and Storyboard Junkies, aims to impart. The play follows five characters who attempt to battle loneliness in their own peculiar, often dark ways. They are defined by a kind of lack, and attempt to fill their respective voids with whatever’s there.

 

The play follows five characters who attempt to battle loneliness in their own peculiar, often dark ways. They are defined by a kind of lack, and attempt to fill their respective voids with whatever’s there.

 

There’s Elaine, an office worker who will go to desperate lengths to fulfill her responsibilities. She tries to befriend Goebels, a Euro-Indian man squatting on derelict property, barely surviving, and haunted by ghosts he can’t drive away. There’s Martin Sr. who, kind of like the businessman in The Little Prince, is always counting money and obsessing over owning things. His kid is Maria, a spoiled rich kid who is unable to live her life as a woman because her father constantly misgenders her. Serving Martin Sr. is Edmund, an awkward assistant who secretly dreams of being viewed as more than a nobody. They all interact with each other in one way or another, trying to navigate how their voids resonate with the troubles of other human beings.

Anyone familiar with Icarus’s plays knows that they emotionally tend towards bleakness and nihilism (the last show I watched by them was Jean Paul Sartre’s existentially torturous play No Exit). Beautiful Strangers is no exception. The show’s best feature is a powerful script that gives a lot of its actors a lot of emotional room to work with, whether it’s deadpan despair or bloodcurdling outbursts. You could probably read the play by itself, on the page, and it would still wreck you.

Lonely hearts club:  Kristine Bernal, Ariez Cortez, BJ Crisostomo, Chai Miranda, and Justin Ayran star in The Icarus Theater Collaborative and Storyboard Junkies’s Beautiful Strangers.

Beautiful Strangers isn’t perfect, though. The acting of Kristine Bernal, who plays Elaine, often comes through as strong and harrowing, but occasionally strikes us as wooden. In terms of tone, some might find the play’s bleakness something of a slog, rather than a fully immersive experience — although Edmund, played by BJ Crisostomo, provides moments of surprising levity. Speaking of bleakness, a couple trigger warnings would’ve been nice — depictions of rape and suicide are things that many audiences require a heads-up before seeing.

 

Beautiful Strangers takes your sorrow and artfully defamiliarizes it, making it seem like something you thought you knew.

 

And, as someone who attended the play’s second showing, I hope that future shows will carry off each turn-out-the-lights transition more quickly and efficiently. Stagehands do great work and aren’t given enough credit, but when transitions are slow it messes with the play’s momentum.

Despite these shortcomings, we’re still left with a powerful text, and an eloquently pessimistic take on the darker, less rational side of human nature. Beautiful Strangers takes your sorrow and artfully defamiliarizes it, making it seem like something you thought you knew.

 

Beautiful Strangers is staged at DITO: Bahay ng Sining in J. Molina St., Concepcion Uno, Marikina City on Saturdays and Sundays throughout September at 7 p.m. For ticket inquiries and reservations, send a message to 0917-8632364, or email [email protected]il.com.

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