You know the saying that in Manila, every gay guy knows a guy who’s dated a guy who knows this guy who’s dated this other guy who’s also dated the guy you’re seeing? It’s basically Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except Kevin is a vague occupation-hottie and the web rarely ever goes beyond four degrees away. Even if you haven’t logged into a dating app within the last three years, you know what I mean.
This is pretty much what Artist Playground’s staging of Laro is about. Well, almost. The Floy Quintos play, with additional material by Miguel Castro, goes deeper and explores the complicated relationships and worlds of all these gay guys we know (or have heard about).
The play is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which explores sex and social strata by presenting pairs of characters — all from different standings — before or after a sexual encounter. In Laro, the characters are all queer folk from Manila, moving through the capital’s complicated social structures. The scenes run the gamut from a macho police officer looking to get penetrated (by a drag queen, no less), cheating lovers looking for escape online, sly masc4masc dudes taking advantage of femme queens, to wide-eyed call boys eager to experiment with designer drugs.
Artist Playground’s staging of Floy Quintos’ ‘Laro’ peers into the complicated sex lives of Manila’s gay population.
Although the play was written in 2004, much of the play’s themes and circumstances still ring true today. And with updated references like Grindr, Twitter “alters,” Sogo and Juul-like vapes, the baby gays in the audience will catch the drift just fine. Its adaptation to current times also brings to light long-standing struggles within the LGBTQ+ community: for example, in the scene with the Pulis (Paul Jake Paule) and the Drag Queen (Phi Palmos), the policeman draws a gun and points it at the drag queen’s face once she tries to push him away in the middle of their tryst. They also get into a squabble about her “womanness,” just because she hasn’t had bottom surgery, which highlights the need for SOGIE education in the country.
Gio Gahol plays the classic trope of the Manggagamit, who uses the love and affection of the Drag Queen for material and monetary gain.
Laro also takes on more nuanced issues within and around the gay community. In the scene with the Kalaguyo (MC dela Cruz) and the Ideal (Al Gatmaitan alternating with Victor Sy), the Ideal looks down on the younger Kalaguyo’s swardspeaking ways because he fears their posh, straight friends will disown them. Anek?
Beyond LGBTQ+ issues, however, the play also takes on hopes, dreams and love (if you’re kinky like that). In the scenes with the Pilantropo (Vincent A. DeJesus), the Call Boy (Miguel Bongato) talks about finding true love and settling down, and the Modelo (Jay Gonzaga alternating with Ivan Rivera) talks about changing the paradigm of his life. The Pilantropo, as jaded as he is, makes fun of both of them, perhaps masking his fear of truly falling in love once more. It’s a universal experience that’s been done and done and done before; however, it’s the funny and localized banter between the characters that refreshes it for the audience.
Beyond LGBTQ+ issues, the play takes on themes of hopes, dreams and love, like in the scene with the Pilantropo (Vincent A. DeJesus) and the Call Boy (Miguel Bongato).
The whole play is a rollercoaster of emotions. If you’re a gay or queer person you’ve probably been in one or more of the situations in the play; if not, I highly suggest you bring a gay friend to see the show. Some scenes are funny and some are uncomfortable to watch but necessary — much like the story of our lives, as clichéd as that sounds. The play is held down by a great cast (which also stars Gio Gahol alternating with Mike Liwag as the Manggagamit, Ross Pesigan as the Estudyante, and Jon Abella alternating with Vincent Pajara as the Manunulat), and is directed by John Mark Yap. It’s on a very limited run, with only a total of eight shows in the first two weekends of Pride Month, which is a shame because it’s a valiant effort that deserves to be seen. Let’s play.
Catch the last remaining shows of Laro on June 8 and 9 at 3 and 7 p.m. at Arts Above, Penthouse, 112 West Avenue, Quezon City. For more information, visit artistplayground.ph and follow them on social media at @artplayg.