Ilang araw matapos ang deadline ng submission para sa Virgin Lab Fest 10, nakita ko ang review na ito. Hinimay ni Katrina Stuart Santiago ang katahimikan ng dulang “Owel” — ang masasakit na punch line, pregnant pauses, buntung-hininga, at iba pang bagay na hindi narinig ng manonood.
the calm in “Owel”*
It is easy to say that the homosexual relationship, if not the homosexual story, is one that’s been overdone and overtold, if not just also something that we should get over at this point. After all, in the same way that we get tired of the romantic-comedies that live off heterosexuality, there has become a tendency at redundancy for the homosexual story. It is not a question of more complex discussions, not even a call for more particularly unique experiences, as it is just less of what has become the stereotype of the gay story.
That is, it is rarely quiet, even less so calm.
That is, until “Owel.”
The gay story, differently
The unfolding is the gift of this play, where the revelation is done with some light comedy, and even lighter drama, the kind that is borne of the task at hand.
That task is later on revealed to have been the joke delivered in the beginning of this encounter. But it is dismissed, and what one is treated to is a conversation that happens in the unusual space of a clinic – the setting almost like a character in this play, too. That is, it comes with its own set of stock characters of doctors and residents, all unhinged here, and providing the play with its comedy.
But all of it really does only revolve around this encounter, the one between Owel (Andoy Ranay) and Cecil (Jomari Jose), the one that’s about too many things unsaid, and even more unresolved.
Easily, it seemed like Owel was only really looking for closure. That of course he’d have to do it in the clinic where his ex-boyfriend works is about entrapment: there is nothing like an office that lives off protocol and professionalism to make any personal confrontation embarrassing. That Cecil isn’t out in the open about his sexuality, that he is at this point when he is trying it out with a girl, can only be part of the general discomfiture that is part of this play’s telling.
That Owel is out, but not a screaming faggot; that he’s got a sense of humor about him without poking fun at others, or being rowdy, is what makes this play’s gay story different. While we might know of someone like Owel, we rarely see him star in his own film or play; while we know of many like him, he doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of homosexuality that local cultural production treats us to.
While we feel like Owel is the every-gay that we know, he of course isn’t.
The setting as character
That this story must happen within a clinic, one that is painfully sterile and lives off a removal from the personal, is the perfect counterpoint to Owel’s insistence on this encounter. His is a lightheartedness too, borne of the seeming inability to actually tell Cecil what his reasons are for being there, other than the usual longing for, the standard missing, of an ex. This sense of humor shines through in Owel’s articulations, as it does highlight his discomfiture in the context of this setting.
Yet it is also this setting that allows for the comedy that is in this play, where the conversation between Owel and Cecil is interrupted not just by the tests that Owel has to subject himself to, but also by the presence of doctors who turn a blind eye to the personal exchange happening before them. Here is where the comedy goes on overdrive, without getting waylaid by gay lingo for example, or falling into the stereotypical gay fight.
Instead it is all just conversation on heightened emotions, one that becomes funny because it is cloaked in language that seems so general, that seems to talk about relationships for all of us, even as it does only hit on the things that were left unsaid between Owel and Cecil. This of course only succeeds given perfect timing, particularly among Ranay, Jose, and Jenny Jamora who plays one of the doctors.
There is no missed beat here, no moment of hesitation, and it becomes the high point of the play, when the three throw around these lines with nary uncertainty, and the chutzpah that the moment needs to succeed in its realness. Jamora as the doctor, who is really but part of the setting too, allows for this climax to work, where she engages in the repartee even as she is equally surprised by it.
Everybody else in this cast is secondary to Owel and Cecil, though it would be Ranay who take to that stage and runs with this character. He is so good you forget completely that he isn’t Owel. Two weeks since, I still think of Owel as a real person, one who had something to tell an ex, and was just totally unable to, just because.
This is how “Owel” resonates: you realize that this story of an encounter, this narrative of closure, the context of a relationship gone awry, is one that we’ve all had. That this is about a gay relationship doesn’t matter; these conversations that are about an unraveling, a taking stock, an ending, are difficult for all of us.
Of course the ending to Owel’s – and Cecil’s – story is one that’s about a beginning too. But we are left to figure out where it might go, in the same way that no closure is ever just that, and for some relationships linger far longer than they should, for reasons more real than others. That ending, as it was the wonderfully painless unraveling, is this play’s power.
“Owel” was written by Eljay Castro Deldoc and directed by Marlon N. Rivera for Set B of Virgin Labfest 9, which ran at the Cultural Center of the Philippines earlier this month.