Sometimes a small theater production turns out to be so memorably poignant that it acquires a kind of bigness of its own. Such is Gee-Gee at Waterina, the first original Filipino musical of Artist Playground, local theater’s newest company.
Gee-Gee at Waterina is equal parts elegiac and celebratory. You may come in for the laughs, and there’s funny banter aplenty, but you will stay to savor the intricacies of living, loving, losing and letting go.
Ostensibly a gay play with origins as a one-act play included in the first Virgin LabFest many moons back, the real-life persons on which the two main characters are based are no longer around. Gee-Gee is based on former Pasay City Councilor Justo C. Justo, or JJ in showbiz circles. He was both flamboyant and charitable but was not above suspicions of helping out the helpless and the downtrodden for self-promotion. Waterina is based on the controversial Walter Markova, a comfort gay during the Japanese occupation who was welcomed by JJ to the Home for Golden Gays, a retirement home for old homosexuals.
The musical is anchored on the basic premise of what does it mean for an old gay man to suddenly get hold of a large amount that he has not seen in his whole life? What does he do with it? Can he buy snatches of happiness with the money?
While Gee-Gee and Waterina go over the possibilities, the characters take us back to their individual journeys as gay men. One is married with kids, the other bound to be alone to his dying day.
The audience is confronted with the realities of being gay, the fears and secrets, the dreams and desires left when you know that the parade has gone by. As Waterina, seasoned film and theater actor-director Roeder Camañag is masterful, nailing both the physical and emotional requirements of the role. From the aged voice to the pained laugh right down to the grand poses he strikes, to the humanity of the character that peeks through the layers of makeup, Camañag has all the bases covered. By the time he sings Waterina’s song “Minsan S’yang Naging Akin,” he’s spellbinding and heart-wrenching.
Side by side the luminous Camañag, Norman Peñaflorida gives it his all as Gee-Gee. You can see that he seizes every moment and the effort does produce outstanding results. His comedic timing seems subtle but very natural, and he is able to bring out both giggles and laughter with his punchlines.
Deserving special mention are the men that make up the chorus of the musical. Mostly new faces in the theater circuit, Sean Nolasco, Joseph de la Cruz, Nel Gumalog, Romeo Palma Jr. and Bench Ortiz sang, swayed and sashayed much to the delight of the audience.
But great performances alone cannot carry a whole production. The cast is greatly helped by award-winning composer and musical director Jesse Lucas’s exquisite music, which is at times fast and bouncy then melancholic and sad in the next moment. Playwright Jose Dennis Teodosio’s book is glorious while Lezie Dailisan’s choreography shifts from dynamic to dramatic, from fun to fabulous, with flair and ease. The musical plays well under the direction of the highly respected Andrew de Real, who has consistently championed the rights and dreams of the many gay communities in the country.
One of the many beautiful things about Gee-Gee at Waterina is how it doesn’t purport to offer solutions to every gay man’s struggle. Instead, it feels like a refuge for the broken, a pat on the back for those nearing despair, a hug full of encouragement, an assurance that we may all have to deal with different pains but there is a universality to the need for love, understanding, and a chance to grasp at tiny snatches of joy every once in a while, or in some dire cases, while there is still time.
For that feeling alone, Gee-Gee at Waterina is a gem of a musical, a fusion of love and creativity. We wouldn’t be surprised if there will be more shows added to its limited run at the Arts Above complex in Quezon City.