'Changing Partners' goes straight for the heart
MANILA, Philippines – The team behind Changing Partners describes the critically-acclaimed play as an “anti-rom com musical.” It’s an apt description, since the play rejects the tired conventions of romance pieces. The play explores the power dynamics between partners with significant age differences. There are no contrived conflicts here, and no improbable resolutions.
Two years after debuting at Virgin Labfest, Changing Partners is back for a two-weekend run at the PETA Theater Center. This time around, Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo play Alex, while Anna Luna and Sandino Martin play Cris.
As its title implies, Changing Partners’ key conceit is the transitions it makes from one variation of the relationship to another. At different parts of the story, an Alex gets paired with a Cris. These shifts happen seamlessly and add an almost surreal layer to the story. At the beginning of the play, for example, Agot’s Alex is with Martin’s Cris. Martin leaves the scene, and in comes Luna’s version of Cris.
It’s a risky gambit, but it works. I would argue that the story even works better as a play than a movie (Changing Partners was also adapted to film last year). The play manages to stay coherent by running a common thread through each relationship variation: age-related problems. Both Alexes are the older, more accomplished person in the relationship, and are mostly responsible for fending for the younger partner. Also, an unseen third party named Angel becomes a source of tension and strife through each variation.
The hetero pairings are pretty basic: both Alexes fuss over their younger partners’ restlessness and lack of focus (mostly career-related, but also relationship-oriented). Martin’s Cris sweet-talks Isidro’s Alex into buying him a P17,000 pair of Air Jordans while Luna’s Cris promises Lorenzo’s Alex that she’ll get her shit together as soon as she bags that project coordinator gig she’s been eyeing.
The emotional stakes get higher when Isidro is paired with Luna, and Lorenzo with Martin. Martin plays the “I was just an innocent lad and never knew what I was getting into” card to justify his emotional unavailability to Lorenzo. Luna, for her part, uses Angel as an antidote to the ennui she feels with Isidro.
We get 4 different relationship configurations, but the same tensions run through all of them. Maybe the play is telling us that relationships can assume any number of forms, but in the end we all want the same companionship and acceptance. At the bottom of it all, we’re all after love.
The hard goodbye
On that note, there’s a bit of a meta-narrative here as well: we really are looking at just one relationship, and all these reconfigurations are the relationship’s attempts to save itself, to find what works. This seems to be the case during the emotional apex of the play: all 4 characters inhabit the stage at the same time in a harrowing scene. One character continues another’s dialogue while the other seamlessly shifts attention to another.
The scene was nerve-racking, and as thrilling as any movie action sequence I’ve seen. Credit needs to be given to director Rem Zamora and playwright Vincent A. de Jesus for juggling these multiple characters and weaving them into a single emotional thread.
In the end, nothing works, and despite everyone’s (okay, mostly just the Alexes') attempts to salvage things, they all, inevitably, crumble into entropy. There is true sadness here.
Changing Partners: The Stage Musical runs until May 19 to 20 at the PETA Theater Center. – Rappler.com