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Is it safe to talk politics again at family gatherings? ‘The Reconciliation Dinner’ shows us what that’s like

Is it safe to talk politics again at family gatherings? ‘The Reconciliation Dinner’ shows us what that’s like

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  • There’s a lot to digest here, especially with how we deal with politics
dulaang up the reconciliation dinner

Ever experienced coming to a hearty and heavy meal, ending in a happy food coma-induced haze that leaves you with so many thoughts about what you just consumed, but at a loss at how to describe the fullness of it all?

That’s me coming out of Dulaang UP’s “The Reconciliation Dinner.” But all for good reason.

It has been almost six months since the national elections, which greatly polarized the public. (An understatement, really.) For most of us, life has gone on—not that we’ve had much choice, given the pressing need to realign our priorities with the ushering in of the golden era. But with all the bustle, it seems the dust has settled.

Or has it, really?

If you’ve been keeping to your like-minded circles post-elections, sorry to say, the semblance of peace may end soon. After all, it’s almost the holiday season, and that brings with it endless series of get-togethers, reunions, and parties. Meaning at some point, we’ll face (or worse, have to interact with) people we’ve clashed with politically in the past months.

It’s inevitable, of course. We can’t weed out every dissenter—especially not if they’re family. So now that choices have been made and we’re all on the same (sinking?) boat, how do we deal?

Dulaang UP’s 45th season opener, “The Reconciliation Dinner,” gave audiences a glimpse into the attempts at peace-making between two families with opposing political stances, showing the various tensions that could arise. It confronts its audience with the questions we’ve probably already asked ourselves months ago, but perhaps have decided to set aside: How do we reconcile our political differences? Should we overlook transgressions to our beliefs—our personal politics—for the sake of our relationships?

In the age of cancel culture, troll farms, and digital warfare, how do we navigate our personal relationships, especially as they are affected by our political beliefs and choices?

An all-too-familiar tale of friendship torn by politics

The play’s conflict is laid out early, as the heads of two close-knit families, the Valderamas and the Medinas, enjoy what would’ve been a typical lighthearted dinner. The get-together quickly sours as the evening’s conversation turned to politics, with Susan and Fred Valderama (Frances Makil-Ignacio and Jojo Cayabyab) heatedly condemning then-President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to allow former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Dinner hosts Dina and Bert Medina (Stella Cañete-Mendoza and Randy Medel Villarama) begin to show their true colors by chastising their friends for being so affected. At this time, the red flags are overlooked for the sake of friendship. The four come to an agreement to never talk politics in front of each other again. The Valderamas begin to distance themselves though, until six years pass and their unspoken conflict once again surfaces as the two families find themselves backing opposite political colors.

Various points of contention from the past election season have been incorporated into the story, making “The Reconciliation Dinner” both triggering in terms of political discourse, and nostalgic for the good fight that was. 

The Valderamas spoke of the volunteer movement, the number-defying rallies, and the collective hope felt by supporters of then-Vice President Leni Robredo. The Valderamas’ only son, Norby (Phi Palmos), a drag performer, also touched on the inclusivity of the pink campaign. Meanwhile, the red-tainted Medinas focused on disputing (read: discrediting) the accusations against the Marcos camp, with father and daughter Bert and Mica (Hariette Mozelle) tag-teaming to point out that their choice came about not because they are paid trolls, nor because they watched any of the YouTube vlogger misinformation campaigns. They simply believed that Marcos Jr. was a strongman—that he would do better in the real, harsh, unkind world versus the soft and motherly Robredo. (Dina on the other hand, is just happy to live in her “good vibes only” world.)

Then there’s Mica’s husband, data analyst Ely (Reb Atadero, Nelsito Gomez). A self-declared go-with-the-flow type, he keeps his opinions to himself to keep the peace. Unwittingly, he later reveals his political colors. But as the “outsider” in this long-standing family affair, he serves as the mediator as the reconciliation dinner starts showing signs of going south.

Each character’s monologue—speaking to the audience as if breaking the fourth wall—gives us a glimpse into their minds, making us understand their motives and choices, in addition to the already rich dialogue.

Though the characters are fictional, there is truth to each persona—their personalities, beliefs, and statements have all been, in one way or another, something (or someone) we’ve encountered in real life. The tight cast performed effectively and exceptionally well, but the standouts were Palmos and (at the time of my viewing) Atadero. While the material as a whole was already engaging, Palmos’ energy sent the audience roaring with reactions. 

Though a play, “The Reconciliation Dinner” is every bit real; it does not shy away from mentioning exact details from the past Duterte presidency up to the recent elections which Marcos Jr. won.

Amid the crowd-rousing dialogue, we are forced to face not only several truths about the country’s current socio-political state, but also truths about our behaviors as Filipinos. 

We are a contradictory people; we want to keep the peace, and we want everyone, especially the family, to live in harmony. So much so that often we are quick to forgive (or sweep under the rug) just to avoid further conflict. But at the same time, when provoked, we also tend to snap—fighting back by any means just to avoid being on the losing end of the argument. Even if that means resorting to name-calling, ad hominem attacks, or non-sequiturs. 

Did the play end with reconciliation? Only partially, perhaps. Because true reconciliation isn’t just about setting aside your differences. Setting aside differences doesn’t mean sweeping these issues under the rug as if they didn’t exist. 

True reconciliation requires openness from both sides to listen and understand. Reconciliation isn’t the “Tama na, huwag na natin pag-usapan,” and neither is it resolved by being the louder voice, or landing the stronger punch.

The play doesn’t offer an answer—it shouldn’t. Because the one doing the reconciliation is the audience. Coming out of the theater, who will we associate ourselves with? How will we approach our estranged loved ones soon? How are we going to present our reconciliation with them?

Moreover, how do we reconcile with other Filipinos who may not have dinners like this to begin with? How can we ask for reconciliation for a decision that will cost them six years?

In the end, “The Reconciliation Dinner” is a filling, satisfying piece to witness, especially for those who have become not just invested, but heavily involved in political and social matters. It might actually be more comforting for one end of the political spectrum than the other (in my personal opinion. Respect my opinion. *wink*).

And now, as I think of the “Dinner” that has passed, I am hoping more people finally taste how deeply intertwined politics is in our daily lives, and get the appetite to talk calmly, civilly, and humanely about our choices. Because unlike a meal, politics isn’t something we can opt out of. Not anymore.

Dulaang UP’s “The Reconciliation Dinner” ran from November 18 to 20 at the UP Theater Main Hall Stage, University of the Philippines – Diliman, Quezon City. Written by Floy Quintos and directed by Dexter M. Santos, with set design by Charles Yee, costume design by Mitoy Sta. Ana, and sound design by Arvy Flores Dimaculangan. Starring Stella Cañete-Mendoza, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Jojo Cayabyab, Randy Medel Villarama, Nelsito Gomez, Reb Atadero, Phi Palmos, and Hariette Mozelle.

Nolisoli.ph © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.

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