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‘Unica Hijas’ and ‘Laro’ take us on a roller coaster through the spectrum of queer relationships

‘Unica Hijas’ and ‘Laro’ take us on a roller coaster through the spectrum of queer relationships

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  • Barefoot Theatre Collaborative's twin-bill production is a most fitting offering for Pride Month
pride plays unica hijas laro photos by kyle venturillo

It’s a case of strong and compelling storytelling when you can get your audience so intimately involved, whether they directly and actually relate to the experience or not. The strength of Pride Plays is its ability to show the depth and gamut of the queer experience, in a way that can impact both queers and allies alike.  

“Kung hindi political, baklaan. Wala na bang iba?” Director Pat Valera shares receiving this comment when Barefoot Theatre Collaborative, their new, young theater company (whose first major production, “Mula sa Buwan,” boasted a sold-out run last year), announced that they would be staging two LGBTQIA+ themed plays. Simply and succinctly called “Pride Plays,” the twin-bill theatrical offering promised a glimpse into various aspects of queer relationships and identity. 

[READ: LGBTQIA+ stories take the stage this June with ‘Unica Hijas’ and ‘Laro’]

“Kung hindi political, baklaan.” But are either of those bad things? Because what is (relevant) theater now, if not a mirror of society or a looking glass through which we can take an intimate glimpse into ourselves and the lives of others? Should theater not be a platform for empowerment? 

On one hand, it makes you think, “Are there really already too many queer stories?” But on the other hand, “And so what? Just because there are a lot doesn’t mean we ought to stop making them.” (That never stopped the straights, right. Or the *men* men.)

‘Unica Hijas’

“And so what?” could probably be the proudest rallying cry out of Pride Plays’ first act—a two-hander written by Mikaela Regis entitled “Unica Hijas.” First staged at last year’s Virgin Labfest, the play revolves around Nikki and Mitch, two Catholic school girls who get caught mid-kiss by one of the nuns at school. Being summoned to the principal’s office presumably to explain themselves, they face the dilemma of being honest with their feelings and their identities and facing the adults’ judgment.

As the show’s opener, “Unica Hijas” is the lighter, more hopeful, and more heartwarming of the two plays, but also packed with moments that tug at the heartstrings and bring on the tears. It’s relatively short, running for around half an hour, but both its writing and its direction have been reasonably paced. “Unica Hijas” manages to set the scene, establish the characters and their backgrounds, moves towards its inevitable conflict and climax, and delivers that satisfying resolution. My only qualm is that Mitch and Nikki were such a joy to watch I wanted to see more than just 30 minutes of them. Ash Nicanor and Joy Delos Santos perfectly captured the giddiness of youth, their mannerisms spot-on. They really felt like girls I’ve probably seen in my own high school (even if I went to a co-ed school). Plus, Nicanor’s serenade of the play’s original song “Kasintahanan” is the sweet icing on the cake.

Ash Nicanor and Joy Delos Santos as Mitch and Nikki in “Unica Hijas”. The song Mitch sings in the play, “Kasintahanan,” is actually composed by Nicanor.

Mitch, the charming star athlete, is very good with words (and music!). The confidence and courage that Mitch has in being true to herself and in expressing her feelings is very refreshing and in a way quite pure. In a way, she is the inspiring ideal—the kind of person we (or at least I) want to be in the face of love: unafraid to show the world who and how we love, and just downright honest. 

In contrast, there’s Nikki, the top student, the overthinker, who lets her fear of one bad out of a dozen other good scenarios set her off into a panic. Of course, this is all fueled by fear, being a closeted lesbian. While Mitch represents the ideal of free expression and an accepting and loving environment, Nikki presents the opposite. “What if my parents get angry?” “What if they’ll think I’m a disappointment?” “All my achievements thus far will be disregarded once they find out I’m queer.” “What if I lose everything I worked hard for?” All valid questions—all too real, too.

“Unica Hijas” not only explored the characters’ reactions to the situation at hand, but it also delved into each one’s view of love, acceptance, and what it means to be in a relationship with each other. Nikki, still not coming to terms with being lesbian, had more apprehensions. The whole inadvertent admission that if she admitted to being in a real relationship with Mitch, if she came out as lesbian, would make it real and true, was heartbreaking to hear. It’s understandable why Mitch broke down, because she had been nothing less than loving and supportive. And to hear her “kasintahanan” express her fear of the relationship becoming real—which sounds something just short of outright rejection, and a denial and invalidation of not just their identity but life, memories, and experience together—is surely earth-shattering, especially for a teenager. 

The play, albeit short, is also rich in details. They make use of a minimalist set, with mostly frames, blocks, and neon lights signaling the changing locations within the school (transforming from classroom to auditorium to bathroom to hallway to janitor’s closet). While the creators point out an interesting tidbit that it is always Mitch who “chases” after Nikki during set changes, it’s also worth noting that it is Nikki doing most of the heavy “lifting”—she has a bigger burden to bear, after all, as she overthinks the potential reactions of her parents, the response of school authorities, and her own indecisiveness about her identity.

But what’s ultimately beautiful about “Unica Hijas” is that everything is handled so tenderly. It hits hard, asks some difficult, very real questions, presents some harsh truths, but despite the short rollercoaster of emotions—starting with kilig, leading up to tense worry, resolved with acceptance and relief—it doesn’t throw your heart around like a rag. (Leave that for “Laro” in Act 2, they said. …Okay, they didn’t say that, but that’s what I felt.)

What I appreciated the most about “Unica Hijas” is that it—through Mitch—doesn’t tell you to come out, be openly queer, and be loud about it. It comforts you to come out and be true to your feelings and your identity at your own pace, in the way you comfortably can. It holds your hand and supports your journey—wherever you are on for the moment.

But it still ends strongly: When you’re faced with losing the only person who knows and understands who you truly are, what do you do? 

I think Nikki, also inspired by Mitch’s strength, figured out her answer. “Oo, girlfriend ko si Mitch!” And oh what a satisfying, proud moment it was to hear that.

Nikki is a mood.


The wholesome cuteness of “Unica Hijas” takes a turn for the intense once Act 2 rolls around with “Laro.” Acclaimed playwright Floy Quintos takes “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler (which was deemed controversial when it was written in 1897) a notch higher, adapting it to the Filipino, gay experience. 

Told in a series of interconnected vignettes, “Laro” explores the complexities in the dynamics of gay relationships. With its range of characters, from a callboy, to a young police officer, a drag queen, a model, a philanthropist, a student, and more, it shows just how messy it can all be. It’s not just a matter of intimacy, but also that of consent (or the lack thereof), of the dynamics of power, of self-expression. 

Gio Gahol as Ang Batang Pulis, Phi Palmos as Ang Drag Queen
Ross Pesigan as Ang Call Boy and Jojo Cayabyab as Ang Pilantropo

Most of the stories are racy, risque, but ultimately not distasteful—even if some scenes may be a little emotionally terrifying. But such is the truth; there really are manipulative characters, who won’t hesitate to power-trip to get what they want. 

Despite the edge-of-your-seat level of intensity, “Laro” balances it out with a few jabs at humor. It’s these little pockets of laughter, by way of snappy, satisfying comebacks, pop culture references, and perfectly timed and intonated quips, that allow us to breathe a little as we swim through the murky waters of these various connections.

“Laro,” directed by John Mark Yap, features a very tight cast. Ross Pesigan as the Call Boy is very charismatic and charming, which contrasts with Gio Gahol’s take on the Batang Pulis—equally charming at the beginning, but deceptively so, that it disarms you and then betrays you as his character proceeds to terrify the hell out of the men he encounters. Phi Palmos’ very giving (perhaps even marupok to a point) Drag Queen is put in situations that really rouses your empathy, while Shaun Ocrisma’s Partner is one whose issues you’d really grow to understand as soon as you meet his partner, Al Gatmaitan’s Ideal. 

Each story seamlessly ties into the next, eventually going full circle—a round, la ronde—perhaps also alluding to how small this world can be, and how intimately interconnected we all are without really realizing it. …Which makes things all the more messy, crazy, and maybe even thrilling.

Well. Laro, nga naman.

Pride Plays runs until June 25 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Black Box Theater in Circuit Makati. “Unica Hijas” is written by Mikaela Regis, directed by Pat Valera, and stars Ash Nicanor as Mitch, Joy Delos Santos as Nikki, with Pau Benitez as swing. “Laro” is written by Floy Quintos and directed by John Mark Yap, starring Ross Pesigan, Gio Gahol, Phi Palmos, Mike Liwag, Shaun Ocrisma, Al Gatmaitan, Jeremy Mayores, Noel Escondo, Andre Miguel, Jojo Cayabyab, with Lawrence Miranda, DM Lee, Nathan Molina, and Andre Cruz as the ensemble, Almond Bolante as standby, and Allen Amoguis and Jel Tarun as swings.

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