By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter
Under My Skin
By Rody Vera
Presented by Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA)
Ongoing until March 22
PETA Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, QC
PETA Theater closes its 52nd season with Under My Skin, a drama about Filipinos living with HIV.
The show opens with Dr. Gemma Almonte (played by Cherry Pie Picache), an epidemiologist who treats the patients whose stories unfold throughout the play.
The modes different of the disease’s transmission — male-male sexual contact, male-female sexual contact, and sharing of infected needles — are presented through the stories of the HIV positive characters: Dino, a DOTA player who contacts tuberculosis before he learns that he has HIV/AIDs; Mary Rose, who discovers that her young son has contacted the disease after she was infected first by her husband; and a gay couple who learn to look out for each other despite the worsening condition of the infected partner.
The story is told in a straightforward manner. Award-winning playwright Rody Vera’s characters are based on real people and he narrate how one can contract the disease and its treatment.
A large part of the role of Dr. Almonte is to lay out and explain the latest statistics about HIV — aided by projections on terminology and statistical figures. (According to the Global Health Observatory data of the World Health Organization, 37.9 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDs in 2018. Data from the HIV/AIDs and ART Registry of the Philippines as of August 2019 states that there have been 70,740 confirmed HIV cases and 3,584 deaths in the country since 1984. Almost half of the afflicted (47%) were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old, and 35% were 15 to 24 years old at the time of testing.)
Ms. Picache (who alternates with Roselyn Perez) gives a realistic portrayal of the doctor who works to change her patients’ mindset and keep them from giving in to panic. Her character also serves as comic relief to heavily dramatic scenes.
The director, Melvin Lee, chose to use a proscenium stage setup in PETA’s black box theater, with an arch separating the upstage area from the downstage area. The flat backdrop is used for the projections on current statistics, videos and visuals of the immune system, and scientific names. Behind the arch hang pieces of sheer white cloth which are used as props — one scene used them for aerial choreography.
Under My Skin concludes on a positive note. It reinforces the importance of looking out for each other and avoiding paranoia.
In a country with the fastest growing rate of HIV cases in the Asia-Pacific region, keeping an open mind and educating ourselves is the only way to fight the virus of ignorance and indifference.
In the words of Dr. Almonte, “Ikalat ang kaalaman nang walang panghuhusga (Spread knowledge without judgement).”
After each performance, discussions with doctors, health practitioners, and representatives from PETA’s partner organizations LoveYourself and The Red Whistle are held. Free HIV screening is also available at the theater lobby.
Also performing alongside Ms. Picache and Ms. Perez are Eko Baquial, Miguel Almendras, Mike Liwag, Gio Gahol, Anthony Falcon, Gold Villar-Lim, She Maala, Mico Esquivel, Bene Manaois, Lotlot Bustamante, Kitsi Pagaspas, Dylan Talon, Ekis Gimenez, Erold Enriquez, Jarred Jaicten, Joseph Madriaga, Jason Barcial, Dudz Teraña, Rachelle Gimpes, Reggie Ondevilla, Roy Dahildahil, and Csai Habla.
Under My Skin has performances until March 22 (Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 3 and 8 p.m.) at the PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, Brgy. Kristong Hari, New Manila, Quezon City.