Still relevant after nearly 40 years

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By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

Theater Review
AKO: Alpha Kappa Omega
Presented by Tanghalang Ateneo
Ongoing until April 13
Rizal Mini Theater, Ateneo de Manila,
Katipunan Ave., Quezon City

A SCENE from Tanghalang Ateneo’s AKO: Alpha Kappa Omega. — AGA OLYMPIA

MISTAKES of the past are repeated — it takes a long time before the cycle is broken.

Tanghalang Ateneo concludes its 40th season with AKO: Alpha Kappa Omega, a stage adaptation of Mike de Leon’s film Batch ’81 which was critical about a nation under martial law. Directed by Guelan Varela-Luarca, the adaptation is set in 2018 and serves as a commentary on the country’s current state.

The story follows the Alpha Kappa Omega fraternity’s six neophytes — pre-med student Sid Lucero (John Sanchez), his best friend Arni Enriquez (Earvin Estioco), promdi (country boy) Ding Magtibay (Ram Catan), sheltered freshman Pacoy Ledesma (Cholo Ledesma), Ronnie Roxas, Jr. (Nico Nepomuceno) whose father is a frat alumnus, and economics professor Santi Santillan (Ron Capinding), as they go through the grueling initiation process.

Act 1 begins with the lights fading in, eerie background music playing, and the actors slowly walking around a realistic set of a dingy and abandoned basement. The first sequence establishes the mood and theme of the story — a nerve-wracking interrogation on why the neophytes want to join a frat followed by paddling and bullying. The blocking and movements are synchronized as if watching a film’s action scene.

After the intermission, Act 2 continues with a comical drag beauty pageant featuring the neophytes during the AKO fair. The play takes a quick break from the drama as the characters reenact famous poses, the Q&A sections of past and present beauty queens, as well as a spoof on the controversial announcement of the wrong winner. Then the story goes dark again, with more violence between feuding fraternities, conflicts between the characters and themselves.

As the story progresses, each character’s motivation for joining the fraternity is presented. The students yearn to be in a community that would give them a sense of superiority, while the professor seeks adventure outside a troubled marriage and mid-life crisis. The decisions they make benefit and satisfy themselves over the brotherhood in the frat.

Despite the seriousness of most scenes, the dialogue manages to smoothly pull off a bit of comedy.

Mr. Luarca’s adaptation a modern take on gives salient scenes from the film by featuring current issues and technologies. The final question during the electrocution scene is changed from a query about whether martial law is effective to whether the war on drugs campaign is beneficial. The abuse of social media is shown through a sex scene involving a prostitute and the virgin Pacoy which is livestreamed on Facebook without Pacoy’s knowledge and consent.

The play also touches on issues such as drug addiction, criminal liability, and shows how enablers keep the those in power.

In Mr. Luarca’s director’s notes, he wrote: “… Kailangan muling ikuwento ang pelikula. Kung hindi ngayon, kailan? Kung hindi ako (o kami), sino?” (The film needs to be retold. If not now, when? If not by me (or us), who?)

The play was able to liken joining a fraternity to the state of the country today and how we strive to survive in it.

The play has performances until April 13, Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. For details and inquiries, contact Genny Supit at 0917-115-0520, or visit www.facebook.com/TanghalangAteneo.

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