PLAYWRIGHT Luis Nario and director James Harvey Estrada had just finished their first few technical rehearsals for their Virgin Labfest play Gin Bulag when they spoke with BusinessWorld.

Ang hirap. Hindi mo alam kung kailan mapuputol at babagal ang Internet mo (It’s difficult. You do not know when your Internet connection will get cut or slow down),” Mr. Estrada said about rehearsals during a Zoom interview on May 29. “Interesting siyang gawin (It was interesting to do),” he added, noting that the team earlier considered tweaking the play for the current situation since it involved drinking.

Thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, Gin Bulag and the other plays in this year’s Virgin Labfest (VLF) — the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ theater festival which focuses on new, unstaged one-act plays — are going to have live streamed performances on the VLF YouTube page.

Mr. Estrada said that it was a challenge to present a story on alcoholism and physical violence (stabbing, in particular) in the time of COVID-19. The team decided to present the play as originally written, and intend for it to be a source of escape from the daily life in lockdown.

Gin Bilog is a tragicomedy following Entong, a Batangueño drunkard whose brother-in-law Dune joins him for a drinking session. Entong’s wife, Lorna, joins them too. As the night stretches over bottles of gin, tulingan (tuna), and videoke singing, things become more miserable despite having a good time.

The story, playwright Luis Nario said, was inspired by a childhood friend who lives near the train tracks in Batangas where drinking and physical violence are rampant.

Si Lorna at si Dune ay nagpaplano na ipatumba na yung asawa niya kasi naiinis na rin siya. Tapos ‘yun pala, lahat sila nag-iisip ng ganoon. (Lorna and Dune were planning to get rid of her husband because she was irritated by him. As it turns out, all of them were thinking of doing the same thing). They wanted to get rid of each other in a drinking session,” Mr. Nario said.

The playwright pointed out that there can be ideas in one’s subconscious which come to the surface when imbibing alcohol.

Through the play, Mssrs. Nario and Estrada hope to show the universal hardships of life, the power dynamics between men and women, and tendency to normalize violence, and how we deal with them.

Gusto ko rin tignan yung angulo kung paano tayo makakatulong at uunawain [sila] (I want to look at it from the angle of how we can help and understand them),” Mr. Nario said.

Mr. Estrada, the director, said that for the play he has tried to adopt the working environment of Tiktok where the music is embedded all throughout and includes stingers. He originally considered writing a storyboard for the live performance. He dropped the idea since “Baka maging rigid ‘yung directorial (The directions might turn out rigid),” he said.

Mr. Estrada’s goal is for the audience to enjoy the play, and afterwards reflect on life’s difficult reality. “We are trying to escape for a time, but [afterwards] there are realities we have to face,” he said.

The play’s cast members are Rhon Mercado, Robert “Buboy” Villar, and Lovely Abella.

Gin Bilog will stream live on June 12, 3 p.m., and June 25, 2 p.m.

Aside from the plays and staged readings, viewers can also catch the VLF Playwright’s Fair online, with this year’s playwrights talking about their work on June 11-14, 17-20, 25-27 at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, the Virgin Labfest 2020 Writing Fellowship Program will culminate in an online staged reading of the fellows’ works on June 28 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

For more details and show schedules, visit and, or join — Michelle Anne P. Soliman