Tatler Review: PETA's Charot!
Set in a fictionalised Philippines, the play follows several strangers caught in mid-day traffic. All of them are trying to get to their local precinct before 6PM to vote for or against “Charot” or “Charter for Togetherness” — a slogan name for charter change.
My first take away from the play is that, once again, PETA’s stellar actors show us how it’s done. With effortless coordination and vibrant performances, each character shines equally. Vocal stylings and choreography are a treat to watch. In fact, some of their songs are still stuck in my head! The set design is simple and straightforward, yet the interesting concept and script makes for an engaging viewing experience. Audiences get to play a part, as their collective votes dictate how the play ends and what fate awaits select characters. A fresh use of technology, PETA’s Charot! is a clear example of thinking outside the box.
The first two acts are entertainment at its finest — witty musical compositions, impeccable vocal harmony, and quirky dance moves — Charot! already offers a lot on the surface. However, it’s not merely spectacle. The carefully written script seamlessly weaves hyperbolic comedy with an underlying political criticism. Each character is a representation of one or two factions of actual Philippine society – a slice of life, as it were.
There’s an enthusiastic millennial couple, a populist policeman, a gay Grab driver, an over-worked saleslady, an eccentric nurse, an opportunistic vendor, a pregnant sari-sari store owner, and a sassy “donya” — all stuck in non-moving traffic. Besides the arduous heat, a flashflood ensues and exposed electrical wiring causes electrocution, forcing the characters to meet on the tops of their cars. From here on out, they work together to get to the voting polls before it closes. In between the crazy turn of events, song numbers and monologues allow the viewers to get to know each character better.
After a long series of musical acrobatics, the third and final act digresses and almost feels like an information dump. It is at this point that the play starts to feel didactic. If you’re not aware of the current debate on charter change, it may feel alienating. However, if you’re up to your ears with current events, it will surely prove engaging and largely enlightening. Which is not to say that it is entirely inaccessible to those who are new to the topic; one simply needs to bring an open mind. The merriment and flambouyance is given the pause button, and Charot! suddenly gets a little more serious.
A Practice in Democracy
Do they all make it in time to vote? You’ll have to catch the play to know. Despite its considerable pitfall (that of “telling” rather than “showing”), Charot! is a must-see, especially for millennials or first-time voters. With a talk-back after each showing, viewers will be able to engage with the cast on a more serious level.
Personally, I found the play wildly entertaining and intelligently written. Its politics spills over at some points but it should be seen as a welcome challenge for viewers. It reminds us to ask questions, to look around at the current state of things and employ a critical probe. Who holds the power to change the country? Who is this change for? PETA once again gives us an educational and bold theatrical concept.
Are we ready for change? Do we need it at all? Charot! asks us hard-hitting questions and doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of reflecting Philippine society as it stands today. Are you ready to join the conversation? There’s no better time than now — charot!
PETA’s Charot! runs from February 8 to March 17, 2019 at The PETA Theater Center, #5 Eymard Drive, Brgy. Kristong Hari, New Manila, Quezon City, with shows on Fridays (3:00PM), Saturdays and Sundays (3:00PM & 8:00PM). For inquiries and ticket reservations, contact PETA Marketing and Public Relations Office at Tel. No. 725-6244, TicketWorld at 891-9999, www.ticketworld.com.ph, or Ticket2Me at 721-0431 to 33 loc. 8109, www.ticket2me.net.