If there’s a more profound lesson to be learned from Rody Vera’s “Happiness is a Pearl”, that is not immediately clear. I’m certain that the pearl is a metaphor for something, but at its most immediate level, it’s simply a love triangle gone awry. It plays to standard themes of love vs. lust, money vs. integrity, but this isn’t to say that the show is not unique.
(READ: Artist Playground Opens Season with Happiness is a Pearl)
We first meet Mari (Cath Go), a bored trophy wife who meets the gigolo Kenji (Tomas Miranda). She is entranced by him, or, more accurately, by his bearings. Their trysts become her new obsession, and she is not subtle in the near-worship she has with a pearl stitched in the head of the man’s penis. She is enamoured by it, delivers multiple monologues about it. It’s silly, but Ms. Go plays her believably and with a presence that tells you it is her story, really. Her happiness with the eponymous pearl, short-lived as it may be.
Kenji meets another woman. Maria (played by a well-cast Ira Ruzz), a Filipina dancer that comes with all the baggage of being so– belonging to a certain economic class, breadwinner of her family, single mother to multiple children. They fall in love anyway, like the stereotypes that they are, and live in blissful harmony until reality–or in this case, money and Mari–catches up with them.
The story’s third act is extreme after extreme decision in the name of love, or something like it. While the less said about the show’s climax the better, this is also where first-time stage-actor Mr. Miranda sheds his naivete as a live performer. We see that he’s not just a half-naked ragdoll for two women to fight over.
The premise is quite out there, but the show is composed of a creative and artistic team that is as bold and as outside the box as the story. Its direction (Paul Jake Paule), music (Sharon Perlas), stage (Reynoso Mercado), and lighting (Joseph Navarro) have lent a hand to make something more out of Mr. Vera’s original 15-minute work.
Still, it must be noted that the show’s most outstanding aspect has to be the choreography. Choreographer Lezlie Dailisan used the tango to convey intimacy and sensuality without making any of the love scenes feel cheap or lewd. You can tell the love from the lust through their distinct movements and the actors, for their part, danced ably and with clear emotion.
Storytelling through dance is made more impressive when you consider the size of The Little Room Upstairs, a single unit in a condo tower in QC. The stage is in the very middle of this little room, and audiences are uncomfortably crammed in its fringes. Yet, the configuration seems appropriate. It’s an intimate, uncomfortable piece, after all. Why not stage it in an intimate, uncomfortable setting?
Whether you leave the theater struck by the intensity of love, or scratching your head wondering what you just saw, “Happiness is a Pearl” is proof that storytelling doesn’t really need much to shock and awe.
The play runs from June 9- July 3 at the 1701 The Little Room Upstairs located at Landsdale Tower, Mother Ignacia St. corner Timog Avenue, Quezon City.