On paper, the premise of Vincent De Jesus’ musical Changing Partners is fairly unassuming—a love story between two people, complicated by their “May-December” age gap and undone by infidelity. What transpires on stage, however, is a lot more than your run-of-the-mill soap opera.
(READ: Vincent de Jesus’ Changing Partners: a Lovechild of Heartbreak and Music)
We first meet Cris (Sandino Martin) and Alex (Agot Isidro) after a dinner out with Alex’s friends. Cris mentions Alex’s friends preying upon him and she brushes it off as good-natured humor. They sing about what it’s like to be in love with someone who is in a different place in their lives, but the age-issue is mostly on the surface, how the world perceives them.
Cris disappears off-stage and when he comes back, she is Anna Luna. Director Rem Zamora orchestrates a seamless change that doesn’t interrupt the thread of the story, but the dynamic shifts accordingly. Now, Alex is with a younger woman. Ms. Isidro changes her character subtly but effectively. She’s a little less feminine this time, a little more territorial.
This one change comes with its own set of problems. Alex doesn’t trust Cris, and is threatened by Cris’ male friend, worried that her partner can so easily be stolen by a man. It’s almost a critique on our heteronormative society— that gays and lesbians are constantly worried about their lovers leaving them for relationships more palatable in society’s eyes. Alex makes assumptions and accusations and Cris feels cornered.
She exits and Alex is now Jojit Lorenzo, ably carrying the distrust, temper, and fury that Ms. Isidro worked up towards in the last two parts. The plot remains the same. They’re still fighting about Cris’ s friendship with a man her age, fighting about what they each bring into their relationship. But, the age difference gives attention to different pressures that didn’t exist in the first two versions.
Alex asks Cris why she won’t marry him when he’s been ready and eager for years. Cris laments over Alex’s possessiveness as well as her own self-worth, being kept and boxed in. She locks herself in the bathroom. We hear something shatter and when Alex pulls Cris out, he is Mr. Martin. He comes back picking up from the pain and vulnerability that Ms. Luna left off.
Mr. Lorenzo handedly shifts into character, and their fight is injected with a biting sarcasm that makes the audience laugh, yet does not take away from the tension of the moment. Cris is having second thoughts now, seriously considering a life with his female childhood friend. It’s a conversation that pulls culture and society back into the narrative. The “us against the world” element of their love affair is brought to the surface, and this time Cris is having trouble to stay in a relationship that has alienated his friends and family.
These all build to where all four actors are on stage, loving, fighting, breaking in a monstrous climax that showcased the brilliance of Mr. De Jesus’ writing, Mr. Zamora’s direction, and the cast’s performance. Mr. Lorenzo, in particular, shifted his mannerisms depending on who he was talking to. It was no mean feat, especially in a scene where all four actors are simultaneously in the throes of anguish and anger.
For a show that’s not even an hour and a half long, Changing Partners was able to say all that needs to be said. What makes it a tremendous achievement is how it acknowledges all the things that may complicate a relationship, yet in the end it’s the choices of the people involved that make or break a relationship.
Photography by: Frida Tan