Writer and director Juan Ekis’ “Twenty Questions” distills everything to the bare essentials. From the performance space: a simple elevated platform with a bed, some benches and a few lamps; to the story that unfolds in one act: Yumi and Jigs, two friends having a conversation over wine.
In true “barkada” fashion, the friends have to go through a tradition of getting stuck in a room for 24 hours where supposedly anything goes. Jigs suggests a game of Twenty Questions to pass the time, and over the course of their back and forth, the two share their deepest secrets and get to know each other’s views on love and relationships.
(READ: Juan Ekis’ Twenty Questions to be Staged at The Hotel at Green Sun this January)
If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. It’s a conversation we’ve all had with our friends at one time or another, probably also with some liquor involved. The play doesn’t try to be high-brow; there are no scholarly discussions about world issues or philosophical discourses on the meaning of life. Everything is kept strictly simple: boy-girl issues. The dialogue is natural, alternating between English and Filipino, which helps make Luis Sumera and Alyana Dalisay (Jigs and Yumi)’s interaction realistic. Sumera brings a sincerity to his portrayal of Jigs, while Dalisay’s performance sometimes feels like it blurs the lines between reality and acting. It may not necessarily be a bad thing, as the crowd I watched with seemed to respond to it well. However, in a fine bit of acting for both, they do make it seem like the wine they drink on stage is real (it’s not).
There’s a specific audience that will enjoy this production. Twenty-somethings will relate to the characters and where they are in their life journey. But what keeps “Twenty Questions” interesting for everyone else is its intentions. More than the potentially trite topic of romantic relationships, the play poses more important questions: What is conversation? What does it take for people to form bonds with one another?
The production also dares to challenge the conventions of the theater experience. The audience surrounds the platform on three sides, and people are encouraged to take photos (except flash photography, of course), and allowed to eat and drink during the show (In Vino Veritas, indeed). There are large, comfortable couches for lounging, and the staging is so spare that people in the front row only have to extend their legs and they would be part of the set. The proximity, coupled with the lighting, made me feel that even as a member of the audience, I too was exposed and part of the conversation. Which in a way, everyone is, because there is a Q& A with Juan Ekis and the cast after every performance.
Overall, “Twenty Questions” tries something new in the “indie” mold, and in the process offers the theatergoer a unique experience.
“Twenty Questions” will run for another weekend at The Axon, Green Sun Hotel on January 14 and 15, 2017.