In celebration of World AIDS Day, PETA is now streaming the filmed version of its thought-provoking play by Rody Vera until December 5, 2021. Here is our review of Under My Skin.

If COVID-19 didn’t happen, and Under My Skin was staged, no doubt, the experience of watching it would be very different. It is a tragic thing: the way people politicize diseases and assign value judgments to HIV patients then as they do COVID patients now.

Under My Skin is a sharply written comment on the different contexts that have grown around the issue of HIV by Rody Vera. From its medical to social perspectives, as well as an exploration into the social causes of the current explosion of cases in the Philippines that cut through class, religion, gender, and background. The run was unexpectedly cut short due to quarantine restrictions back in March 2020, and work began on translating the stage play to streaming video.

The cast is led by the incomparable Cherry Pie Picache as Dr. Gemma Almonte as she diagnoses and treats several individuals infected by HIV. Their stories come from real individuals who became part of the project, and they come from diverse backgrounds. The performances were solid all around from the cast which includes Eko Baquial, Gio Gahol, Mike Liwag, Jarred Jaicten, Kitsi Pagaspas, Dylan Ray Talon, Dudz Teraña, She Maala, Bene Manaois, Erold Enriquez, Jason Barcial, Joseph Madriaga, Rach Gimpes, Reggie Ondevilla, Roy Dahildahil, Gerard Dy, and Ekis Gimenez — as to be expected from veterans from this revered theatre company.

The plot of the play revolves around the many HIV-positive patients of Dr. Gemma Almonte. Among them, the free-spirited Jonathan who is tended to by his circle of friends, teenaged Dino who harbors a dark secret as to the vector of his infection, and housewife Mary Rose who caught the virus from her husband. Their stories unfold one after another, branching outward through the play. Their fears, anxieties, and eventually the consignment of their doubts to hope as they navigate through the pitfalls of life after HIV are laid bare onstage for all to witness.

Directed by Melvin Lee, and supported by the organizations Red Whistle, LoveYourself, and UNILAB Inc. Under My Skin successfully transitions from stage to screen organically. The use of graphics was effective and the breaking of the fourth wall for some characters are done well. The editing was smooth and organic, without losing the sense of scale one normally would experience in the theater.

But perhaps the most significant observation one can glean from it is how terribly behind the country is when it comes to dealing with the social complications of the disease. The show is littered with statistics covering the spread of HIV, and it boggles the mind how we seem to have stagnated and in many ways grown worse in metrics such as HIV awareness and education, which causes our cases to skyrocket. Then there’s also the social aspect of HIV where misconceptions still inform public perception. HIV patients are faced with a myriad of different challenges apart from battling HIV itself.

Under My Skin can be seen as a wake-up call for the country. It is a not-so-subtle reminder of the current epidemic happening right under our noses. COVID-19 may have cornered the world’s attention, but it is safe to say that it is by no means the only illness that has tragically taken the lives of so many of our countrymen. The play shines a light on modern HIV patients, the intricate chosen-family relationships they have, and the unique issues they face, and tells their stories in a language young people would understand. It is timely as it is necessary. HIV needs to shed its reputation as a “gay” disease, and one can’t believe this needs to be said in 2021, but: We need to get our act together and do something about this now, before it’s too late.

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