In a society greatly divided by political choices, how far will people go to protect their principles? What are they willing to sacrifice in order to stand by their beliefs? In the end, are we really defined by our patriotic decisions?
The Reconciliation Dinner threads these questions, yet the ultimate answers can be found not only through the performance, but also through the context that you, as an audience, bring to the theater, making this theatrical masterpiece relatable, relevant, and personal, in both euphoric and repulsive ways.
This sharp-witted socio-political comedy brilliantly penned by Floy Quintos with a compelling direction by Dexter Martinez Santos centers on the friendship of Dina Medina and Susan Valderama, who may as well be composites of many ‘Titas’ we know in real life. Played with so much authenticity by Stella Cañete-Mendoza and Frances Makil-Ignacio respectively, Dina and Susan have been friends since college, Ninangs to each other’s children, and undoubtedly possess an unbreakable bond. Yet, on this night, as the play is set, these friends and their own families are gearing up for a dinner aimed at ‘moving on.’ But what should be a meal to ‘mend’ became a setup for digging the past, uncovering flaws, unmasking characters, and unleashing secrets. All because the Medinas and Valderamas belong to different sides of poltics: the red and the pink.
How the story gets to this compelling point is a complex history of politically motivated doing and undoing of actions, patching and unpatching of souring relationships that went from tolerance, to passive-aggressiveness, to outright bluntness. This narrative filled with flashbacks, monologues and actions in medias res was intricately but clearly woven in a genius script by Quintos, as if every monologue is a personal conversation with you, and every big scene is one where you are actually in. The messages clear without being preachy, packed with punches that are often witty, funny, yet brave and at many times gut-wrenchingly real. A brave work indeed.
What completes the spectacle is a fast-paced, dynamic, on-your-toes staging by Dexter Martinez Santos. A slew of pregnant pauses is not a thing, and in order to deliver the impact demanded by the script, Mr. Santos employed an upbeat staging, one scene quickly picking up from the other, yet gracefully compartmentalized, every part with a clear purpose, building up to a punch that puts the audience alternately in stitches, in disgust, or in tears.
For this tour de force playwright-director partnership, only capable actors can deliver, and the cast members fit each character like a glove. Aside from Ms. Stella and Ms. Frances’ art-imitates-life characters Dina and Susan, Randy Medel Villarama who plays Dina’s husband Bert and Jojo Cayabyab as Susan’s hubby Fred, hold their own yet complement their stage spouses. Randy is perfect as the hate-him-or-love-him, socially tone-deaf buyer and seller Bert, while Jojo is relatable as the humble yet principled insurance agent Fred. Together, these four actors manage to represent all that one may love or hate about their political choices and affiliations, and even the rules and relationships they were willing to sacrifice to stand by their morals.
Not to be sidelined are the supporting cast members: Mica Pineda is a casting fate as her namesake Mica, Medina daughter, a well-mannered, educated, yet hardline Marcos supporter who manages to fuel the divide between the families even more. Mica is paired with Nelsito Gomez as Ely, Mica’s loyal, obedient husband, whose secret, and significance changes the last act of the play. Lastly, Phi Palmos as Norby, a drag performer who found a new purpose as part of Leni’s LGBTQIA+ chapter of supporters. Phi’s earnest and impeccably laid out performance of Norby has received many rounds of applause, and his character, setting the image for the new generation of supporters for a genuine change in the country.
The juxtaposition of contrasting and conflicting political views in Reconciliation Dinner lies not only in the material but in the richness of the staging, with a video mapping filled with screen caps of news and social media posts about the opposing parties, and of the two families. Thanks as well to video designer Steven Tansiongco and associate video designer Ces Valera, production designer Mitoy Sta. Ana, and dramaturgs Marvin Olaes and Davidson Oliveros, all of these only enhanced the experience for the audience.
The supposed reconciliation ends up in many directions, and as confusing or frustrating the real socio-political situation where the play is drawing its premise from, it is also a conundrum to ask: was there really a resolution? Have they really moved on? In this theatrical masterpiece that mirrors our own quest to look for answers, perhaps The Reconciliation Dinner can be another external tool that can help us introspect and examine our own thoughts and choices.
Whether you’re red, pink, DDS, Pulangaw, Pinklawan, or wala-akong-pakialam, The Reconciliation Dinner’s scope has something for you. Go ahead and watch it. Then decide: is there really a ‘moving on?’
THE RECONCILIATION DINNER runs on its last weekend at the PETA Theater Center from August 19-20th.