Changing Partners: iterations of a breakup

I caught the musical Changing Partners last night and it was tremendous. Written by Vincent De Jesus, it is a powerful and deeply moving exploration of an argument that escalates to its most heart wrenching conclusion and the inevitability of a relationship to deteriorate for reasons outside that which is obvious.

Of all of Vince’s work that I’ve encountered over the years, I find this the most powerful and the most moving. His songs in Changing Partners are heavy with emotion as they are melodious. Played live by Vince on a piano and sung wonderfully by a brilliant cast, each number perforates the scene that precedes it, often giving voice to the things that should be said but are not said for a variety of reasons such as fear or anger or guilt.

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The play is really just two moments in a couple’s life. Alex (Alexandra) is fifteen years older than Chris and the play begins at the early stages of their relationship and unfolds over the course of six years and the trials and challenges that are set forth by their particular set-up.

Wonderfully written by Vincent De Jesus, the play creates a space for Alex to be played by both Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo and for Chris to be played by both Sandino Martin and Anna Luna. Each scene is an escalation of an argument over how their relationship is progressing. There is always a moment for one person to exit into one of the two dividers that mark the different rooms of Alex’s apartment where the couple are living. It begins with Agot Isidro as Alex and Sandino Martin as Chris but as Sandino Martin exits, it is Anna Luna who returns. The couple is still Alex and Chris, still a fifteen year age gap between the two, with the aspects of their lives touched upon by the scene before it, but this time the couple are now a lesbian couple.

The play goes on this way as their fight escalates. Accusations are implied. Feelings are being laid bare and then criticized. The seams of this relationship are coming apart and the tension is rising. When Agot Isidro exits, Alex returns but this time it is Jojit Lorenzo who has taken the role and the couple are now a heterosexual couple, and at this point of the argument, it is at fever pitch; both with tempers raging, at the point of saying things they probably wouldn’t say if they weren’t so mad.

It shifts again after the crescendo that sends Anna Luna back into the divider again representing the bathroom and it is now Sandino Martin who returns as Chris and the two are now gay lovers with the fight having completely depleted them of energy. Six years have passed and if there’s any chance of a reconciliation, it would be here. If only they still had the energy as a couple to be kinder to each other.

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Curtain call of Changing Partners at last night show with the cast, the writer, and the director taking a well-deserved bow

This is where the brilliance of the director, Rem Zamora, kicks in. Each time an actor is switched means a subtle change of context, even if the characters are essentially the same. The dialogue remains true for whichever iteration that is on stage but the performances and the relationship of Alex and Chris adjust slightly with every combination. The nuances of every iteration is clear and evident and can be seen in the blocking, the body language, and even the delivery of the lines. An older man would argue with his younger girlfriend in a very different way than when two gay men argue especially when one is much older than the other. And the true can be said about lesbians.

This is where I cannot stress how incredible this show is. It was seamless. The writing was tight and believable. I know these characters. I’ve seen them in people I’ve met before. I know these impulses and these instincts. The acting was daring and committed but, most importantly, it was very nuanced that they picked up the energy of the last scene and began at that point, never missing a beat. Each actor’s version of Alex or Chris adjusts to any shift in their partner’s shift. The direction is on point as the push and pull of this power play comes alive and how, underneath all the anger and fear and resentment, there is a love that is trying its best to break through.

The most amazing part of this play is how easy it would be to put the blame on their age difference but the play does not do that. Their age gap is a source of tension and misunderstandings but at the core of this story is a relationship that is breaking apart because of their individual mistakes as people. That is what makes the convention of switching the character’s genders between scenes essential and not just a gimmick. In whatever iteration of Alex and Chris, their problem has nothing to do with gender or age but something else entirely, despite really loving each other. Because the play — through its beautiful songs and wonderful performances and direction — shows you that Alex and Chris love each other.

But do they break up? Does love find a voice that is louder than the fear and anger and resentment that has grown between the couple? I won’t spoil that for you. You have to go get your tickets and go to PETA to watch the show. And watch it you should because it is absolutely fantastic.

Changing Partners have three shows left — tonight, and two shows tomorrow. Catch it. You will not be disappointed.

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After the play, I got to hang out with Vincent De Jesus, Rem Zamora, Agot Isidro, Sandino Martin, Jojit Lorenzo, Anna Luna, and fellow theater lovers Orly Agawin, Frieda Tan (Theater Fans Manila), and Nikki Francisco (Theater Fans Manila)

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