Bawat Bonggang Bagay Review: A Bonggang One-Person Play With Taboo Themes

Bawat Bonggang Bagay Jon Santos scaled

Photo / The Sandbox Collective

It’s easy for a play about depression to be, well, sad. But for The Sandbox Collective’s production of Bawat Bonggang Bagay, it can be hopeful.

Bawat Bonggang Bagay is a Filipino adaptation of Duncan Macmillan’s interactive one-person play, Every Brilliant Thing. Jon Santos plays the son of a woman who finds it hard to be happy. So, from a young age, Santos’s character lists everything brilliant, or bongga, about the world. Everything worth living for. Bawat Bonggang Bagay retains the idea of dealing with a parent’s depression, but Guelan Luarca’s translation incorporates Filipino elements and the theme of sexuality, in time for Pride Month.

This description may sound like Bawat Bonggang Bagay is a somber watch, but Santos adds lightheartedness to the show. The play almost feels like therapy as we watch Santos come to terms with his mom’s depression and how it affects him as he grows up.

It’s incredible to watch Santos perform the whole show on his own, without any breaks or a co-actor to bounce scripted lines with. And yet, the actor made it look so easy. Santos delivered his lines as if he was doing an improvised monologue on the spot.

Bawat Bonggang Bagay

Photo / The Sandbox Collective

The show’s interactive nature makes Bawat Bonggang Bagay even more enjoyable. At the start, Santos and crew members distributed pieces of paper printed with a number and random words. These turned out to be part of the list of brilliant, or bongga, things that Santos wrote. As he narrates his journey, he’ll talk about his list, say a number, and the audience will read it aloud.

Members of the audience also play stand-in characters throughout the show. The guest actors improvise, but Santos takes care of the audience members by feeding them lines and gently guiding them on what to do. There are instances when the guest needs to improvise and develop their own lines, but Santos makes them look good by playing along.

Making your partner look good is a concept I learned when I studied improvising at Third World Improv, or TWI. Improvisation is a form of theatre where the players act out a scene without a script or characters in mind. Everything is spontaneous and built on the spot. The art form’s golden rule is “yes and,” which means to say yes to whatever your scene partner says and add to it. Another thing I learned at TWI is to make your scene partner look good. Make it sound like what they just said is the best idea in the world.

Santos does this throughout the show with his guest actors. There is no intention to embarrass his co-actor for a punchline. In one scene, an audience member portrayed a teacher who assigned their class to read a book by a German author with a very German-sounding name. I wondered if Santos would try to make the co-actor pronounce the author’s name for laughs. Instead, Santos asked general questions and made the guest look good.

Bawat Bonggang Bagay 1 scaled

Photo / The Sandbox Collective

There is another benefit to including the audience in the show. The process is one of the techniques used in psychodrama, a kind of therapy that asks the participant to act out events in the past or imagined scenarios.

One of its forms is doubling, where a second person mimics the emotions and body language of the participant. We’re not sure whether it is intentional, but this process allows the guest actor on stage to empathize more with Santos. Even if you’re not the one on stage, you wonder, “What would I say if I were in that situation?” You are in the story and not just a passive character.

At the end of every interaction, Santos personally escorted the guests back to their seats and thanked them privately. In one instance, I overheard him tell the guest, “Thank you for being a sport.”

Depression is obviously a sensitive topic, but only an actor of Santos’s caliber, with deft direction by Jenny Jamora, can make a show about it look hopeful.

Bawat Bonggang Bagay reminds us that life can be challenging, but we can ask for help through medication or therapy. A list of bawat bonggang bagay sometimes helps: iced coffee on a hot day. The pitter-patter of your dog’s feet as you hear them approach. Finishing this review before the deadline.

Bawat Bonggang Bagay runs from June 22 to 30, 2024, at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Makati City. Tickets are available at TicketWorld.

If you need guidance, you may contact the National Center for Mental Health toll-free crisis hotline 1553; mobile numbers 0917-8998726, 0966-3514518, and 0908-6392672; or (02)7989-8727, available 24/7.

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