A Fil-Canadian gay rom-com for Valentine’s
OTTAWA, Ontario — A raunchy gay comedy by a Filipino Canadian playwright will hit the boards at the Canadian capital this Valentine’s month.
Riley Palanca’s “Would Virginia Woolf Contemplate Suicide If She Were Filipino?” will be showing at this year’s Undercurrents Festival, a showcase of “original, contemporary theater created by local, national and international artists.”
Written under the pen name Revan Badingham III, the play tracks one evening between Lemar, newly arrived in Canada from the Philippines, and Warren, the son of rich immigrants. They agree to meet after matching on a dating app. During this intimate encounter, games will be played and pants will be unbuckled. However, they soon realize they each have very different expectations for the evening.
The work premiered in last year’s St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival and won “Most Promising English Text.” “Our audiences were very receptive!” says Palanca. “Five out of six shows received standing ovations.”
Filipino Canadians involved in the production include director Dennis Gupa and actors Mark Hrynioch and Marc Ducusin.
Palanca incorporated English writer Virginia Woolf into this work because “she is a literary queer icon. A lot of queer writers have already been inspired by her, with works like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ and ‘The Hours.’
“We also added a layer of race into the equation. We are brown people looking at someone whose work is so prominent in the Western canon.
“She wrote about how different people have different experiences of the same thing. She posed the thought experiment: If William Shakespeare had a sister who was equally intelligent and creative, would she have been as successful as her brother or would societal expectations have impeded her?
“This kind of multilayered way of looking at literary icons is also echoed in the play’s own narrative of identity.”
The production has made it a point to highlight that the play’s subject matter has been inspired by “the BL [genre] in Asia.”
Palanca explains that Boys’ Love is “a tradition of homoerotic work, originating from manga and anime (Japanese comics and animation) that explores male-male pairings from a more diverse, non-traditional viewpoint.”
Employing it as a launching point for his piece was “a matter of using a different, non-Western lens in discussing relationships to the public.”
“We’re doing it for cultural conversations. We are Filipinos abroad [from the Philippines], our main existence is a paradox. We want to share an Asian way of storytelling, that has already proven popular with audiences abroad. If BL is to be done in Canada, let it be done by a group of queer Filipino artists.”
Palanca gushes as a fan of the genre. “I’m really into the Filipino BL! BL became very famous during the onset of the pandemic. As a Filipino abroad, it felt like a way of connecting with my own roots, seeing gay stories represented.
“Particularly, I use ‘Gameboys’ as my base line,” he says, referring to a YouTube series that was picked up by Netflix, followed by a film. “It was the first major BL in the Philippines and arguably still one of the best.”
While the BL genre is traditionally known to be associated with female audiences, Palanca says “there is, of course, nothing wrong with writing for female audiences. The romance genre, regardless of pairing, is generally geared toward a larger female audience. “
He points out that “most contemporary BL shows from the Philippines are created by gay men and are also able to attract a queer following.”
What he stresses is that “our team believes it important to have our stories be told by queer Filipino artists to keep the message authentic. At its core, it’s about the lived experience of queer Filipinos in Canada.”
“Would Virginia Woolf Contemplate Suicide if She Were Filipino?” runs Feb. 16 to 18. Feb. 17 show will have ASL interpretation. Visit bit.ly/VirginiaWoolfOttawa.