Of the many theater genres that we try to stage in the Philippines, it is the comedy that rarely resonates. There is a truth to every production that we hope is universal, and there is always reason for laughter and humor. But context often plays such a huge role in the creation of comedy and one knows something must be lost in the act of re-staging.
This is true of Run For Your Wife which is so many times removed from Manila 2015, given its first staging in 1983, its setting in London, traversing Streatham and Wimbledon.
But of course the truth of infidelity—if not bigamy—is universal, as are the stereotypes that are here. All one needs is comedic timing that’s perfect, and direction that captures the swiftness and precision that the material demands.
The stage as star
But first there was that stage.
Run For Your Wife is the story of one man John Smith (Jamie Wilson), with two wives Mary (Goldie Soon) and Barbara (Mikkie Bradshaw), in two different homes. It would be convenient that John is a taxi driver, who survives on a strict schedule of morning, evening and late night shifts which makes sense to his wives. John is able to navigate two lives with ease, as he sticks to a very strict schedule and a coding system that allows him to remember what exactly he’s doing at any given time, on any given day, with which wife.
It is stuff for comedy for sure, but also it is a production design challenge in itself. There was a need to create two spaces very distinct from each other, existing in two different cities, for two women with almost opposite personalities. These two spaces also needed to coalesce into one.
But the production team of Run For Your Wife was up for that challenge, establishing not just the distinct spaces of Mary and Barbara, but also revealing how in the end these two separate spaces was but one setting, coming together into the story of a man who had until that day been able to keep his two lives going without a hitch.
That this set made sense across the shifts from one house to the next, and the parallel scenes between the two houses, is a success in itself. The first reveal of this set, with lighting design and music, set the mood for the rest of the play. It was already half the battle won.
The half about the comedy
The material of course is funny to begin with, but the kind of comedy that might be generated from it was dependent on a cast that could actually do it justice. Run With Your Wife had that, too.
Wilson’s and Jeremy Domingo’s take on the John and Stanley tandem resonates as contemporary bromance, where Mary frowns upon Stanley’s laziness and lack of ambition, but John knows only to see Stanley as friend. It was critical that in the first few scenes the friendship between John and Stanley was established effortlessly, enough for it to make sense that John would see Stanley as his only ally in keeping his double life secret.
That the play depended on the Wilson-Domingo tandem would be an understatement. There is also no overstating the kind of work they put into making John and Stanley believable and lovable, even when they were lying to wife and policeman, and manipulating the conversation. The power of Wilson’s portrayal was in how he kept to the description of normal regular guy, even when he was going so far to keep his lie from being found out. Domingo meanwhile could only be the surprise, having seen him last in The Woman In Black in 2012 (where he was brilliant), and seeing him again in a role that he’s created into almost a caricature—a perfect counterpoint to John’s normalcy.
The John-Stanley tandem though could only exist relative to the unlikely tandem of Mary and Barbara, the wives who do not know they are being had, which in turn kept that story going. Mary and Barbara as point-counterpoint was easiest to establish, given Soon and Bradshaw not missing a beat from the beginning, and playing their stereotypes to the hilt until the end: one the homely conservative wife, the other the independent sexually-charged wife. Between the two though, it was Soon who dealt with her character beyond its stereotype, allowing it its own intelligence and fire as she figures out what’s going on, and ends up believing what she wants about the situation.
The dated comedy
But there were some characters here that just felt too dated, and just seemed irrelevant to the story’s unraveling. The new gay neighbor of Barbara, for example, is not only an old stereotype, it also did not add anything to the narrative – even when the lies became about homosexuality. Which is to say that homosexuality became a joke here, which one forgives even as it felt old. Yes, it elicited laughter, but probably the best part of all the homosexual jokes was seeing Inspector Porterhouse (Paul Holmes) performing gayness in all his macho glory.
The biggest failure though might be the final line delivered by James Stacey. It lacked the incredulousness that was needed for the understatement to work as punchline.
Or maybe that’s just me, realizing that in fact this comedy meant to be farce, might have needed to work with this context, not so much given the present, but given Pinoy pop culture: what pre-dates Run For Your Wife is actually the every comedy film about infidelity we saw growing up, starring Vic Sotto. Or Dolphy.
In that sense, Wilson and Domingo actually had huge shoes to fill. And fill it they did.
Run For Your Wife is by Ray Cooney, directed by Miguel Faustmann and staged by Repertory Philippines. Stage design by Miguel Faustmann, lighting design by John Batalla.