Last February 28, Deus Sex Machina held Fringe with Benefits, their third comedic erotica event, at Sev’s Café. Deus Sex Machina was back by popular demand, peculiar for a show organized for a fringe arts festival. I must admit art festivals are not my scene (they seem terribly exhausting), but I was invited by a dear friend to watch, and there is no ignoring a group that, in its cover photo, charmingly conflates Penguin Books with pegging.
The place thronged by 10 o’clock, the crowd a mix of what I could only assume were Sev’s usuals, stragglers from a live spoken poetry show earlier, and short-of-breath, bespectacled twenty-somethings you simply know woke up that day determined to watch a show full of dick jokes. The owner said it was the most crowded the place had ever been. I arrived ahead of time, but all the seats had already been spoken for. People came in with their barkada, so a few of us sat on the floor in front.
Dustin Celestino began the show with “Politically Correct Sexual Harassment,” which operates on the conceit of a phone call made by John, a dodgy supervisor, to a beleaguered rank-and-file employee. He calls to address her complaints about sexual harassment, but it soon becomes apparent that he is covering his tracks and understating his prior transgressions. If the subject matter isn’t uncomfortable enough, the tongue-in-cheek delivery coupled with a self-aware text drives the piece into alarmingly sleazy levels. However, as a barometer of the evening, it is accurate and effective: if you cannot leave your sensitivities behind, leave now, because these people will relentlessly poke at all of your sensitive parts.
Denice De Guzman’s “Love from Afar: A Victorian Love Story” followed, with De Guzman as narrator, Angela Consing as Gracie Pettystroke, and Dante Gagelonia as Cedric Cockcroft, Pettystroke’s lover. All three wore elaborate Victorian costumes while reciting lustful correspondence, transporting sexting to telegrams. It makes fun of at the urgent nature of sex, to the point where the narrator herself finds the correspondence exhausting. (At first, she recites the characters’ names and their locations. Later, she slowly surrenders to abbreviated names: “Cock to Stroke, Ripened Peach.”)
“Sex Education at Hogwarts,” written by Miguel Garcia, finds Dean Daniel Rosen as Snape, who is forced to teach a sex ed class after Slytherins are caught dangerously using potions and spells during sex. He teaches an excited Ron (Earle Figuracion), an indignant Hermione (Maronne Cruz), and an ill-informed Harry (Bibo Reyes). J.R. Santos rounds out the cast. Rosen’s impeccable impression of Snape drives the whole piece, as his Snape soldiers through the indignity of it. His students react with varying degrees of horror, interest, embarrassment, and excitement – quite like the audience – and Snape maneuvers the class by ignoring whatever is happening.
Marco Sumayao’s “Darth Vader’s Second First Time” is possibly the grossest, vilest, most revolting story you will ever hear – high praise for a story that sets out to be exactly that. It begins with Darth Vader (Figuracion) recalling his sexual awakening at the vigorous hands of the most hated person in all of Star Wars fandom who is not George Lucas: Jar Jar Binks, played by Sumayao himself. It then proceeds to dropkick everyone and their mother with the most thoroughly nauseating sex scene ever, and it doesn’t even include Jar Jar Binks (or Lucas, for that matter). I cannot remember much else except closing my eyes from actual, physical pain and wondering where I went wrong in my life. (What is happening? Why was I even born? Papa, can you hear me?) I was literally dumbstruck.
After, my friends and I needed several drinks, but everybody else had already bled the bar dry. It is all Darth Vader’s fault. The crowd had thinned bit as well, no doubt a number fled along with their stomach.
Kenneth Keng’s improv “We Can Fuck It!” came next. In it, he asks the audience to suggest whatever object they want to fuck. Keng then proceeds to teach them how to fuck it. This time, people wanted to fuck a walrus. (“I know that the texture is strange,” Keng says by way of comfort.)
The next piece, “The Way of the Wang,” is their send-up of the wuxia genre, about a martial art called the “Grand Wang.” With hard-to-grasp characters, it received not a lot of laughs – understandable, since the piece, unlike others that night, does not build on top of a single pop culture product but a whole genre. What exacerbated the disconnect was the fact that only one person performed for all the characters, all of whom sported a tough to follow accent.
Sumayao returned with “Hard for Godard.” He played Alvie, a college student who promised his best friend Diego (Santos) to have sex with every internet stereotype before graduation. Aya Tantiangco played Jessica, a hipster, the last on Alvie’s list. It’s a clever take on hipsters, how studied behavior makes for shallow human interaction. [DSM posted the story in full.]
Jeffrey Flores, Red Concepcion, and Rosen closed the evening with a three-song musical “My Wingman, Steve” written by Miguel Garcia. Here, foul-mouthed and crass-minded Steve (Flores) helps his best friend Paul (Concepcion) cope with being dumped, his solution being lots of rebound sex. Once Paul fixates on a girl at the bar, things rapidly get out of control. Their performance was infectious. The astonishingly crass song “Bust a Nut” is catchy and hugely entertaining, to say nothing of the rest of the music, which, like “Nut,” really must be heard firsthand. The charismatic Concepcion played with gut-busting comedic chops, selling Paul’s heartbreak so hilariously it went hand-in-hand Steve’s hubristic self-confidence.
Whatever the process of humor, be it causing shock or revulsion, playing with conventions and expectations, or delivering dick jokes, Deus Sex Machina understands it. I left that night high on laughter, unsure about a few of the filthy jokes I’ve heard, but resolved on its effect on me. A group that makes you laugh at conundrums of intimacy is a group to admire, and a group that can basically control your laughing muscles for hours on end is a group to follow.
Although Fringe with Benefit’s place in Fringe Manila and a crowded Sev’s prove that their humor is appreciated, the hope is they reach a wider range of people the more they develop as a comedy group. Otherwise, it’s a shame. A well-oiled machine like Deus Sex Machina has to go somewhere. Their pieces, from the subtle and inspired Love from Afar, to the memorable and blackout-inducing Darth Vader’s Second First Time, to the crackling and sidesplitting My Wingman Steve, deserve a much bigger audience. With this refreshing talent, size does matter.