When it comes to “The Reconciliation Dinner,” Floy Quintos’ play on two families at odds with each other’s political views throughout the 2022 national elections, there is a clear target audience: middle- and upper-middle-class Filipinos who spent the past year tiptoeing through uncomfortable or openly hostile political discussions with loved ones.
To those who can relate, this production feels like catharsis, with a clarity of information and an emotional resonance brought about by its commanding lead performances. But it also still isn’t as challenging as it deserves to be, especially after a year of living through the current regime.
“The Reconciliation Dinner” streamlines months of election coverage, controversies, and general chaos into a refreshingly coherent timeline, accompanied by social media snippets projected onto Mitoy Sta. Ana’s minimalist set. There’s something reassuring about revisiting these moments from the level-headed but no less personal perspectives of the Robredo-supporting Susan and Fred Valderama (Frances Makil-Ignacio, Jojo Cayabyab) and of Marcos loyalists Dina and Bert Medina (Stella Cañete Mendoza, Randy Medel Villarama).
By stating things plainly as fact, the play reminds us that our current political moment is not inscrutable. Even the arguments we can’t stand can still be reasoned with.
But more importantly, “The Reconciliation Dinner” feels so cathartic because it’s often so funny. Quintos and director Dexter M. Santos have a great ear and eye for how specific personalities clash behind passive-aggressive niceties. Much of the comedy comes from how these supposedly jovial adults try to chip away at each other’s egos without fully shattering the glass.
Of course, the idea of returning to “normal” after months of mudslinging is absurd. And the play is most successful when it illustrates the truth contrary to its title: There is no reconciling, at least not over the course of one meal. It’s in our nature to fight for what we believe in and to constantly strive for understanding. So even as these characters argue, “The Reconciliation Dinner” remains optimistic. Technically we can live without our friends whom we disagree with, but we’d much rather fight to keep them in our lives.
This is where Makil-Ignacio and Cañete-Mendoza are able to truly elevate the material. There’s a sense of genuine heartbreak between them as they realize the magnitude of the friendship they may never get back. It’s only through the actresses’ pathos that their characters’ fracturing relationship takes on serious urgency. If there’s any reason anyone of any political persuasion should see this show, it’s these women’s superb comic timing and their ability to completely transform the tone of a scene in an instant.
However, it’s when “The Reconciliation Dinner” complicates the opposition between Robredo and Marcos that it becomes much richer. The discourse that the Valderamas and Medinas engage in is predictable stuff. But when the younger generation becomes involved—in particular, the Medinas’ logic-driven son-in-law Ely (Nelsito Gomez) and the Valderamas’ proudly queer son Norby (a wonderfully charismatic Phi Palmos)—the parents are knocked down to equal footing. Both sides have made errors in judgment and are rightly called out for not seeing the bigger picture.
In these later scenes, the play draws closer to what it could’ve been all along: a satire of privileged Filipino voters still stuck on the same talking points one year later.
Yet, while the burden shouldn’t be on this play (or any play) to provide all-encompassing political commentary, “The Reconciliation Dinner” still chooses to omit certain voices that could’ve deepened the ideas already presented. The few times that working-class voters are mentioned, for instance, aren’t exactly helpful. Bert says it’s not his fault they’re “stupid,” while Susan goes on an uncomfortable monologue joking about threatening to fire her staff.
To be fair, these moments remind us that these characters aren’t paragons of virtue. But the production itself still doesn’t fully commit to criticizing its own heroes. It stops short of admitting that the two central couples have so much more bad in common than they think. It doesn’t arrive at the institutional problems that should probably be diagnosed first to show that voting can only do so much.
But even if “The Reconciliation Dinner” isn’t as incisive as the many other collaborations between Quintos and Santos (such as 2018’s “The Kundiman Party”), its entertainment value counts for a lot, and the performances at its center are undeniable. It may not disturb the comfortable as much as it should, but it still offers much comfort for the disturbed who are looking for reasons to keep caring.