Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review of Red Turnip's THE NETHER: Controversial Chilling Cyberspace

March 9, 2017




For its final production of its 4th season, the Red Turnips presents Jennifer Haley's 2015 Olivier-nominated play entitled "The Nether." This progressive theater company had always been tackling sensitive topics before like infidelity ("Closer"), homosexuality ("Cock") and depression ("Rabbit Hole") but the topic of "The Nether" absolutely pushes the boundaries of live theater to a most dangerous edge.

In the near future, the internet will have progressed into a vast network called the Nether, realms where people work, study and live out their ultimate desires in virtual anonymity. Detective Morris is investigating Mr. Sims, a wealthy man who created a realm called The Hideaway, a resort where he caters to the sexual fantasies of a most perverse clientele. The disturbing report of her undercover agent Mr. Woodnut provided the basis of her interrogation as she toed the line of ethics and morality between the cyber and real world. 

Even as of now, the miracle that is the Internet is an inescapable reality in daily life. We connect to it everyday to know everything happening around us in almost real time. We use it to communicate and brainstorm with our friends and family all over the world. People are already working, studying and finding leisure on various online platforms right now. 

On the other hand, we are also very aware that the World Wide Web also has a dark side to it, a world of horrors and vice. More than 10 years ago, the musical "Avenue Q" already declared "The Internet is for Porn" in one of its funniest songs. However, "The Nether" does not use any humor to soften its blows. Jennifer Haley's bold script is brutally creepy as it deals with certain kind of sexual perversion so sick and sinister. I expected sci-fi horror from its teasers, but certainly not this.

The topic aside, as an acting vehicle, this play is a gold mine. The entire cast delivered memorable performances.  

Bernardo Bernardo is a veteran actor I have seen in several movies and TV shows. However this is the first time I am seeing him act on stage. His Mr. Sims was so arrogant and his online character of Papa was so slimy. The way he was portrayed by Bernardo, we were able to see where he is coming from, yet we still hate him as he made our blood boil in both roles. Bodjie Pascua, I had seen in several plays before, but this is the first time I am seeing him perform in English. His Doyle, a teacher relegated by circumstance to becoming the anonymous voice behind a sexual fantasy, is a very pathetic character, and Pascua just inhabits him so well. Just seeing these two acting giants together is already worth the price of admission.

Jenny Jamora is fierce and fearless as Morris. Her petite, waif-like stature was quite a contrast against the formidable heights and bulks of Bernardo and Pascua. But in her slinky black leather outfit, Jamora stood her ground during her bold confrontation scenes with those two big men.  TJ Trinidad played agent Woodnut with delicacy and care, we can feel his palpable discomfort from afar. His was not an easy role to play as he was the one actually playing out the sick fantasy albeit under the guise of investigation, very very discomfiting to watch.

The presence of an actual young girl in the center of all of this depravity more than doubled the discomfort factor of this play. Cherubic child actress Junyka Santarin played little Iris so innocently, delightfully and vibrantly (hard to believe this is only her first play!), such that the disturbing nature of the situation was even made more reprehensible. Delicate-looking child actress Alba Berenguer-Testa (from "Annie" and other musicals, in her first straight play) alternates as Iris. I trust that these children have been guided accordingly by their parents and director Ana Abad-Santos about the sensitive nature of their roles.

Congratulations to director Ms. Abad Santos for a very brave undertaking achieved with remarkable sensitivity. The eerie lights of John Batalla, the airy soundscape of Teresa Barrozo and the opulent Victorian set (with its stone steps and gargoyles) of Ed Lacson all contributed essential sci-fi elements to complete the illusion of a decadent virtual world of the Nether. 


Director Ana Abad-Santos and the cast 
during the Q&A after the Press Preview


We have seen this taboo topic in question tackled in various films and tv shows, even on tv news, and it undeniably disturbs us. Honestly, seeing this perversity unfold live onstage was an unnerving experience. There is no skin exposed, mind you, but the actual touching and hugging we saw up there certainly made my skin crawl and sent uncomfortable shivers up and down my spine. This play is art which will provoke all sorts of agitated emotions. This is NOT an easy play to watch. You can't just sit back and relax. Are you up for this? Is "conservative" Manila ready for this?



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THE NETHER opens March 10 and runs all weekends until April 9. March 17 (Fri) 9pm, March 18 (Sat) 8pm, March 19 (Sun) 4pm, March 24 (Fri) 9pm, March 25 (Sat) 8pm, March 26 (Sun) 4pm, March 31 (Fri) 9pm, April 1 (Sat) 4pm, April 1 (Sat) 8pm, April 2 (Sun) 4pm, April 7 (Fri) 9pm, April 8 (Sat) 4pm, April 8 (Sat) 8pm, April 9 (Sun) 4pm and April 9 (Sun) 8pm.

Tickets (at P2000 and P1500) at Ticketworld.Venue: The Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater at the Circuit, Makati (Level 2, Circuit Lane, A.P. Reyes Avenue, Makati City).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review of Repertory Phils AGNES OF GOD: Powerhouse Performances

February 26, 2017




A dead baby was found in the wastepaper basket inside the room of young novice Agnes. She does not have any memory about the event. Mother Miriam Ruth, the Mother Superior of the convent, is very protective of her delicate young ward. However, the court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingstone, is determined to get to the bottom of the crime, using hypnosis and whatever else it took. 

I am familiar with this title. There was also a film version of "Agnes of God" in 1985 directed by Norman Jewison. The cast included Anne Bancroft as Mother Miriam Ruth and Jane Fonda as Dr. Livingston, with Meg Tilly as Agnes. Bancroft and Tilly were nominated for Oscars for their performances. Tilly won the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress.

Even before that film in 1983, Repertory Philippines staged the original play version. I may have watched it, I am not sure anymore, I was still very young. The cast included the two pillars of Repertory Philippines -- Zenaida Amador as Mother Miriam Ruth and Baby Barredo as Dr. Livingstone --with Pinky Amador as Agnes, for which she won her first Aliw Award for Best Actress in a Play. 

Now for the second offering in its 50th season, Repertory Philippines is again staging "Agnes of God." They have pulled no punches in their powerhouse casting for this show. Pinky Amador is back on board again, but this time she is playing Mother Miriam Ruth. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo is Dr. Livingstone, and the title role of Agnes played by promising ingenue Becca Coates

Bart Guingona directs this show, and he clearly did not settle for anything less than stark perfection. The stage only had a chair or two on it. Nine big bare panels serve as the backdrop. That was all the set Joey Mendoza needed for this intense acting vehicle. Nothing will distract you from the actresses. There were only three actresses there on that stage yet they filled it up with their powerful presence. The lights behind the panels by John Batalla and the sound and vocal enhancements by Jethro Joaquin create an eerie monastic atmosphere. 

All three actresses had their big moments on their own, delivering lengthy soliloquies with such brio and exuberance; and with each other, playing off each other's passion. The script of John Pielmeier gives his actresses ample room to navigate the deepest of emotions from ecstasy to despair, from pity to fury. Amador, Lauchengco-Yulo and Coates never backed off from that formidable challenge, constantly giving us 100% of themselves in their characters.

Amador and Lauchengco-Yulo are already known quantities for their acting talent, but they manage to even exceed my high expectations. Even if Pinky Amador may physically seem too young to play a strict jaded Mother Superior, she convinces us that she was one by the sheer gravelly grit of her voice as she delivered her world-weary lines which dripped with bitterness. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo never missed a beat as the chain-smoking doctor. Her psychiatrist was frank and straightforward, yet caring and empathetic. That chest-beating scene is simply so potent.

This is my first time to see Becca Coates in action as I missed her mainstream debut as a girl dying with cancer on "Dani Girl". As Agnes, she reminded me of the raw talent exuded by a young Monique Wilson. Her look and her voice were angelic and innocent, yet she made us feel Agnes' fractured psyche. In a riveting performance belying her age (only 19-years old!), Coates' Agnes teetered on the edge of sanity, never really letting us have the satisfaction of knowing what really happened -- no mean feat. She was so realistic, even her stigmata did not seem impossible.

It is only February, but as early as now, I am already expecting all three of them to be vying for Best Actress accolades in the awards season by year's end. If there was an award for Best Ensemble in a Play, I would say that this cast is already the solid favorite to win. Everyone was performing at her absolute best the whole time. The little nuances of each character were all always in full display. The material is no doubt controversial, even offensive for some conservative Catholics. However, as a pure acting showcase, this articulately-written play was a true masterclass.


Pinky Amador, Bella Coates and Menchu Lauchengco at the curtain call


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“Agnes of God” opened last February 17 and will run until March 12, 2017 at Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati City, with shows at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices range from P1000 to P600. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review of Artist Playground's PRELUDE TO MACBETH: Prescience and Powerplay

February 25, 2017




This is the first time I had seen Artist Playground tackle an English play since their inception two years ago when all the plays they staged were in Filipino. This English play they have chosen to open their third year is no ordinary English play, but one featuring the so-called "heightened text" like that used by Shakespeare. Those facts alone make this play "Prelude to Macbeth" by James Chalmers a must-see for me.

To keep him in loyal service, King Duncan of Scotland offered his best general Macbeth the position of Thane of Glamis. Meanwhile in the forest, poor destitute lass Lorna Stewart was told by three Spirits that she will become the Queen of Scotland. This play tells the story of how Macbeth and his Lady meet and achieved their position prior to the events of Shakespeare's classic tragedy "Macbeth."

Fortunately for me, I just reviewed the story of Macbeth last year when I watched and wrote the review of the 2015 film "Macbeth" (MY REVIEW) starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the lead roles. Therefore being able to connect this prequel with the actual events of the play made watching this very well-plotted "Prelude" with its naughty sense of humor very interesting and engaging. 

The opening scene alone with the three Spirits and their multi-purpose cloaks was already one helluva great attention-grabber. From there, the play won't let us go anymore until 40 minutes later when it ends. Granted we all know how it will end, Chalmers kept us enraptured in the witty story rich in prophecies and intrigues en route to that inevitable conclusion. I liked that the cast did not go overboard in trying to sound too authentic British or Scottish. This made the delivery of the verses clear and understandable. 

Paul Jake Paule plays the steadfast soldier Macbeth as moody and morose as we know Shakespeare's Macbeth to be. Paule had never been in an English-language play before, and joked that this play had caused him to become anemic due to constant "nosebleed." 

The more arresting and fascinating role, however, belonged to Jernice Matunan as Lorna Stewart, the future Lady Macbeth. Matunan confidently attacked her rich role with all her ego, wit and allure -- a true star-making performance for this young lady pilot. Her sweet face and smile makes her malignant ambition even more sinister. Every little smirk was in character. (Cathrine Go alternates as Lorna.)

The three young actresses who played the Spirits (Spirit 1 Tasha  Guerrero; Spirit 2 Kia Del Rosario and Spirit 3 Princess Tuazonwere simply fantastic in their haunting portrayal. With their heavily-made up pale and gaunt faces with ugly scars and disheveled hair, they looked eerie and frightful. Their delivery of lines was over-the-top dramatic with moaning, stridor and wheezing after every word, which made their prescient pronouncements sound even more ominous and dangerous. (Jeremy Cabansag alternates as Spirit 3.)

Veteran actor Andre Tiangco struck a regal figure onstage as King Duncan. Among the cast, he was clearly the one most comfortable with the British verse. (Mitoy Sta. Ana alternates as Duncan.) Jarden de Guzman relished his role as palace guard Callum McLeod and played this comic role with glee. His insolent antics had the audience in stitches, especially in that raunchy scene with Lorna.

You have to hand it to Production Designer Reynoso Mercado and Lighting Director Juan Carlo Pacheco for succeeding to create an illusion of width and depth within the limited confines of the Little Room Upstairs. Credit goes to Banaue Miclat-Janssen for her meticulous work as Speech Consultant with the cast, who were non-English speakers in real life. The music of Jesse Lucas enhanced the somber Scottish atmosphere. 

Princess Tuazon, Jernice Matunan, Paul Jake Paule 
and director Roeder Camanag at the curtain call

Biggest kudos to Director Roeder Camanag for impressively bringing this highly entertaining one-act play to life for us. He has bigger plans for this play to be re-staged a prelude to an actual production of an abridged version of "Macbeth" sometime this July. That should be a most exciting project to look forward to. Artist Playground is undoubtedly headed for bigger things.

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The schedule of performances of "Prelude to Macbeth" are: February 23-26, 2017, Thursday and Friday at 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm and 7 pm. Venue is at 1701 The Little Room Upstairs, Landsdale Tower, Mother Ignacia Ave. near Timog Avenue, Quezon City. For tickets and inquiries, visit Artist Playground's Facebook page or contact 09759193179.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Review of TP'S EURYDICE: Weird, Wistful, Whimsical

February 24, 2017




In Greek mythology, Eurydice is the wife of musician Orpheus who died on their wedding day. Orpheus attempted to save her from the underworld and almost succeeded, until he could not help but look back at her before she reached the surface. In 2001, contemporary American playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote a play retelling this myth from the point of view of Eurydice. Tanghalang Pilipino had chosen to stage a Filipino adaptation of Ruhl's play "Eurydice" translated by Guelan Luarca to close its 30th season. 

The first act goes according to the myth. Orpheus and Eurydice get married. However, an Interesting Man tried to seduce Eurydice on her wedding day, which caused her to fall down the stairs and die. In the Underworld though, Eurydice meets her Father, who patiently restored her language and memory. When Orpheus came down to rescue her, Eurydice was torn between going back up to the surface with her husband, or staying down in the underworld with her Father.

This play really had some bizarre scenes with very strange characters, like the tricycle-riding Lord of the Underworld (played by the versatile Jonathan Tadioan, who also played the creepy nasty Interesting Man) and those weirdly manic Stones (small and catty Blanche Buhia, medium and noisy JV Ibesate and big, rotund and jolly Alfritz Blanche). I confess that I did not understand fully what those Stones were supposed to be. I imagined they should be the Greek Chorus of sorts, but they can be cruel and suspiciously psychotic. (Doray Dayao, Aldo Vencilao and Ybes Bagadiong alternate as the Stones.)

Juliene Mendoza, whom I had long admired as an actor for his performances in "Bona" (MY REVIEW), "Lorenzo" (MY REVIEW) and "Rak of Aegis" (MY REVIEW) also gave a riveting performance here as Father. Most of these best scenes in "Eurydice" were silent scenes featuring the Father -- when he imagined walking his daughter down the aisle, when he was building her the house of string, when he dipped himself into the river. (Audie Gemora alternates in this role.)

Marco Viana seems to be the resident romantic leading man among the Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company. Orpheus was an oddly written character. He is portrayed as a uniquely talented musician, yes. But instead of being the perfect lover, he was so temperamental and moody towards Eurydice. At that climactic moment of his great loss, I felt he was angry more than he was despondent, not exactly the emotion I was expecting. 
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I first noticed Lhorvie Nuevo's acting skills when she played Helena in TP's Filipino adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (MY REVIEW) last year. As the title character Eurydice, she will grow on you in this play. She may start off as sort of an awkward and naive in that first scene of the two lovers at the beach. However, two hours later before the play ends, she will certainly astound you with a sincere scene of anguished mourning with very deep emotions and real tears.

I was surprised that the play venue was on the very stage of the CCP Little Theater itself, rearranged as an intimate black box theater with bleachers in front and on both sides. The set by director Loy Arcenas was spare with just a raised platform in the middle, and strange red and shiny plants and flowers made of wire and little rings hung from the ceiling. Later, in one of the play's most magical moments, an elevator where it rains inside opens at the back with Eurydice carrying her suitcase and an umbrella to keep her dry --  a very beautifully executed scene indeed, further enhanced by the lights of Barbara Tan-Tiongco and sounds by Teresa Barozzo.

I cannot pretend that I was not puzzled while watching this play unfold. There were some pretty beautifully-staged, emotionally heart-rending scenes, very true. But there were also some head-scratching scenes that did not seem to make any sense and long silences which may lull you. This whole show was all like one long dream with outlandish imagery and offbeat dialogue. This quirkiness aspect may not easily accessible for all audiences to absorb or appreciate, but definitely the feelings of despair, affection and passion will shine through and reach out to you.


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"Eurydice" runs at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater) from February 17 to March 5, 2017, with shows on Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM, and Sundays at 3PM. 


Tickets cost P1,500 and P1,000, with discounted rates of P750 and P500 for students. For Buy 1 Take 1 tickets this weekend only (Feb 24 8pm, Feb 25 3pm & 8pm, Feb 26 3pm), please call Lei Celestino 0915 6072275 / Alfritz - 0916 5483484 / Phi - 0906 4803330.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review of Dulaang UP's FAUST: Deals with the Devil

February 18, 2017




Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" is a familiar fictional character I had known for years. I only knew he sold his soul to the devil, but I had never actually known his whole story. I had also never watched a play or film about him at all. When Dulaang UP announced that it will be staging a Filipino adaptation of this classic tale by Rodolfo Vera, I welcomed this chance to finally see Faust's story unfold onstage.

In Act 1, the Devil Mephisto makes a bet with God that he can tempt and convert to evil the righteous man Faust. Devil takes advantage of a depressed and frustrated Faust to offer him anything he wants while he is on Earth, if Faust agrees to serve the devil in Hell in death. Faust agrees to the terms and seals the contract with his blood.

In Act 2, Faust fancied a 14-year old lissome maiden named Margarita and asks the devil's help for him to possess her. With two gifts of jewelry and the devil's intervention, Faust successfully seduces the girl. After their tryst though, Margarita would experience one family tragedy after the other that eventually drives her insane. 

The acting from the two lead stars -- Neil Ryan Sese as Faust and Paolo O'Hara as Mephisto -- felt oddly wanting. I did not sense energy nor conviction from Sese. Even his sex scene lacked any passion. At least, O'Hara was able to put some humor into his lines to enliven certain scenes, which I suspect were mostly done on the sly. I guess he felt the need to inject some life into the unbearably morose proceedings. That said, I am curious how their alternates Jack Yabut (as Faust) and Mailes Kanapi (as a female Mephisto -- tempting to watch) can give this a different spin. 

In the show I caught, it was understudy Ina Azarcon-Bolivar who played the third major character -- the very tragic character of Margarita. The role is very challenging for any actress. You can feel that theater student Ms. Bolivar was giving it her all, despite some awkwardness in the delivery of her lines. However, fortunately for her, she was able to nail a stellar moment in that climactic big soliloquy of hers at the asylum in the end to salvage matters in a way. The main actress playing Margarita is the more experienced Karen Gaerlan, so it should be interesting to see how she would attack this role.

Ed Lacson Jr. did the set, Carlo Pagunaling did the costumes, Barbie Tan-Tiongco did the lights, JM Cabling did the choreography -- all are award-winning artists in their field, yet in this show, these aspects were uncharacteristically not up to their usual par.  Case in point where you can judge all of these technicalities together was that truly bizarre scene of wild bacchanalia featuring demons with the oversized deformed breasts and phalluses. I understand that this is supposed to be a demonic vision of sorts, but it looked too dim, disorganized and dismal on that dark bare stage. Even the injection of modern day political parody in that scene lacked impact.

It is difficult for me to say this about a Dulaang UP play, but I felt there was something amiss about this particular production. It strangely felt haphazardly put together, which is unusual for DUP standards. There were three dramaturgists who worked on this play, yet I was still underwhelmed with the way it was staged. Sorry to say, it seemed as if director José Estrella may not have been able to rein in the various elements together tightly enough to tell the story in a more engaging manner. Or then again, maybe I just simply did not get her style. Perhaps I should try to catch the alternate cast to get another perspective.


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These are just my thoughts about this particular staging of "Faust" on Feb. 18 at 3 pm. It does not mean it will always be this way. Don't let my personal opinions dissuade you from catching this show and making your own opinions about it.

"Faust" runs at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at the Palma Hall in UP Diliman. Show schedule is as follows: Feb. 15, 16, 17, 22, 24, 28, Mar. 1, 2, and 3 at 7 pm; and Feb. 18, 19, 25, 26, Mar. 4 and 5 at 10 am and 3 pm. Tickets are at P 500 each. For further inquiries, please contact Arkel Mendoza, DUP’s Marketing Manager, through 0917-967-3616.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Review of Twin Bill's MY NAME IS ASHER LEV: Creativity and Conflict

February 17, 2017




Living in a strictly Catholic country, we have often seen conflicts between religion and the arts. The Catholic bishops have risen up in protest against moral decadence in films (like Jose Javier Reyes' "Live Show" in 2001) and the visual arts (like the Mideo Cruz' "Poleteismo" at the CCP in 2011). This latest play staged by Twin Bill Theater group tackles this ticklish and touchy subject in the context of a young Jewish artist discovering his artistry. Should artists compromise their art in the face of their religion?

The setting is 1940s Brooklyn, New York. Asher Lev is a visual artist who grew up in a strictly traditional Hasidic Jew family. His father Aryeh is active in his political work, deeply religious and conservative in mindset. His mother Rivkeh is a typical Jewish mother who supported her son's inclination to art but was torn between the rift this art had brought between her son and her husband.

When Asher was 13, he was sent to train under an old Jewish artist of note named Jacob Kahn, who inculcated in Asher a deep and serious love for art. He taught how an artist should only be responsible for his art, and nothing else. An artist should be true to himself, and not be an artistic whore and sell out. As Asher gained fame and prominence in his chosen career, he painted a controversial masterpiece hailed by art critics, but went against his faith and family.



There are only three actors in this play. Nelsito Gomez plays the title role of Asher Lev. He was on stage talking for the whole 90 minute duration (no intermission) of the show, practically a continuous monologue with occasional conversations with other characters. The other two supporting actors play multiple roles. Robie Zialcita plays four characters, while Natalie Everett plays three. Only actors of remarkable acting versatility can portray these multiple roles distinctly, clearly differentiating one from another.

With his high-bridge nose and deep-set eyes, Nelsito Gomez certainly looked like he was born to play the Filipino Asher Lev. The role seemed so right for him, and he embodied Asher so intimately, you cannot imagine another local actor playing the role. He said he eyed the role even before this show was formally conceived. It took him four months to get those kilometric lines down pat. His performance during the press show was absolutely flawless, not a single line nor facial expression out of place. The audience was enraptured in his spirited delivery of Asher's lines at age 6, age 10, age 13 and as a young man.

Robie Zialcita had the unenviable task of bringing to life four different men -- Asher's strict father Aryeh, his liberated art mentor Jacob Kahn, his cheerful uncle Yitzchok and his kindly teacher Rebbe. Two of them even have diametrically opposite views from each other. Since these four men were all Jewish elders, Zialcita had to create four different personalities solely on the basis of their vocal qualities and accents. He impressively nailed these subtle transformations, going on and off stage changing characters in consecutive scenes. Zialcita's chameleon act was nothing short of amazing to witness on that stage so close up.

I see Natalie Everett in many plays of Repertory Philippines portraying various quirky and funny side characters. However, this performance of hers as Asher's mother Rivkeh is the deepest, most riveting one I've seen of her to date. Since this is an intimate theater setting, I can see the sincerity of Everett's eyes up close, seeing her tears actually well up in her eyes during the intensely dramatic scenes. In a few scenes, she transforms into glamorous art patron Anna Schaeffer, with her large glasses and stylish coats. There was a daring scene where she sits as the nude model Rachel, but since my seat was right behind her, I do not know how far she actually went.



The inside look into a conservative Jewish household was precious. Even if I did not understand fully a lot of the religious terminology, the tension and the emotion were genuine and heartfelt. This play was as much about the universality of family values, as it was about art vs. religion and the pursuit of one's dreams. 

The words written by playwright Aaron Posner (adapted from the novel of Chaim Patok) were so visual and quotable, especially when it comes to his thoughts about art and artists. That scene of Asher's epiphany in front of Michelangelo's Pieta was staged with such power, thanks to the passion of Nel Gomez and the lights of Joseph Matheu. Even if all the sketch pads and oil canvasses were totally blank, we can see the paintings in our minds. My particular favorite segment was that scene where Asher was describing his controversially heretical painting, we squirm in our seats simply hearing the vivid description alone.

With a bare set (by Virgilio Balanon II), basic costumes, and spare score (by Vince Lim), it was the seamless ensemble work of the three skillful actors which embodies this play with vitality and pathos. Congratulations to director Steven Conde and the rest of the Twin Bill crew for staging this gem. This is simply one of the most powerful plays I had ever seen. In the words of the playwright, this is art that can hurt and can heal.




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MY NAME IS ASHER LEV has the following show schedule: Saturday, Feb. 18 (3pm & 8pm), Sunday, Feb. 19 (3pm), Saturday, Feb. 25 (3pm & 8pm), Sunday, Feb. 26 (3pm), Saturday, Mar. 4 (3pm & 8pm) and Sunday, Mar. 5 (3pm & 8pm). Tickets at P 850, seats at first come first served. The venue is at The Performing Arts Recreation Center (PARC) Manila, # 494 Lt. Artiaga St., San Juan, Metro Manila.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review of Sugid's BUWAN AT BARIL SA E♭ MAJOR: Activism and Anguish

February 4, 2017




“Buwan at Baril sa E♭ Major” by Chris Millado was bravely staged in 1985 (the year before the EDSA People Power Revolution) by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) at the Rajah Sulayman Theater, Fort Santiago in Intramuros, then under the direction of Apo Chua. This year, SUGID Productions Inc. chose this same play as its maiden offering under the direction of Andoy Ranay. This show is produced in collaboration with the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, whose Center in Quezon Avenue is serving as the play's venue.

The production was divided into five chapters. The first part was about one Peasant who meets his long-estranged younger brother, a Worker, during the historic People’s March in May 1984. In the second part, a Priest presents a female Itawis Refugee (Angeli Bayani) under his care. The next chapter was about a bourgeoisie Socialite (Jackie Lou Blanco) who chats animatedly about her social awakening. The fourth part was about a Wife (Cherry Pie Picache) who speaks to the lifeless body of her NPA guerilla husband. The final episode was about a Police Officer who interrogates a Student Activist that he had arrested from a checkpoint. 

Angeli Bayani's character spoke only in the Itawis dialect of Cagayan province. Some of her statements were translated into Filipino for us by the Priest (played by no less than current TV star JC Santos). However, in her raw and searing breakdown scene, we do not actually understand a word she was saying. Yet with only her tears, her scars and her plaintive voice, we still get a vivid picture of the torture her family experienced in the hands of 21 soldiers who broke into their home. 

Jackie Lou Blanco was perfectly cast as Monina, an English-speaking mestiza from an upper middle-class family who actively joined protest rallies in the streets, braving tear gas and truncheons. Blanco was so lively and delightful in her monologue with her hilarious oh-so-familiar pronouncements so typical of the bourgeois class. This part was surely a guilty viewing pleasure for many in the audience, who probably actually know someone like her. 

Cherry Pie Picache was very restrained in her quietly powerful monologue. The dramatically-charged subject matter of her segment could have been conventionally addressed with hysterics, but there was none of that here. Instead, Picache handled her character with subtlety and dignity as she talks with and about her dead husband. (Mayen Estanero alternates in this role.)

The low key first episode about the brothers basically served as an introduction to the historical setting of the whole play. Crispin Pineda and Reymund Domingo played the Peasant and the Worker respectively. (Danny Mandia alternates as the Worker.) final episode about the police interrogation was so brutal and unsettling, yet it was balanced by a sense of dark humor. Joel Saracho was vicious as the investigating officer, but his flashback to his own youth provided some lighter moments to diffuse the tension. Dulaang UP star Ross Pesigan played the student Arnold Mendoza with his smart-alecky charm. 

The musical score (by Tim Cada, Poch Gutierrez and Vincent de Jesus) done live on cello and classical guitar was so elegant in establishing the mood. You will hear some names mentioned and repeated among the episodes to somehow connect the stories in the same general time frame. The stories in this play relive the tense period a year or so before the 1986 EDSA Revolution. For us who lived through that time, it was amazing to even imagine how a show about activism like this actually got staged during that same time. 

The stars during the curtain call
(Pesigan, Santos, Picache, Bayani, Blanco Domingo)




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Chris Millado’s “Buwan at Baril sa E♭ Major” runs at the Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco Auditorium of Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center located in Quezon Ave., Diliman, Quezon City. The schedule of performances are as follows: January 26, 27, 28, 29 (3pm and 8 pm), February 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12 (3 pm and 8 pm). A special Gala was held on February 3 at 8 pm. For ticket inquiries, please call or text Gian Viatka at 0917 845 6200. The funds raised from the performances aims to bring this production to colleges, universities and local government units in Metro Manila and the provinces. 

From its press release: SUGID Productions Inc. is composed of directors, actors, designers and educators, with more than a hundred years of aggregated cultural work experience. It aims to tell the stories of our land and people, of the unheard and untold. It listen to stories of parallel communities with parallel paths – distinct stories that are relevant and responsive to our time. It means to engage peers and audiences alike, and offer spaces of conversation and participation.