Sunday, February 23, 2020

Review of Trumpets' JOSEPH THE DREAMER: A Favorite's Fortune

February 23, 2020




I had heard of a show called "Joseph the Dreamer" as the local version of the biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob. This was an original musical born out of Filipino talent written by Freddie Santos in 1989, adapted from a cantata composed by Cam Floria. This was definitely not a retread of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (1968), though they may be telling the same story. 

"Joseph the Dreamer" may hold the record as the longest running Philippine musical, but sadly I never had the chance to watch any of its runs. Audie Gemora played Joseph in the original run in 1989. 10 years later, pop star Gary Valenciano took on the role as the show reached its peak in 1999, with shows both in Manila and in the provinces.  

This year, "Joseph the Dreamer" goes onstage again for the benefit of next generation, as well as for those of past generations who missed it, like me. Seemingly as a nod to its long history, Audie Gemora is back iin the cast, this time as Jacob. Gary's son Paolo Valenciano takes on the role of stage director for his debut production in theater.

We all know the story from the book of Genesis. Jacob had 12 sons from four wives. Among his boys, his favorite was his 11th son Joseph, the firstborn of his favorite wife Rachel. One day, Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colors, which caused his brothers to rise up against him in jealousy. Treacherously sold into slavery, Joseph found himself in Egypt where was able to hone his talent for interpreting dreams. When he foretold the future based on the Pharoah's strange dreams, Joseph was named governor of Egypt.

Sam Concepcion is a very charismatic Joseph, brimming with confidence and goodness of spirit. His smile had a wattage can brighten up the whole stage. On top of his star power, this exhausting role required the actor to be a triple threat of considerable stamina, as he had to sing, dance and act in practically all the scenes.  Admirably, Concepcion proved to be more than adequate for the demands of his challenging role. He even nailed a high-flying spin jump kick at one point. 

For the dancing this show, I can actually feel the spirit of Michael Jackson / Gary Valenciano in the hip hop moves by choreographer MJ Arda. There is so much joy onstage when the cast members were dancing, especially when rocking those characteristic "Walk Like an Egyptian" style steps. The absolute best dance number for me came at the very end when adorable little cutie Eli Luis led the entire cast of Hebrews and Egyptians to dance the finale "Praise His Name" -- a truly effusive Hallelujah moment indeed.

I did not automatically recognize Audie Gemora as Jacob, as his usual look was totally transformed with the long dreadlocks, beard and body heft. Gemora's Jacob was played mostly as a comic figure, but he still had that air of authority around him. Bituin Escalante only had one song number as Joseph's mother Rachel, but wow, did she stop the show dead in its tracks right there with her sheer vocal virtuosity (and her featured song "He Opens a Window" happened early in Act 2!). The narrator of the story (and Egyptian princess Asenath) was Kayla Rivera, who exuded an energetic stage presence in this role, sometimes lacking from her previous roles. 

Of course there are a lot of dramatic moments throughout the show. The climactic reunion scene among the brothers was downright tear-jerking in its pure sincerity. However, despite these sad scenes, there were several comical moments which had the audience in stitches. The best comedy was at the expense of the flamboyant Pharoah. His elaborate costumes alone with the glassy cape in one scene, and glittering gold lame cape in the next can make you giggle the way the lavish costumes looked on actor Carlo Orosa, who seemed to be improvising his outrageous gestures the whole time.

The other attention-getting scene was the one about Potiphar's wife, which had undertones of a scandal. The decision to execute this sensitive scene as a campy comedy was a very wise one, anchored on the comedic timing of Alys Serdenia in her performance of the naughty song "Mae East". Her slinky red costume was topped by an outrageously huge, triangular flat-op afro wig, which added to the hilarious nature of the scene.


The cast at the curtain call
(Front row L-R: Orosa, Escalante, Rivera, Concepcion, Luis, Gemora)

To distinguish scenes of dreams from reality, director Valenciano employed effects such as black lights with neon color ribbons, flashing strobe lights and glittery laser lights (designed by Dong Calingacion). The centerpiece of the set designed by Mio Infante was a movable triangular stage where Joseph frequently performed. Infante was also responsible for all those fabulously atypical anachronistic costumes, especially those ornate Egyptian designs. (My minor costume disappointment was about the "coat of many colors" itself, because the colors were at the back and inside the coat, so when Joseph was facing the audience, all we see is a plain black coat.)

Since this is the very first time I had seen this show, I would not know how much different this current show to the original. I can clearly see its appeal to audiences of all ages. In true Trumpets style, Biblical lessons were imparted without sounding preachy. The way it was staged this time by the young director Valenciano (along with his similarly young co-director Nelsito Gomez) was well-paced, engaging and entertaining. The musical score is very catchy and energetic as produced this time by musical director Myke Salomon. It can therefore easily lend itself to evolving styles of dance choreography in its various incarnations over the years, and yes, the years to come.


**********


JOSEPH THE DREAMER runs at the Globe Auditorium of the Maybank Performance Arts Theater in Bonifacio Global City from February 21 to March 7, 2020. As of now, there are five show times left on the Ticketworld site: 8 pm on Feb. 28 and 29, and 3 pm on Feb. 29, March 1 and 7. Tickets are sold at P2,500 for VIP, P1,500 for Gold, and P1,000 for Silver. Currently, there are limited seats left for all remaining show dates.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review of Black Box's DEKADA '70: Filipino Family in Furious Flux

February 22, 2020




The title "Dekada '70" is a popular Palanca Award-winning literary classic by Luwalhati Bautista first published in 1983, recognized for its brave political and feministic stand. It was adapted into a film by Chito Rono in 2002, shown during the Metro Manila Film Festival, starring Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon and Piolo Pascual (who swept as Best Supporting Actor in practically all award-giving bodies that year for his role as Jules). I am not proud to confess that I had not read the book yet, nor was I able to watch the film before. Therefore I watched this musical play without any knowledge of its full plot.

Amanda was the subservient wife of self-made architect Julian Bartolome, and loving mother to a brood of five rambunctious boys, namely Jules, Gani, Em, Jason and Bingo.  While Amanda yearned to find a job of her own, Julian imposed his stern objections for her to do anything more than be the homemaker she had been all those years. Amanda realized that if she went on living like this, she will die without leaving any substantial legacy.

The main story begins towards the end of the 1960s, when Jules was already in college and exposed to political activism via his close friend Willy. When Martial Law was declared in 1972 and Willy fell victim to bullet during a rally, Jules left home and took his fight to the mountains as an armed rebel. Meanwhile, Em took up journalism in UP where he took up the same fight, but using words.

"Dekada '70" was basically the story of one regular middle-class Filipino family during that turbulent period of time in our near past. This family's wholesome bourgeois existence was disturbed when children went to college, became politically aware and made their own decisions. The family also personally experienced corruption, abuse and tragedy at the hands of government authorities. Meanwhile, while there is a struggle for class freedom in society, there was also a struggle for personal freedom within the home.


Stella Canete-Mendoza and Julienne Mendoza

Stella Canete-Mendoza was riveting as the central character of Amanda Bartolome. It was her journey from her first childbirth experience, through her years as dedicated wife and mother, up to her firm decision to act upon her own liberation. Her first song "Gusto Ko, Pero" was her Shakespearean soliloquy. This same inner conflict in women that Bautista integrated into the politics of the story is still being tackled in current cinema, like "Marriage Story" as a recent example. 

Her real-life husband Julienne Mendoza (a favorite actor of mine since I saw him in the first run of "Rak of Aegis" in 2014) played his proud and toxic character of Julian with remarkable restraint, just as a typical father-figure was naturally expected to act. Just when I thought he would not have a song of his own, he delivered the song "Minsan May Tahanan" before the show ended with palpable vulnerability.


Jon Abella, Abe Autea, Iggi Siasoco and Boo Gabunada

Jon Abella played the eldest son Jules, who underwent a dark and disturbing transformation when his eyes were forced open by political violence. His powerful singing voice was showcased in his song "Balikat," which expressed his emotions at a friend's unjust death. Vincent Pajara played the second son Gani, who got married first and enlisted in US Navy for financial stability. Boo Gabunada played the middle son Em, who became a journalist against his father's wishes for him to take up something more stable. His frustrations were expressed in his solo "Boses ni Em" which closed Act 1. (Esteban Fulay, Jr. alternates as Em.)

Iggi Siasoco and Abe Autea started out with childish mannerisms as their characters Jason and Bingo were still in elementary in Act 1. However, emphasizing their wacky youth early on made their dramatic moments later in Act 2 all the more heart-rending, especially with the ordeal Jason had to go through. On the other hand, Autea led the incredibly sad and tear-jerking song "Kapatid" on which he also played the acoustic guitar. 


Gel Basa, Matel Patayon, Victoria Mina and Phi Palmos


Victoria Mina played Tess, Amanda's friend who was the mother of Willy. Gel Basa played Evelyn, the unplanned wife of Gani. (Justine Pena alternates as Evelyn.) Matel Patayon played Mara, Jules' partner in the armed resistance who later became his wife. These three women were given a beautiful song to sing ("Payapang Pampang") together with Amanda. Paw Castillo gave a fervent portrayal of Willy (Juan Miguel Severo alternates as Willy, which I think is an interesting piece of casting I'd like to see), whose activist views were expressed in his song "Sigaw ng Bayan". Phi Palmos, Tope Kilatchko, Sabina Basilio and Rona Raissa Angeles play prominent roles in the ensemble. 

Director Pat Valera wrote the adaptation for the stage as a musical, acting as dramaturgist, as well as song lyricist. His epic vision resulted in this intensely-emotional, heavily-dramatic piece of theater. This musical (with music by Matthew Chang, lights by Meliton Roxas Jr. , set by Ohm David, costumes by Hershee Tantiado) was first staged under U.P. Dulaang Laboratoryo in June, 2018, and was restaged later that same year in the Doreen Black Box, Areté, Ateneo de Manila. I was not able to see it back then. 

Director and Writer Pat Valera

This year, Black Box brings back "Dekada '70" to the Arete once again, this time as a new member of Philstage. This production is surely on its way to securing a number of Gawad Buhay citations. On top of performance and technical merits, this show carried a strong call for vigilance and pro-action in the face of oppression. The rousing Act 2 opening song "Bayan, Bayan, Bayan Ko" made sure this urgent message came across, as relevant now as it was all those 40 years ago. 



*********

This current staging of DEKADA '70 runs at the Doreen Black Box, Arete, Ateneo de Manila from February 21 to March 8, 2020. Show times are Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, with 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices at P1200 (Gold), P1000 (Regular) and P700 (for students). The show is about 2 hours and a half long, with a 10 minute intermission. The first two weekends are already sold out, so hurry to snag those remaining tickets for the closing weekend. 


Monday, February 10, 2020

Review of Rep's STAGE KISS: Acting Actualized

February 10, 2020




For its first show of their 83rd season, Repertory Philippines chose to stage a play by Sarah Ruhl, one of the most prolific American playwrights in this new century. In 2017, there was Sarah Ruhl festival of sorts in Mnaila.  Rep staged a 2009 Ruhl play with a rather racy theme and title "In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play)," while Tanghalang Pilipino staged a Filipino adaptation of Ruhl's 2003 play "Eurydice." This new Rep offering is more recent material, as Ruhl wrote "Stage Kiss" in 2011.

The unnamed female protagonist was coming back to stage after a long hiatus because she decided to concentrate on her family. On the first day of rehearsals, it turned out that her leading man was her ex-lover (also unnamed), and their roles (uncannily also about an unexpected reunion of two ex-lovers) required them to be lovers on stage. She was already dedicated to her finance specialist husband and feisty daughter Angela. He was already in a relationship with a pre-school teacher Laurie. Will all those stage kisses they share in this new play actually rekindle the old flame they had together all those years ago?

As She, Missy Maramara was such a natural at improvisations. I felt a lot of those wacky overly theatrical "acting" style of this female lead character was all spontaneously done in the moment, and these showed off her athleticism and her grace in stage movement, possibly acquired from doing yoga or Pilates. Her comic timing was also so faultless. The humor can get quite dark at times, especially in that scene when her character was "roughed up," but Maramara never missed a beat.

She (Missy Maramara) and He (Tarek El Tayech)

As He, Tarek El Tayech had the leading man stage presence, especially with his height, brawn and facial hair. He had  that roguish bravado and overconfidence about him that his character required. He was able to match Maramara in the improvisation department, as well as the proficiency in various accents. This resulted in very palpable chemistry when they are sharing a scene together, . This was especially true in those titular stage kisses they exchanged, which had heat and passion needed to make them realistically affecting. 

Jamie Wilson was his reliable best as the play's director Schwabach, so dedicated to his craft, yet so corny in his taste and vision. Andres Borromeo was a riot as Kevin, the gay understudy who could not stand the kissing scenes. Mica Pineda played his girlfriend Laurie (in real life) and her girlfriend Millicent (in the play).  Justine Narciso played the daughter in real life (Angela) and in the play (Millie), as well as the maid (also Millicent, unnecessarily). Veteran actor Robbie Guevara played her husband whose story arc would turn out to be longer than anybody initially thought.

The cast at the curtain call
(Nangit, Narciso, Wilson, Maramara, El Tayech, Guevara, Borromeo and Pineda)

It seemed that based on the central characters' backgrounds, the actors playing them needed to be a bit older, maybe middle aged at least. However, casting younger attractive actors in the lead resulted in tangible romantic thrill the way the story played out  How that set design of His apartment (by Ohm David) served a double purpose later on was a stroke of writing genius. The play within the play, entitled "The Last Kiss," was set in the 1930s, so that gave Bonsai Cielo a chance to design some stylish vintage formal outfits, best of which was Her emerald long gown.

I enjoyed all the inside jokes Ruhl shared about actors and acting which made this show practically a satire about the theater industry. The flow of the story was not exactly smooth though. Just when you thought it was winding up, a totally new angle came up. What seemed to be a light comic romp in Act 1 transformed into a darker The whole concluding scene felt like it came from out of the blue. However, director Carlos Siguion-Reyna and his game cast managed to rise above these drawbacks in Ruhl's script and work wonders.


*********

STAGE KISS runs from February 7 to March 1, 2020 at the Onstage in Greenbelt One, Makati City. Show times are at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are at  ₱2,000 for Orchestra Center (Reserved Seating), ₱1,500 for Orchestra Sides (Free Seating) and ₱1,000 for Balcony (Free Seating).


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Review of PETA's UNDER MY SKIN: Horizons of HIV

February 8, 2020




The scourge of HIV-AIDS in the Philippines is still growing leaps and bounds even now. The present statistics are alarming, adding a staggering 36 new HIV patients a day in 2019. This number only stood at 2 new patients a day just 10 years ago. This is despite what seemed to be repeated information campaigns about HIV coming from all forms of mass media, the theater stage included. This new play written by Rody Vera attempts to reeducate its audiences with how people nowadays get HIV-AIDS and what can be done about it.

Dr. Gemma Almonte was a physician who had dedicated herself to the continual study of HIV and manage cases of HIV referred to her. Her role was basically what held all the stories told in this play together. On opening night, it was Roselyn Perez who played the good doctor in her first professional play in Filipino in her 40+ year theater career. Perez had already played an AIDS doctor before in "The Normal Heart" for which she won awards. Here, Dr. Gemma was mainly a narrator and an educator. However, she was also given one dramatic moment of pure empathy with a young AIDS patient she was particularly attached with, and Perez worked that scene for all its worth. (Her alternate is film actress Cherry Pie Picache, and that should also be something to catch.) 

Dr. Gemma's newest patient was Jonathan had concomitant infections of pneumonia and pulmonary TB. When his HIV test turned out positive, the news caused much anxiety for his current partner Greg, his ex-lover Syd (Eko Baquial), and Syd's younger current lover (Jarred Jaicten). From whom did Jonathan get it and to whom had he passed it on to? How can a partner support his infected partner? This central story was the focal point around which discussions about HIV's effects on gay relationships revolved.

Mike Liwag played the frail Jonathan, while Gio Gahol played his terrified lover Greg. Both of these actors made a mark in excellent indie films last year, Liwag in "Culion" and Gahol in "Sila-sila." The conflict Greg faced may be the knee-jerk reaction of many HIV patients when they first hear the news, and Gio . The highlight of these two roles was a spectacular curtain dance routine representing the birth of their love affair. The two actors get to show off their athleticism and grace as they perform acrobatic moves on the flowy apparatus. (Miguel Almendras alternates as Jonathan, while Anthony Falcon alternates as Greg.) 


The talented cast takes its curtain call.
(Front row: Terrana, Liwag, Gahol and Perez)

Dino was a sickly 14-year old boy brought to Dr. Gemma by his mother Aling Loida for a chronic cough. When his test result was unexpectedly positive, Loida wondered how her Dino got it when all he did was play DOTA with his friends. Dylan Talon is already college graduate but because of his slight build, he could still pull off this key role of Dino, a young teenager, with disturbing realism. Kitsi Pagaspas was a natural in her serio-comic role of a harassed mother, somewhat like her role in "Charot!" but dialed down given the nature of this play. (Her alternate is Lotlot Bustamante.)

Mary Rose was a stressed-out mother who had a five-year old son whose diarrhea never got well. She went to have it checked with Dr. Gemma, and it turned out he was HIV positive, which meant that he could've only gotten it from her. Now, how did she get it? How about her other kids? Gold Villar Lim played the shell-shocked Mary Rose in her fear, despair and indignance. (Her alternate is She Maala.) Mico Esquivel played her husband Louie during his singular fateful moment of irresponsibility which led to disastrous results. (His alternate is Bene Manaois.)

There were two other episodes which were played out like breaks from the main storyline. Both segments featured Dudz Terrana in full drag. In the first, Terrana was a comedy bar performer who just accompanied his friend to the HIV testing center and decided to take the test himself. This may seem dry on paper, but here, this scene was given a full stage production treatment, complete with chiffon curtains and graphic projections to show the results per patient's birthday.  In his second scene, Terrana was Mother, the owner of a beauty salon who treated his employee (Jason Barcial, alternate Joseph Madriaga) unfairly when he tested HIV positive. His monologues were replete with gay-speak which flew over my head but those who understood were all laughing their heads off.


Talkback session after the show. 

Director Melvin Lee had to harness all his imagination and creativity to make a show about deadly serious and morbid topic like HIV-AIDS entertaining and engaging, and he succeeded. There was enough comic relief without totally undermining the serious advocacy behind it, and Lee made sure that this critical balance was kept intact. Teresa Barrozo (composer and sound designer), Benjamin Padero and Carlo Tabije (production design), Ian Torqueza (lights designer), Steven Tansiongco (video designer), Nicole Primero and Carlos Deriada Jr. (choreographers) kept the proceedings interesting throughout the show -- not a dry moment at all. 


***********

"UNDER MY SKIN" runs from February 8 to March 22, 2020 at the PETA Theater in Quezon City. Ticket prices range from ₱1,800.00 (VIP), ₱1,500.00 (ORCHESTRA Premium),₱1,000.00 (ORCHESTRA Regular), ₱1,500.00 (BALCONY Premium) and ₱800 (BALCONY Regular). Show runs for about a little less than 2 hours with no intermission. There is an open forum after the show with the audience to discuss the issues presented. 







Monday, December 23, 2019

My Yearend Roundup: THE BEST OF PHILIPPINE THEATER 2019

December 24, 2019

For the year 2019, I had seen and written about 44 theater productions: 13 musicals, 18 full-length plays, and 15 one-act plays. Not included in these citations were the numerous musicals which were restaged this year like "Himala," "El Bimbo," "Binondo" and "Rak of Aegis" (again)

I will list here what I feel were the best among those theater shows I have seen and written about for 2019. 

I.  ORIGINAL FILIPINO MUSICALS:


Best: LAM-ANG
(My Full Review)

Music by: Jen Darlene Torrres and Fitz Bitana
Written by: Eljay Castro Deldoc
Directed by: Fitz Bitana

Popular movie star JC Santos was an inspired choice to play the lead title role, making a most charismatic Lam-ang. Handsome of face and physique, Santos drew attention to him whenever he was onstage, even when his character turned to the dark side at one point. Anna Luna matched Santos' stage presence as the mysterious Kannoyan. Even when she only came out in Act 2, Luna's Kannoyan attracted Lam-ang with her sense of compassionate leadership, as well as her ability to engage him in naughty banter. Tex Ordonez-de Leon played the story-teller Baglan. From the opening scene to the finale, her hypnotically robust singing voice would imbue the entire three-hour run of the show with haunting dramatic authority.

Other Notable Productions:

The Quest for Adarna (My Review)
Sindak 1941(My Review)
Charot (My Review)

Notable Performances:

JC Santos, Tex Ordonez-de Leon, Anna Luna and Paw Castillo (Lam-ang), Alex Reyes and Carla Laforteza-Guevara (Adarna), Vince Tanada, Johnrey Rivas and Rachel Penaflor (Sindak), Tim Pavino, Lani Ligot and Meynard Penalosa (Miong), Meann Espinosa and Rhapsody Li (Charot), Gab Pangilinan (El Bimbo)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The music, sound engineering, props, costumes and choreography of "Lam-Ang." The costumes and sets of "Adarna." The catchy jingle tunes of "Charot." The period costumes of "Miong."


II. NON-FILIPINO MUSICALS:

Best: PASSION
(My Full Review)

Music and lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Book by: James Lapine
Director: Robbie Guevara

I remembered Fosca to be desperate, but not as insidiously manipulative as Shiela Valderrama-Martinez portrayed her last night. Her heavenly singing voice was beautifully radiant, shining though the severely deglamorizing make-up and drab gowns she had on. Vien King makes his leading man debut as Giorgio. At first, King seemed too young to be the heroic Capt. Giorgio. Because of his youthful countenance, Giorgio's dalliances with Clara and Fosca looked like May-December affairs, which gave these liaisons another layer of danger and recklessness. This relative youth of King's Giorgio actually worked in the show's favor, since it gave context to the decisions Giorgio made, which may be puzzling if made by a more mature man. 

Other Notable Productions:

Beautiful (My Review)
Spring Awakening (My Review)
Sweeney Todd (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Vien King, Jasmine Fitzgerald (Passion), Lea Salonga and Jett Pangan (Sweeney Todd), Kayla Rivera, Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante, George Schulze, Arman Ferrer, Jep Go, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo (Beautiful), Erika Rafael, Alexa Prats and Sabrina Basilio (Spring Awakening), Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Cathy Azanza-Dy and Maronne Cruz (Company), Rebecca Coates (Dani Girl)

Memorable Tech Aspects:
The stage direction, musical direction, sets and costumes of "Passion." The musical direction, costumes, hair and makeup and choreography of "Beautiful." The stage direction, musical direction and choreography of "Spring Awakening." The jarring new concept of "Sweeney Todd."


III. FILIPINO PLAYS:

A. One-Act:

Best: RATED X
(My Full Review)

Written by: Jun Lana
Directed by: Dennis Marasigan

Two 70-something senior citizens were stuck in bad traffic jam. Since they did not have a driver that day, Elvira had to drive her husband of 45 years Manolo to the hospital because he seemed to be suffering a heart attack in progress. Lou Veloso's acting was very restrained, owing to the fact that he was playing a weak man slowly succumbing to a heart attack. This situation allowed the ever-luminous Ms. Sherry Lara to shine brilliantly for all she's worth. In spite of the fact that she was just sitting down on a chair for practically the whole play, Lara's Elvira was funny, naughty, raunchy, heartbreaking, poignant, beautiful -- one of the best one-act play performances I had ever witnessed. 

Other Notable Productions:

 Ang Pag-Uulyanin ni Olivia Mendoza (My Review)
 Wanted: Male Boarders (My Review)
 Gemetzel (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Sherry Lara and Lou Veloso (Rated X), Edna Vida and Celeste Legaspi (Ang Pag-Uulyanin ni Olivia Mendoza), Krystle Valentino and Skyzx Labastilla (Anak Ka Ng), Lance Reblando and Ross Pesigan (Wanted: Male Boarders), Leo Rialp (Larong Demonyo), Glory Ann Nacional and Art Gabrentina (Nunal)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The direction of the fast-forward scenes in "Wanted: Male Boarders." The direction of the bloody Grand Guignol scene in "Gemetzel"


B. Full-Length: Original Filipino Material or Filipino Adaptation:


Best: KATSURI
(My Full Review)

Written by: Bibeth Orteza (based on John Steinbeck's novella "Of Mice and Men")
Directed by: Carlos Siguion-Reyna

With his hefty body build, Jonathan Tadioan was the natural choice to play the bulky hulk Toto (Lenny in the book). Tadioan's Toto was a gentle giant teddy bear when he tells about his love for soft furry rabbits and puppies. However, he can also exude an air of danger when provoked as he forgets how strong he is. His co-stars' best scenes were those they shared with him. Marco Viana was able to effectively convey George's deep sense of concern for his mentally-challenged friend Toto, trying his best to keep Toto out of trouble. Such was the genuineness of George's love which made his final decision all the more painful.

Other Notable Productions:

Marat/Sade (My Review)
Dolorosa (My Review)
Nana Rosa (My Review)
Antigone (My Review)
The House of Bernarda Alba (My Review)
Alpha Kappa Omega (My Review)
Fiuente Ovejuna (My Review)
Laro (My Review

Notable Performances:

Jonathan Tadioan, Marco Viana and Antoniette Go (Katsuri). Jojo Cayabyab, Chris Abecia, Harriet Damole and Adriana Agcaoili ("Marat/Sade"). Bibeth Orteza, Ron Capinding and Claudia Enriquez ("Dolorosa"). Peewee O'Hara, Ingrid Villamarin, Jonathan Ivan Rivera and Victor Sy ("Nana Rosa"). Robbie Fernandez ("Antigone"). Frances Makil-Ignacio and Stella Canete-Mendoza (Bernarda Alba, English). John Sanchez, Cholo Ledesma and Katski Flores ("Alpha Kappa Omega"). Harriette Damole, Ross Pesigan, Jojo Cayabyab and Dolly Dolot ("Fuente Ovejuna"). Phi Palmos and Gio Gahol ("Laro"). Brian Sy and Sherry Lara ("Coriolano"). 

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The stage direction and rustic sets of "Katsuri." The stage direction (that shocking climax!) and period costumes of "Marat/Sade." The set with movable screens and vintage costumes of "Nana Rosa." The lighting design of "Dolorosa." The stage direction and set design of "Antigone." The lighting of the set through the jalousie windows in "Bernarda Alba."


IV. NON-FILIPINO PLAYS:


Best: ANGELS IN AMERICA (PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES)
(My Full Review)

Written by: Tony Kushner
Directed by: Bobby Garcia

It was late 1985 in New York City. Prior Walter shows his boyfriend Louis Ironson the Kaposi Sarcoma lesion in his arm, and confessed that he had AIDS. A macho, brash and influential lawyer Roy Cohn does not accept he had AIDS, a disease associated with homosexuals, instead calling his disease liver cancer. A mild-mannered Mormon clerk of court Joe Pitt struggles with his delusional pill-popping wife Harper and his closeted homosexual urges. 


Topper Fabregas brought us along Prior Walter's painful journey from the fabulous queen to the frail shadow AIDS reduced him to. Art Acuna was an acting powerhouse as Roy Cohn, totally subsuming the fearsome arrogance of his character. Markki Stroem was perfectly cast as Joe Pitt, clean-cut boy-next-door, with a secret burning his soul.

Other Notable Productions:

Stop Kiss (My Review)
The Dresser (My Review)
Dancing Lessons (My Review)
Every Brilliant Thing (My Review

Notable Performances:

Topper Fabregas, Art Acuna, Markki Stroem and Cherie Gil (Angels in America), Missy Maramara and Jenny Jamora (Stop Kiss), Teroy Guzman and Audie Gemora (The Dresser), Randy Villarama and Jill Pena (Dancing Lessons), Kakki Teodoro and Teresa Alcantara (Every Brilliant Thing), Miguel Faustmann and Liesl Batucan (Father's Day)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The stage direction, compact set designs and graphic projections of "Angels in America." The stage direction and sliding front wall set design in "Stop Kiss." The set design and King Lear's costume in "The Dresser." The round set and lighting design of "Dancing Lessons." The cozy living room in "Father's Day."


*****

My 2018 list was posted HERE
My 2017 list was posted HERE
My 2016 list was posted HERE
My 2015 list was posted HERE.
My 2014 list was posted HERE.
My 2013 list was posted HERE.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Review of TP's LAM-ANG: Ethno-Epic Extravaganza

December 14, 2019




I definitely knew the name of Lam-Ang, the central character of an pre-Hispanic Ilocano epic, since my high school days. It is acknowledged to be the oldest among the folk epics of Luzon. However, when I was racking my brain today to try and recall his story, I frustratingly drew a blank. So when I went to watch this new Tanghalang Pilipino show this afternoon, I had absolutely no idea what the plot was going to be. 

This was Tanghalang Pilipino second stab at making an original musical out of a local ethno-epic. The first one was the Bicolano epic "Ibalong" (MY REVIEW) back in 2013. However, I am particularly excited for this show because this was only the third new original Filipino musical to debut this year, after PETA's "Charot" and Rep's "Quest for the Adarna". 

Lam-ang grew up without his father Lokan, a chieftain who never came home from war. When he grew up to be a strapping young fighter, Lam-ang left his home against his mother Namongan's will to find his father. After he was able to kill the headhunters who caused his father's death, Lam-ang was anointed as their new chieftain when he got back home. 

Impetuous and reckless, Lam-ang conquered his surrounding tribes with his battle savvy. However, this arrogance and blood-thirstiness was met by disdain by the gods, inundating his domain with endless rain. This forced Lam-ang to venture to Calanuitan to lay claim to their resources. Plans changed when he was smitten by their female chief Kannoyan. 

Popular movie star JC Santos was an inspired choice to play the lead title role, making a most charismatic Lam-ang. Handsome of face and physique, Santos drew attention to him whenever he was onstage, even when his character turned to the dark side at one point. His singing voice was remained muscular and solid as he performed the numerous battle songs and love songs required of his role. He's also got the hero's moves and choreography down pat, which executed with elan, grace and strength. He was such a natural performer, such that it was a surprise to learn that this was only his first musical play.

Anna Luna matched Santos' stage presence as the mysterious Kannoyan. Even when she only came out in Act 2, Luna's Kannoyan attracted Lam-ang with her sense of compassionate leadership, as well as her ability to engage him in naughty banter. Tex Ordonez-de Leon played the story-teller Baglan. From the opening scene to the finale, her hypnotically robust singing voice would imbue the entire three-hour run of the show with haunting dramatic authority. Hazel Maranan lent regal pathos to Namongan in her role as grieving widow and protective mother. Raflesia Bravo played the amorous temptress Saridandan with uninhibited boldness.

Lance Reblando and Ybes Bagadiong played Lam-ang's pet rooster Taraok and dog Tangguob respectively, both with amazing consistency and playfulness. Alvin Maghanoy was a frisky Batang Lam-ang with his sense of adventure and duty even in his youth. With his imposing heft, Remus Villanueva gave Lam-ang's father Lokan an indelible image even after his death. Jonathan Tadioan played the village priest Tandang Guibuan, whose wisdom was blinded by his devotion to his gods. Paw Castillo made a lasting impression as Lam-ang's mentor Sumarang, who did not fear to fight for what he believed was right. 


Tex Ordonez-de Leon, JC Santos, Anna Luna, Lance Reblando 
and Jonathan Tadioan make their curtain call

Director Fitz Bitana and Jen Darlene Torres worked on the music and lyrics that gave this show its unique brand of ethnic energy. TJ Ramos's musical direction and sound design was most impressive creating a virtual wall of sound rich with voice and percussion, enveloping the audience with an immersive yet surreal atmosphere. 

The set design of co-director Marco Viana may seem simple with its three inclined ramps adorned with ropes, but the lighting of Meliton Roxas gave it a living spirit. The rousing choreography of JM Cabling made full use of the whole set in his multiple battle and travel sequences. The proud native costumes by Bonsai Cielo complete the ethno-epic tapestry. 

Aside from being a proud reminder of our pre-colonial heritage, writer Eljay Castro Deldoc was even able to include subtle commentary about our country's present day culture of violence in his book. This important production deserves to be re-staged and toured around the country from hereon in for Filipinos of all generations to appreciate and embrace. 

********

"Lam-ang" has a limited two-week run at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines from December 6-15, 2019. There will only be two more shows today, at 3 pm and at 8 pm. 


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's ANTIGONE: The People Prosecutes

November 17, 2019




"Antigone" is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles written more than 500 years before Christ. It is about an act of civil disobedience by a girl who dared to willfully defy a law set by the ruling authority. As the second offering of Tanghalang Ateneo's 41st season themed "Sulat-Babae", playwright Sabrina Basilio used this basic premise of the original play to set up a totally different scenario and ensuing events. In Basilio's adaptation, the girl and the president were held captive by a multi-sectoral Chorus and then made to face off with each other in a people's court. 

Antigone buried the corpse of her deceased brother Polynices, However with this simple act, she broke a law promulgated by President Kreon that the dead body of a traitor against the government like him should just remain unburied on the fields of battle. In her favor, Antigone argued on the grounds of human decency and morality. They were made to reenact the circumstances around each of their crimes.


The persecuted Antigone

We also hear numerous ordinary citizens who testified for and against each of the accused. Those for Antigone were those who had suffered persecution at the hands of Creon and his policemen. Those against Antigone were those who had benefited from the policies of Creon. Throughout the play, these witnesses talked directly to the audience who was made to act like the jury. At the end of the play, everyone in the bleachers will be asked to decide on the case presented. Should Antigone remain incarcerated, or should she be set free?

If you have no idea what "Antigone" was about, it was not that easy to get into the play initially. What the Chorus members were doing did not sink in right away, but the play's style eventually became evident. One time they were asking people involved in the case to read off what looked like scripts. Then the next scene, any one of a number of ordinary folk (government employee, environmental advocate, prostitute, etc...) were relating their testimonies for or against Antigone. It can be confusing at first as the story proceeded in this manner, only to clear up a bit later. 


The intimidating President Kreon

You note the shifts of the language spoken by the various characters, from the Filipino of the masses to the American-accented by Antigone, Creon and the other characters of higher class, and eventually realize that this story was also about social class. Should someone from the higher classes involve himself (or herself, in Antigone's case) in public discussions about social issues like human rights? Being played in a university known of its privileged studentry -- the intent, message and challenge of the writer was loud and clear. The audience will be asked to submit their judgement in a vote towards the end, and the aftermath of their decision will be presented to conclude the play. Basilio revealed that there were three alternate endings depending on the outcome of the audience vote.


The Audience is requested to decide.

During the show I watched, Eliezha Nicole Duque with her big glaring eyes played the indignant Antigone. Her voice was soft and uncertain at first, gaining in conviction and confidence as the play went on. (Julia Imai alternates as Antigone.) With his heft and beard, Robbie Fernandez was impressive as an imposing Kreon. It was hard to believe that he was only a freshman Engineering student. Gevin Luarca played Creon's son and Antigone's betrothed Haemon. I felt his major conflict of being torn between loyalty to father and love to fiancee was not played up enough. (Joey Madarang alternates as Haemon.)

Jam Binay played a subdued subservient Ismene, Antigone's sister. (Bea Gaitana alternates as Ismene.) Kyle "Woody" Tan, Luigi Antonio Santos and the scene-stealing Lars Michaelsen Salamante played the three guards who kept watch over Antigone. (Deivid Allan Encarnacion and Ram Catan alternate as guards). Pauline Matabang played the Chorus Leader, while Bienne Dator, Arianna Lopez, Carmen Dolina, Kim Donato, Jaennina Gangat, Angela Lanuza, Maika Daupan, Iago Babao Guballa, Rye Cosca and Andre Enriquez play the Chorus, here transformed into the prosecuting People of the Philippines.

The Cast at the Curtain Call

Director Tarra Jamora Oppen elected to stage the court proceedings in a sort of post-apocalyptic society still reeling from a harrowing people's revolution, as reflected by the production design by Tata Tuviera, enhanced by the lights designed by Earvin EstiokoGraphic designs by Carmen Dolina and Franny Tan were flashed on white cloth hanging on opposite walls of the room where audience can see them well.The sound design by Krina Cayabyab set an eerie atmosphere to the proceedings. Microphone issues affected the show I watched, so the cast needed to project their voices louder to be heard well, but not always clearly. The movement of the Chorus was designed by Jomelle Era, assisted by CJ Lubangco



*****

"ANTIGONE VS. THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES" runs from November 16 to 30, 2019 at the Old Comm Black Box Theater of the Ateneo de Manila University. Ticket prices at 350 Php for ADMU students, 320 Php for ADMU scholars and 400 Php for the general public. For ticket reservation inquiries, contact Ana Ruiz at 0917 813 3077.