Saturday, March 3, 2018

Review of Rep's SILENT SKY: Simple, Scholarly and Stellar

March 4, 2018

Aside maybe for Marie Curie, a regular person would be hard-pressed to name any women pioneer of science (in any field) at all. The contributions of women in the history of any of the sciences had been very limited, because it was only during the 19th century that women were admitted into scientific courses of study and societies. Even then, they still struggled for opportunities for study and recognition for discoveries. 

For their second production for this season, Repertory Philippines chose to stage a 2013 play by American playwright Lauren Gunderson entitled "Silent Sky." This is about a woman who made an important discovery in the field of Astronomy in the year 1908, whose name most of us have never heard of before. 

Henrietta Leavitt was a summa cum laude graduate from women's college Radcliffe, in her words "Harvard with skirts." She was accepted to work in Harvard Observatory, but it turned out she would not be handling the telescope itself. With Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming in the women's department (jokingly called "Pickering's Harem"), she was tasked to count, label and describe stars from photographic plates.

However, Henrietta began to notice a pattern in the pulsations of Cepheid stars, and eventually concluded that there is a relationship between the brightness of the star and the length of time they take to blink, when she then correlated to the distance of this star. While Leavitt's discovery was published in journals, she was not allowed to do her own independent studies. However, eventually, her vital discovery was acknowledged as the basis of more well-known work by later astronomers like Edwin Hubble.

Simple stage bathed in dramatic blue light and stars

Cathy Azanza-Dy totally owned this play with her earnest and passionate portrayal of Henrietta Leavitt. She radiated Leavitt's burning desire to learn more and discover the unknown. She also made us feel the sense of frustration of a scholarly woman at that time who was treated as second-class citizen in the sciences, as it was in society. However, with her obsessive curiosity and probing intellect, we celebrated her triumphant discovery. With Azanza-Dy's performance, we totally felt Henrietta's uncommon strength of character.

Sheila Francisco and Naths Everett played Henrietta's senior colleagues Annie and Williamina, respectively. They were accomplished women of science in their own right, but unlike Henrietta, they seemed to be satisfied with the status quo. While Annie can be a strict supervisor type, Williamina balanced it by being ever-smiling and friendly. They played some sort of comic relief in order to lighten the serious nature of the play at certain points. 

Caisa Borromeo also does well as Henrietta's homebound sister Margaret, who portrayed all the typical roles expected from women at that time -- a dedicated daughter, wife and mother, deeply religious as expressed in her music. Her character changed quite a bit from her first scenes at the country home and her final scenes in the city, but her transition was not too clearly explained in the script. 

Topper Fabregas played imaginary character Peter Shaw, the fidgety apprentice of the head astronomer. As the only male character of a feministic play, he had the misfortune of portraying all of what is wrong with men (as perceived by women) -- pride, selfishness, insecurity, weak of will, lack of faith, lack of loyalty, lack of backbone -- name it. Fabregas had the nerdy, bumbling part of the character down, but he looked too young to be romantically paired with the formidable Azanza-Dy. I suspect the impression of male immaturity may have been done on purpose in this casting decision. 

The Cast at the Curtain Call
Francisco, Borromeo, Azanza-Dy, Fabregas and Everett

A quiet and serious play like this would seem like a very risky choice business-wise for any theater company to stage, especially since the play, playwright and its subject matter are all unfamiliar to the Filipino audience, hence it would not be an easy task to sell. However, Rep's belief in the play's sense of inspiration prevailed. With the talented cast, set and costumes by Joey González-Mendoza, dramatic lights by John Batalla, and subtle sounds by Jethro Joaquin, director Joy Virata definitely drove home the message of female empowerment with stirring conviction, without needless fireworks. 


"Silent Sky" will run from March 2 to 25 at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Ayala Center in Makati City. For show schedules (Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 3:30 pm) and tickets (P1,200 and P1,500), visit TicketWorld.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review of DUP's ANG DALAGITA'Y 'SANG BAGAY NA DI-BUO: Suffocating Shame

February 26, 2018

(From the Dulaang UP FB page)

The original source of this play is a 2013 debut novel by Irish writer Eimear McBride entitled "A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing." In 2014, it was adapted into a play by Annie Ryan for one woman to perform. Ms. Ryan wrote the script under strict terms to not change a single word from the book, only managing its length to fit a reasonable time limit for a stage play. Dulaang UP had been granted the rights to translate and adapt this intense play for the Filipino audience by the pen of Rody Vera and direction of Ms. José Estrella.

The life of a young woman is traced from her time in the womb to her birth, through her childhood under the thumb of her abusive mother, her early teens when she first encountered her slimy uncle, then her days in the university when she apparently freed herself from her past. When her elder brother fell seriously ill though, she was forced to return home to be with him. It was then that she had to relive her old nightmares all over again, and then some. 

I read that it took Eimear McBride only six months to write her novel, but she had to wait 10 years before she found a publisher who had the guts to set it to print. The text of the novel was in no way conventional. It was not easy to read not only because of the distressing topic, but also because it was boldly experimental, written in a sort of stream of consciousness style, with no quotation marks to set off dialogues. 

(From the Dulaang UP FB page)

The script of Annie Ryan was likewise just a continuing monologue with no indication of which character was saying what. The translator, director, dramaturgist and the actresses had to figure out the various personalities the solo performer would have to embody in the entire length of this almost two-hour play all on her own. 

Aside from the girl, there was also the mother (very religious yet unsympathetic, always stern and angry with the girl), the brother (seriously ill since childhood, the "you" the girl addresses for the whole play), the uncle (a creep with a nebulous personality -- as if the girl was uncertain about what to think about him until too late). There were also a myriad of more minor characters: the strict grandfather, the patronizing aunt, the best friend, the doctor, the religious fanatics, those multiple sex partners in school and the sick sex pervert in the woods. 

Any actress who was willing to take up the challenge to perform this play is a very brave soul. Not only is she going to have to portray several characters, these are characters who were literally at each others throats in many cases. She would be practically be memorizing all the lines of all the characters, from the lead down to the extras. She needed to give each role a distinct face, voice and personality, and not mix them up as she went from one to another. She would have to bare her soul on that stage as the protagonist goes into various stages of her physical and emotional breakdown.

The Four Dalagitas: Labastilla, Maramara, Santos and Damole
(From Missy Maramara's FB page)

I have seen this play two times already before writing out this review in full. On my first day, I caught Missy Maramara as the girl. I was seated at the very back row of the theater towards the left side. On my second day, I caught Skyzx Labastilla as the girl, I was seated much closer to the stage on the fifth row center. The viewing experience was very heavy both times given the bleak nature of the play (but of course I was able to pay more attention to the details of the script better the second time around). 

The acting instructions of director Ms. Estrella appeared to be specific for each particular scene, since both actresses basically did the same general motions. The director set the boundaries of the roles, but allowed each actress to explore and come up with subtle individual detail changes to set their Girl apart from the other Girls. Opaline Santos and Harriet Damole also alternate to tackle the role on certain show times. Maramara and Labastilla seem to be the more senior actresses of the four. I wonder how it would be to have one of the younger actresses perform, especially since the Girl should only be age 20 by the final scene. The effect could probably be more hair-raising.

Talkback Session with Ina Bolivar and Missy Maramara (02-24-18)

There were constants that the actresses have onstage to work with: like the chair (the girl's only crutch onstage; specially designed for stability and abuse), the video projections to depict outdoor scenes, and those perfectly  timed disturbing sound effects by Jon Lazam that heighten the tension, emotion and pain of the scenes where they were used. They had some water waiting at both sides of the stage to keep their throats hydrated at very brief breaks. 

At the end, a square hall of mirrors opened up in the middle of the stark black backdrop to frame the haunting final scene. The lighting was so vital in the whole play, especially that final scene with the mirrors. The effect of the playing lights during that final scene with the mirrors looked different depending on where I sat, each with their own dramatic impact. Kudos to the mirrors designer Mark Justiniani and light designer Barbie Tan Tiongco for the mesmerizing illusion of depth, buoyancy and calm during this key moment of the play.

This was the first time I have seen Ms. Maramara perform. I only knew her by reputation as an experienced practitioner of solo theater. She had taken on the one-woman show "Clytemnestra" (as adapted from various sources by Kiara Pipino) and performed it both abroad and locally (which I unfortunately missed). She had also written, directed and performed her very own one-woman work entitled "Love, Liz" which she debuted in the United Solo Festival in New York back in 2013. 

Talkback Session with Ina Bolivar and Skyzx Labastilla (02-25-18)

As for Ms. Labastilla, I have seen her act in a couple of two-hander short plays back in 2016. One was the perplexing "Daddy's Girl" (MY REVIEWat the Virgin Labfest XII, and later that year, it was the traumatizing "Indigo Child" (MY REVIEW) as part of the "Never Again" festival of Martial Law plays. In both plays, she delivered lengthy emotionally-draining monologues about a girl who was recounting her experiences of abuse (sexual and more). These two prior one-act plays more than prepared her for this much longer and more devastating full length project.  

Because the play dealt with a very disturbing subject matter, a talk back/debriefing session was held after each show where members of the audience can ask questions from the actress and the dramaturg Ms. Ina Azarcon-Bolivar, or vent their feelings about the play they just saw. 

This harrowing play confronts the audience with the fact that sexual abuse happens in real life and it is uglier than they can ever imagine. The victims' lives are destroyed, and many times, they have no family, no friends, no religion to turn to because of the shame that pervades their lives after suffering the abuse. This play aims to give all those girls who suffer in silence a loud enough voice so people can finally listen to their desperate calls. Do watch and echo their cries for help. 


"Ang Dalagita’y ‘sang Bagay na Di-buo" is staged in partnership with the UP Diliman College of Social Work and Community Development, the UPD Gender Office, and the UPD Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment. The play is also part of Kat(h)awan: Bodies, Society, Culture, the UP Diliman Festival Culture and the Arts 2018.

The play runs from February 21 - March 11 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2/F Palma Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City.

For all inquiries, contact Camille Guevara (0917 823 9531) or the Dulaang UP Office (Tel. No.: 926-1349 / 981-8500 local 2449 /

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review of TP's NANG DALAWIN NG PAG-IBIG SI JUAN TAMAD: Laziness, Love and Laughs

February 17, 2018

Before this play began, the audience was addressed by Ms. Cecille Joaquin Yasay, a niece of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin. She welcomed the audience to this play which was adapted from one of her uncle's children's stories entitled "How Love Came to Juan Tamad" from his "Pop Stories for Groovy Kids" series (1979). I only knew Nick Joaquin for his serious works, like "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino," "May Day Eve" and "The Woman with Two Navels." I did not expect him to have written anything for children at all, so this was a pleasant surprise for me. 

The ever-angry god of war Monte Banahaw is smitten with the ever-alluring goddess of love Mariang Makiling. After his advances were rejected, Monte wanted to punish Maria. So he asked his alchemist brother Ba'i, the fairy of Laguna Lake, to whip up a love potion so that Maria would fall hopelessly in love with the ugliest, stupidest and laziest boy in town. Who else would that poor lout be, but Juan Tamad?

Juan Tamad makes his grand entrance sleeping on a bed
with Marco Viana's beautiful set design in the background

The prolific Rody Vera came up with a very engaging Filipino adaptation for theater of Joaquin's short story originally written in English. It was full of current local pop culture references so the lines never sounded old or stuffy at all. As delivered by the in-house TP actors with their usual verve and energy, with funky choreography by Ronelson Yadao and direction by Jonathan Tadioan, Vera's lines had audiences in stitches with all the ridiculous situations in this farce.

Technically, the stage design by Marco Viana was very memorable. That huge multi-tiered sunburst of wooden planks made for a riveting stage centerpiece that really commanded attention. The lights of John Batalla enhanced the dramatic look of this beautiful main set piece. Even though singing is not exactly the forte of most of these actors, the songs by TJ Ramos were a delight to hear

Aldo Vencilao was a perfect fit as Monte Banahaw. You know how it is about short guys and their tendency to overcompensate. Monique "Manok" Nellas played an earthy and sexy Mariang Makiling, very proud of her long legs and feminine wiles. Lhorvie Nuevo was very cute as the Kerubing Ulap, a friendly cloud who could break the fourth wall and be our narrator. Antonette Go was on point with her Kris Aquino impersonation as Maria's sarcastic lawyer. JV Ibesate effectively mined the absent-mindedness of his character Ba'i for laughs. 

Aldo Vencilao and Manok Nellas take their bows.

I am not so sure that Ybes Bagadiong was the best choice to be Juan Tamad. I am not referring to his acting talent, but his particular look. I felt it was an unfortunate decision that the only dark-skinned actor in the cast was made to play the "ugliest, stupidest and laziest boy in town." There was even a line that taunted him how Juan looked like a monkey ("Mukha siyang matsing!"), which called to mind that ill-conceived H&M "coolest monkey in the jungle" ad photo. I am worried how this may feed children's ideas about stereotypes against their dark-skinned schoolmates. 

There were overtly sexual double entendre in so many of the lines exchanged between Mariang Makiling and the men who fall for her charms.  These naughty lines were very hilarious for sure, but at the same time, I could not help but worry about the children in the audience. I was seated beside a child less than five years old, and there were plenty more kids in the audience last night. I just hope these lines just sail above their innocent heads. 

The lesson of the play at the end was not clear. We see Juan Tamad get to become very rich, however we do not see him change his lazy ways at all.  Juan Tamad never got his comeuppance for being lazy. The twist at the end about the love potion sort of sent a confusing message, as if it was saying that Juan's laziness was somehow an aphrodisiac in itself.  For me, the end the play came rather too abruptly, without exactly making very clear its message against this capital sin of sloth. 

The Cast at the Curtain Call

I do not want to be a wet blanket about this because overall I found this colorful show to be quite entertaining for all ages. There were scenes which were really laugh out loud funny. However, because of the reasons for concern I cited above, I would advise strict Parental Guidance for young kids who will be watching this play. Do take your kids to watch this light-hearted fun show, but do discuss and clarify its lessons with them afterwards. 


"Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad" runs from February 16 to March 11, 2018 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, CCP Little Theater. Showtimes are: 8 pm Fridays, 3 pm and 8 pm on Saturdays and 3 pm on Sundays. Ticket prices are at P 1,030 and P 824 each, depending on the price zone, free seating basis. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review of Sandbox/9 Works HIMALA, ISANG MUSIKAL: Phenomenal Production and Performances!

February 10. 2018

I first heard about "Himala" the musical play in 2013, when a 10th anniversary concert (MY REVIEW) of the 2003 Tanghalang Pilipino production was staged at the PETA Theater. Before then, I only knew "Himala" to be the iconic 1982 film, directed by Ishmael Bernal, written by Ricky Lee and starring Ms. Nora Aunor, which told the story of a simple girl named Elsa who developed the ability to heal diseases after having apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a nearby hill in Barrio Cupang. 

Composer Vincent de Jesus had crafted deeply dramatic songs with some pretty punishing high notes, which only the best singers can sing. The original cast included such vocal powerhouses like May Bayot (as Elsa),Cynthia Culig-Guico (as Chayong), Isay Alvarez (as NImia) and Dulce (as Nanay Saling). Ricky Lee himself adapted his screenplay for the book of the play and co-wrote the lyrics. 

The story of the musical follows the story of the film faithfully. Elsa has visions of the Virgin Mary on the hill, after which she can cure the sick of body and of spirit. This ability made Elsa a local celebrity. She seemed to enjoy the attention given by her coterie of pious friends and devotees. One day, an unspeakable crime happened on the miraculous hill that drove that led to escalating torment and tragedy. 

Aicelle Santos as Elsa 

This year, on the occasion of its 15th anniversary, the Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatricals, decide to restage this play in full as part of its thrust to include Filipino works in its repertoire. An all-new generation of powerful singer-actors had been assembled to sing those same emotional songs for us once again. 

Aicelle Santos was really pushed to go beyond all limits in the lead role of Elsa, and she positively nailed that challenging role down, both acting-wise and singing-wise.  Her two big highlight numbers came one after the other: one questioning the heavens for her misfortune and the final one addressing the crowd with a shocking confession. I've seen Santos before in "Rak of Aegis" and "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag" and she had been excellent in both, but this Elsa of hers was in a class all its own.

Bituin Escalante as Nanay Saling 

Portraying Elsa's childhood friends were Neomi Gonzales as the fragile and religious Chayong, and Kakki Teodoro as the bold and worldly Nimia. Both of them shone in their featured songs -- Gonzales in Chayong's duets with Elsa and suitor Pilo, and Teodoro in her raunchy cabaret scene and her duet with Elsa. Bituin Escalante was a notable vocal standout in her searing renditions of Nanay Saling's painful lamentations. There was a scene where was singing in one far corner, but the strength of her voice effortlessly filled up the entire room. Jenny Villegas dela Cruz played Mrs. Alba, who organized Elsa's "Seven Apostles." Her clear soprano voice floated sweetly out of the chorus as she sang harmony in that final group song. 

David Ezra, looking very different from how I remembered him as "Aurelio Sedisyoso," played Orly, a dogged documentary film maker from Manila, whose humanity was also put to the test in Cupang. Sandino Martin, fresh from his two acclaimed musical films "Changing Partners" and "Ang Larawan" played Chayong's suitor, Pilo, whose pent-up frustrations were just waiting to explode. Floyd Tena, whom I only first knew from "Maynila" last year, played the cynical (and smoking!) parish priest

Neomi Gonzales and Sandino Martin as Chayong and Pilo

Under the visionary direction of Ed Lacson Jr., this present staging made those emotions as raw as possible. There was no orchestra, just a piano. There were no microphones used, just pure voice. There was not a single dance number, as may be expected from musicals. The whole room at PowerMac Center Spotlight was used as the performing area, with sections of the audience area also covered with thatch roofs to make us feel like we are curious onlooking residents of Cupang as well. Ads promised this show will be an immersive experience, and I completely see and felt what they mean. We felt the fanaticism. We felt the greed. We felt the tragic irony of it all. 

The standing ovation that ensued after the haunting final scene was long and thunderous. The whole cast took their slow bows, many of them were wiping tears off their faces, fully taking in the moment and the appreciation of the crowd. It is just February, but as early as now, I think I had just watched a prime contender for Best Musical Production of 2018!


"HIMALA" runs from February 10- March 4, 2018 at the PowerMac Spotlight, Level 2, Circuit Lane, Circuit Makati.  Show dates are: Sat Feb 10 2018 - 8:00 PM, Sun Feb 11 2018 - 2:00 PM, Sat Feb 17 2018 - 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM, Sun Feb 18 2018 - 2:00 PM, Sat Feb 24 2018 - 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM, Sun Feb 25 2018 - 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM, Fri Mar 2 2018 - 8:30 PM, Sat Mar 3 2018 - 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sun Mar 4 2018 - 2:00 PM. Tickets at P2,500 (Blue Patron), P1, 700 (Gold),  P1,300 (Red) and P1,000 (Black, with restricted views). Rated R-13.


PS: Watching the press preview last night had the incomparable bonus treat of seeing the original Elsa herself, Ms. Nora Aunor. At the end of the show, after director Lacson gave his thank you speech, Ms. Aunor was called down to join the cast for photos. I felt the star-struck exhilaration of the cast as they were individually acknowledged by the Superstar. Later the original cast of the musical (Bayot, Alvarez and Dulce) all joined in to take photos with the new cast. These were really gratifying scenes to witness and remember. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review of Rep Phils' A COMEDY OF TENORS: Doppelganger Distress

January 28, 2018

In recent years, Rep had staged a number of Ken wacky comedies written by playwright Ken Ludwig. They did "Shakespeare in Hollywood" in 2011, "Leading Ladies" in 2012, and "The Game's Afoot" (MY REVIEW) in 2016.  This year, as the opening salvo for their 81st season, Rep decides to stage yet another Ken Ludwig play. This time, it is the sequel of the first play by Ludwig that Rep did a little ways back 15 years ago. 

In 2003, Repertory Philippines opened their 66th season with Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor". Directed by Zenaida Amador, that production starred Miguel Faustmann as famed Italian tenor Tito Merelli and Joy Virata as his wife Maria. Arnel Carrion played the harassed show producer Henry Saunders and Michael Williams played his mousy assistant Max, who turned out  to have a hidden talent. Liesl Batucan played Saunder's daughter Maggie, on whom Max had a crush. Rem Zamora played a funny fanboying hotel bellhop.

In its sequel, "A Comedy of Tenors," all those crazy characters are back in a madcap mistaken-identity comedy, as its Shakespeare-inspired title suggests. Henry Saunders had now leveled up to be producing a major opera concert in Paris, France.  Max had also leveled up, from being Saunder's assistant, then son-in-law (as Max married Maggie), and now, also a bonafide opera performer in this concert, sharing the spotlight with no less than "Il Stupendo" Tito Merelli himself.

Tito Merelli is going through some midlife crisis drama -- marital insecurity regarding his wife Maria's fidelity, parental insecurity regarding his daughter Mimi's purity, and career insecurity regarding up and coming young tenor Carlo Nucci. All these problems troubling Tito blow up in a major hullabaloo just two hours before the show was about to begin and all the well-laid plans about the concert began to unravel in a wild pace. As 
Henry and Max scrambled to find a replacement for Tito, they suddenly heard Beppo the bellhop belt out an aria!

I knew that Lorenz Martinez can hit those high notes from the first time I saw him as lead performer in "Lorenzo" (2013) (MY REVIEW).  However, this is the first time I heard him actually sing operatic arias, and with conviction at that. Since he played both Tito (the temperamental star) and Beppo (the loquacious bellhop) who were both opera-singing Italians with heavy accents, Martinez had to comically convince us that they were two different people, giving each character his own subtle quirks. I was amazed at how he can emerge from doors on opposite sides of the stage as different guys one scene right after the other. I can just imagine all the running he had to do backstage.

Arman Ferrer makes his debut in a comedy, and in Repertory Philippines, with this play. He is clearly the most comfortable when it comes to opera singing among the actors. You can clearly hear his classical training when he sings his arias. His comedy timing may still need a little honing compared to his co-stars, but this guy can act as well as he can sing.

Noel Rayos is really very versatile and dependable when it comes to singing, as well as outrageous comedy, as we remember him in his most memorable roles in "Walang Sugat" (MY REVIEW) and "The Producers" (MY REVIEW). Roles like Harry Saunders come so naturally for Jeremy Domingo. He could do roles like this blindfolded already. The more problems his concert had, the more stressed out Henry got, the funnier Domingo became. 

Issa Litton impressed me with her performance in "Mga Ama, Mga Anak" (MY REVIEW) last year, and she was again a sexy comic standout in this one as Tito's elegant fiery wife Maria. Mica Pineda had a very daring opening scene with a mere throw pillow covering her torso. She did her loud and lively best to beef up her role as Tito's daughter, Mimi.  Shiela Valderama-Martinez played Racon, a Russian soprano diva and Tito's former one-night stand who wanted to rekindle their romance. I do hope they change the gown she was wearing because those extra folds of fabric in the front do not look flattering on her at all. 

Domingo, Valderrama, Martinez, Litton and Ferrer at their curtain call

The pace of the play was snappy especially in the Act 1 which was fun and delightful. Act 2 was initially bogged down with those stretched-out Beppo soliloquies with the tongue dish. But it picks up its pace after those were over and done with, leading to a hilariously energetic climax with the two Titos and their ladies. On a side note, I hope they reconsider deleting that scene where Beppo groped Mimi's tush. The audience who was laughing out loud just earlier suddenly fell silent at that awkward scene.

Anyhow, the best thing about this play was that we treated to lead actors who were able to actually sing their operatic arias live! That rehearsal scene of the three tenors singing an aria from La Traviata (I think) was really so good. 

With Miguel Faustmann in the director's chair, we get another slickly-staged over-the-top farcical comic treat that Rep does so well. The comic situations came at us fast and furiously, as well as those silly one-liners with various opera references true fans will lap up with glee. Frankly, I thought having an uncanny doppelganger was a corny plot device, but it was able to effectively bring about a merry-mix up of events as could be for the audience to be thoroughly entertained.


A COMEDY OF TENORS runs from January 26 to February 18, 2018 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Show schedule is at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3:30 pm matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost ₱1,500 for Orchestra Center (Reserved Seating) and ₱1,200  for Orchestra Sides (Free Seating).

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review of PETA's 'NIGHT, MOTHER: Devastating Depression

January 24, 2018

The 50th year anniversary celebration of PETA began with a blast in March 2017 with the restaging of their massive 2012 box-office hit "Care Divas". In August, PETA had a colorful and delightful new original show for children entitled "Tagu-taguan, Nasaan ang Buwan?" Just last November, PETA returned to its original stage at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago to stage "Ang Buhay ni Galileo." After those three bombastic shows with big all-star casts, PETA chose to close its golden season very quietly with this intense serious drama starring only two actresses.

A middle-aged epileptic woman Jessie, estranged from her building contractor husband and drug addict son, lived with her elderly widowed mother Thelma. One seemingly normal Saturday night, Jessie was preparing to give her mother her regular manicure. Without any apparent warning, Jessie calmly announced to her mother that she will be committing suicide later that night. Shocked and distraught, Thelma desperately tried everything she could as a mother to stop her daughter's fixed decision. 

The original material was written by American playwright Marsha Norman. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was first staged on Broadway in 1983 with Annie Pitoniak as Thelma and Kathy Bates as Jessie. It was nominated for a Tony for Best Play. It has a revival in 2004 with Brenda Blethyn as Thelma and Edie Falco as Jessie. In 1986, there was a film version starring Anne Bancroft as Thelma and Sissy Spacek as Jessie. As skillfully adapted into Filipino by Ian Lomongo, the play transformed into something so authentically Pinoy, you'd think it was originally written that way. 

For an intimate two-hander play, the set by production designer Ben Padero was huge. It was a detailed interior of a bungalows with a typical design for the 1950s.  The living room had a sala set and television, with shelves full of books. Behind, there was a small flight of stairs up to go to their bedrooms. The kitchen had full cupboards, a working refrigerator and running water form the sink. Above we see some obvious wear and tear on the wooden parts of their house, betraying its age and lack of maintenance. It was a regular middle class Filipino household, could be ours or could be our neighbor's.

I had seen Sherry Lara before in plays like "Walang Kukurap" (MY REVIEW) and "Betang" (MY REVIEW), so I am fully aware of her acting talents. But her performance as Thelma is on a much higher level because she felt so real. We identify with her desperation and exasperation all the way from Jessie's startling declaration all the way up to that hair-raising ending. We hope we never have to hear that kind of statement ever in our lives and then live that devastating night down for the remainder of our lives. Yet Ms. Lara had to go through this emotional roller coaster with every performance. 

We know Eugene Domingo more as a movie ("Kimmy Dora" immediately comes to mind) and TV comedienne. I had seen her act on stage before, also in PETA, five years ago in the stage version of "Bona" (MY REVIEW). She did not star in a play since then until now. Like Ms. Lara, Domingo played it so naturally. We know Jessie is a majorly depressed person, but for that evening, she was unusually chatty and lucid. Her plan was all laid out so neatly, so organized and thorough.  Domingo kept our attention riveted on her through all those mundane things she did all night. The whole performance is spine-tingling, knowing what it would be all leading up to.

I had previously seen Director Melvin Lee sing and act as Chelsea in "Care Divas" (MY REVIEW), dance as Sabel in "Sayaw Sabel" (MY REVIEW) and direct in "Mapagbirong Haplos" (MY REVIEW).  For this new play, Lee made this heart-wrenching heavy drama also as much a heart-pounding suspense thriller. The lighting design by Jonjon Villareal and music by Vincent de Jesus all worked to hold us at the edge of our seats throughout its approximately 90 minute running time. Watching that real-time clock on stage was like watching a ticking time bomb about to explode.  

After the play, the stage was set up for a debriefing Q and A session led with psychiatrists experienced with suicides. The intensity and sensitivity of the play's topic, coupled with the very realistic presentation seen onstage, demands such a session for the audience to discuss and ventilate about the traumatic event they just saw transpire in front of their eyes. May this play help us in recognizing suicidal depression and hopefully make positive action to avert any tragic consequences of such distressing mood disorders. 

Post-Show photo of cast with director Melvin Lee, 
writer Ian Lomongo and crew


PETA's 'NIGHT MOTHER runs at the PETA Phinma Theater Fridays to Sundays (3 pm and 8 pm shows) from February 2 to March 18, 2018. Tickets are available at Prices: ₱1,800 for VIP, ₱1,500 for Orchestra Center, ₱1,200 for Orchestra Side, ₱1,500 for Balcony Center and ₱800 for Balcony Side.

FLASHBACK Recap and Videos: PETA's SAYAW SABEL (2010)

June 26, 2010

This is the 3rd and final event of PETA's East West Danse event which spanned the whole month of June.  Of the three shows, it is "Sayaw, Sabel" which had generated the most hype and excitement.  Many big names in various fields of Filipino arts are involved. The huge turnout tonight proved its popularity.  Tonight was a full house.

This dance showcase is a product of director and choreographer Ms. Agnes Locsin.  She was once artistic director and chief choreographer of Ballet Philippines in the 90s, now based in Davao City.  She is known for merging Western classical dance technique with Philippine neo-ethnic movements.  I beleive she does a lot of this in "Sayaw, Sabel".

The inspiration behind "Sayaw, Sabel" is the painting called "Sabel" by National Artist Mr. Benedicto Cabrera.  This painting "Sabel" was described by its creator Bencab to be "a melancholic symbol of dislocation, despair and isolation--the personification of human dignity threatened by life's vicissitudes, and the vast inequities of Philippine society."  "Sayaw Sabel" on the otherhand, is described in its synopsis as "a collection of dances depicting how Filipinos go through life in the midst of all their troubles and tribulations with shining resilience."

The unique feature of "Sayaw Sabel" is that the lead role of Sabel will be performed by a different featured theater actor each night, making each show different from the others.  Also, Each show will have seven dance artists and a featured theater artist portraying the title role. In an article in Malaya, Locsin said that the seven dancers of each show will also depend on who is available at the time.

In 2 pm show today, Sabel was played by PETA Artistic Director Ms. Maribel Legarda.  For the show I watched tonight, Sabel was played by a theater actor and director named Melvin Lee.  I honestly have not heard of him before, but he seemed to have a lot of fans in the audience, as he was always very warmly applauded.  Other actors set to play Sabel in future stagings are Nonie Buencamino and his wife Shamaine Centenera.

The music of "Sayaw, Sabel" comes from Louie Ocampo and Joey Ayala.  Additional sound design and music was by Jakob Rodriguez with selected OPM songs of Celeste Legazpi, Basil Valdez, Parokya ni Edgar, Noel Cabangon, and Aegis. Poetry by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera was also used.  Mr. Lumbera was in the audience last night.

The seven dances performed in "Sayaw Sabel" last night were (there would be several other dancers with other dance pieces on other nights):

1.  "Kayod" by Judell de Guzman-Sicam.  Ms. Sicam was dancing with an office chair with wheels.  Based on the title, I take it this represents people so tied up with their respective jobs in order to make ends meet.

2.  "Batak" by Dwight Rodrigazo.  Mr. Rodrigazo was dancing with a piece of cloth, like a security blanket.  I honestly cannot guess what this dance was about.  Not even the title gives me a clue.  It could be about drugs.  But despite this, I found this performance to be strong, riveting and interesting. (VIDEO)

3.  "Abandonada" by Christine Crame.  Ms. Crame was dancing with what looked like a very big piece of white paper.  I do not know what the paper was about, but the title suggests she had been abandoned by her husband.  The first part of her dance was to the Visayan song "Usahay", while the second part was to the Aegis song "Halik."  Very innovative.  (VIDEO)

4.  "Sugat" by Annette Cruz-Mariano.  Ms. Mariano was dancing with a huge black fishing net.  Based on the title, and the voiceover, this dance represented being trapped by scars inflicted by abuses in the past.  The net provided Ms. Mariano the means to deliver a haunting and meaningful dance performance.  This was truly memorable.

5.  "Bagong Bayani" by Monique Uy.  Ms. Uy was dancing with a Balikbayan Box.  But actually she gets help from three other girls in this number.  Ms. Uy does not really get a substantial solo. Based on the title, this dance was obviously about Overseas Filipino Workers.  The number was rather straightforward with familiar and easier to access modern dance steps.  (VIDEO)

6.  "Sino Ka?" by Perry Sevidal.  Ms. Sevidal started by dancing with a piece of newspaper, but danced the rest of it by herself.  Again this is a number which I do not really know what it means, by the dance nor by the title. In fact I do not really remember much about it now.  She did dance to "HIndi Kita Malimot" as sung live by Sabel.  Maybe that is why I remember the song more than the dance.

7.  "Ako Una" by Camille Ordinante-Joson. Ms. Joson started by dancing solo, but the more remarkable part of her dance involved her interaction with other dancers.  We see her getting in conflict with other people.  There was literal pushing onstage!  This was the one moment in the show that was actually funny.  From the title, I take this dance to represent either pushy people in society or crab mentality.

And of course, there is the character of Sabel.  Sabel is dressed in layers of rags.  Her face had thick ghostly make-up.  Her head was covered by a stocking with pieces of hair sticking out.  The seven solo dances of this whole piece was held together and transitioned by this Sabel character.  After each dance, Sabel would come out and interact a bit with each of the other dancers.  (VIDEO)

In this show tonight, Sabel is a he.  Melvin Lee with his bulk and height certainly gave a this Sabel a very different look and presence, compared to what would be expected from a woman.  His solo dance steps during Sabel's highlight which came midway (after the 4th number "Sugat") were a bit shaky, but he was very good in conveying sadness, desolation and confusion in his solo.  His acapella rendition of "Hindi Kita Malimot" for Dance #6 was actually very moving.

Overall, this modern dance piece was thought-provoking and dramatic.  Though it could also easily be interpreted as indulgent and pointless.  I think the whole show could be polarizing, people will either like it or they won't.  The dancing here isn't exactly ballet, nor jazz, nor ballroom, nor hiphop, nor any of the more recongizable dance forms.  I liked certain numbers more than others.  I also liked that it was short (only one hour) with no intermission. 

Based on the audience reaction, last night's staging of "Sayaw, Sabel" was a big success.  And with other theater actors lined up to play Sabel, next stagings promise to be similarly well-received.  Congratulations to the cast and crew of "Sayaw, Sabel" and PETA!