Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review of UPPT's ANGRY CHRIST: Enthralling Epiphany

April 30, 2017




UP Playwright's Theater (UPPT) is an arm of Dulaang UP started in 1986 by Antonio Mabesa to exclusively stage original plays by Filipino playwrights. As I reviewed the list of plays produced by UPPT, I realized that the only play of theirs I had seen before was "Death in the Form of a Rose" by Anton Juan, and that was back in their 5th season (1991-92), staged at the Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan in the Faculty Center. 

The first Floy Quintos play I had seen was "Collection" staged by Dulaang UP in 2013 (MY REVIEW), directed by Dexter M. Santos. I had seen two other Quintos - Santos collaborations since then, both by Dulaang UP -- "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" (MY REVIEW) and "Ang Huling Lagda ni Apolinario Mabini" (MY REVIEW)-- both excellent shows as well. 

This new Quintos - Santos collaboration is inspired by the real life story of Alfonso Ossorio, a Filipino artist who painted on a wall in the sanctuary of a chapel in Victorias, Negros Occidental in 1950. The creation of this mural, called "Angry Christ," was the source of much turmoil and controversy for Ossorio, but it eventually became a high point of his career as an artist, and the work he will be remembered for in the land of his birth. 

I did not know that this play was based on a real person or events. I confess that I had never heard of Alfonso Ossorio the artist, or about this bold church mural of his before watching this play. As the play unfolded, I recalled Quintos' other play about art that I had seen before -- "Fluid." (MY REVIEW). I was swept with the feeling of how this story of artistic angst was perfect for Floy Quintos to weave his dramaturgical magic.

Quintos built up dramatic tension of Ossorio's internal and external struggles with such eloquent impact. While he admits literary license with the inclusion of a Christmas manger scene and Holy Week penitential rites, but these were very vividly effective in making the audience understand Ossorio's fascination with the Christ figure. Quintos credits art consultant Liliane 'Tats' Manahan for keeping his script loyal to artistic temperament of his subject and assuring accuracy in the production design of Gino Gonzales. He uses the device of Lecturer, smartly played by Micaela Pineda (alternating with Arya Herrera), to deliver the expository details.

For a second consecutive time this year, Nelsito Gomez is playing an artist with a controversial painting about Jesus Christ against popular conventions of religious art. In "My Name is Asher Lev" (MY REVIEW), Gomez played a Jewish artist who faced controversy with his avant garde painting of a crucifixion scene. 

As Alfonso Ossorio, Gomez here faced similar artistic dilemmas but with more complex conflicts. Instead of mere canvas, his painting will be on a wall to be seen by simple farmers every time they hear Mass that in that chapel. Artistic conceits aside, Ossorio was a wealthy man whom the whole community kowtowed to and called "señorito". On top of all that, Ossorio was also a homosexual, feared and derided by society. To his credit, Gomez was able to delineate one conflicted artist character from the other, which is no mean feat. This was definitely not just a case of Asher Lev transported to 1950s Negros. 

Playing the innocent farmhand Anselmo in perfect contrast against Alfonso's worldly gay artist is Kalil Almonte. As with his past plays that I had seen like "Games People Play" and "Fluid", Almonte can convincingly play a country bumpkin ripe for corruption with his wide-eyed quizzical look and his heavily-accented line delivery.

Adelaide de Bethune was a Belgian-born American artist who did the mosaics of the chapel's outer walls. Banaue Miclat-Jannsen gave her such a charming and delightful disposition, especially when she was able to pick up the native language. There was a scene there when Ade had to shout, and I feared for Ms. Banaue's precious vocal folds for a while. (Stella Cañete-Mendoza alternates in this role.)

Padre Nunelucio was the local parish priest who represented the Church's resistance against Ossorio's progressive artistry. He was played with studied wariness by ever-reliable Juliene Mendoza. (Jojo Cayabyab alternates in this role.) Jose Nava was a Communist rebel who used to be an artist, actor and writer. He was played with powerful dignity by Greg de Leon. (Neil Tolentino alternates in this role.) Alexander Cortez, Randy Villarama, Felipe Ronnie Martinez and Jomari Jose complete the primary cast. 

Jose, Mendoza, Miclat, Gomez, Almonte Villarama, Pineda, and Valdez
 at the Curtain Call

The lighting design of veteran Monino Duque was on point throughout. The musical score of Krina Cayabyab consisted of traditional folk songs, classical tunes (Verdi, Chopin) and jazz classics (by Gershwin, Holiday). I had never seen video designs so critical in the success of a production than the work of Steven Tansiongco here. 

Dexter M. Santos translated Quintos' ideas so well on that stage with such vibrancy of vision, with his own distinctive brand of fluid stage choreography. The two and half hours (with 10 minute intermission) of the play never became dull even if it had several scenes of deep wordy internal dialogue. The climactic reveal of the final mural at the end was so enthralling and magical that the whole audience was in absolute awe. 


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"Angry Christ" runs from April 26 - May 14, 2017 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2F, Palma Hall, UP Diliman. Show times are at 7:00 p.m.for Wednesdays to Fridays; with 10:00 a.m and 3:00 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. For further inquiries, please contact Arkel Mendoza, DUP’s Marketing Manager, through 0917-967-3616.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review of Twin Bill's W;T: Compassion for Cancer

April 19, 2017




I thought it was an astute decision of Twin Bill Theater to stage this particular play in the Mandel Hall on the second floor of their Main Library building in the Trinity University of Asia campus. The flagship course of TUA is Nursing, and this 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson could not have been staged in a more appropriate venue.

Dr. Vivian Bearing PhD, a stern 50-year old university professor specializing in 17th century English poetry, particularly those by John Donne, had been diagnosed of having Stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer. Her oncologist, Dr Harvey Kelekian is giving her an experimental chemotherapeutic treatment regimen consisting of eight rounds at full dosage. 

Having no family nor friends, she did not have any visitors at the hospital except for the callow Dr. Jason Posner, the fellow who coldly treated Vivian as simply a subject of his research. Fortunately, her nurse Susie Monahan still showed Vivian the compassion she so longed for. This made Vivian realize her own faults as she faced mortality.


Tami Monsod as Vivian Bearing

As a medical professional myself, I was totally riveted to the subject matter of the play --cancer. In my field, I encounter cancer patients frequently, and the years that pass do not make it any easier to deal with them as individuals. It is always difficult to break the news of their dire diagnosis to them.  I always take my time when I speak with a cancer patient on their initial consult, every follow up thereafter, sometimes up to their death bed. I have to find the balance between explaining the gravity of the condition but at the same time still be encouraging and positive. I hope I never come across the way Jason did to Vivian.

This play gives me a view from the cancer patient's side -- what the patient thinks as we attend on him, as we discussed his case during Grand Rounds. While I always strive to establish rapport with my patients, but it can't be helped to keep a certain distance for the sake of professional objectivity. In clinical practice, most patients simply do not open up as much as Vivian does in this play, so her frank and incisive commentary about her illness, her doctors and her therapy are important to me as a cancer surgeon. 

Secondarily, as a lover of the English language, I enjoyed this play's wit as Vivian related her present state with her opinions about English vocabulary, poetry, syntax and grammar. That scene where college-age Vivian and her mentor Prof. Ashford argued about the difference of punctuation marks in a famous John Donne poem and that scene where the five-year old Vivian discovered the word "soporific" from reading a Beatrix Potter book with her father were both fascinatingly executed.


Concepcion, Bradshaw, Monsod and Reyes

Bald and gaunt, Tami Monsod played Vivian Bearing very realistically -- so realistically that it was disturbing and astounding at the same time. Her complex lines all delivered perfectly -- at first with the prideful confident elocution of a university English professor who lived and breathed John Donne, progressively fading into the weak halting phrasing of a dying terminal patient. She literally deteriorated in front of our eyes, it was chilling. She was so committed to her role, it was as if she was not acting. I witnessed method-acting live right there on that stage, and it is unforgettable.

With his facial hair and deep voice, Raymund Concepcion projected authority in the three characters he played: as Vivian's attending Dr. Kelekian, as Vivian's logophile father, and as Vivian's only friend Prof. Ashford (a role originally played by a female). Bibo Reyes, all bright-eyed and preppy, effectively played the callous Jason to be a model of how a doctor should NOT act or speak in front of a patient. Mikkie Bradshaw, with her sweet face and voice, played Nurse Susie, Vivian's sole ray of sunshine in her confinement.

The other actors who played the various med students, lab technicians and Vivian's college students were Jillian Ita-as (in a non-singing role this time) and Twin Bill co-founder Francis Mattheu (along with twin brother of ace lighting director Joseph Mattheu). To add authenticity, two actual Trinity nursing students, namely Annika Estrada and John de Lima, were also cast in these minor roles. 

I extend my sincere congratulations to the director Steve Conde and his whole Twin Bill Theater crew for choosing yet another well-written, topically significant play to produce. Like "Suicide Incorporated" and "My Name is Asher Lev" before it, this new play "W;t" is again so ideally cast and so inventively staged with the minimum of props. Bravo!


The cast and crew of "W;t"

I wholeheartedly recommend this play as required viewing for medical students, residents and especially Oncology fellows and even consultants.  Watching how insensitively the doctors were portrayed in this play is very eye-opening. Doctors should honestly reflect upon themselves if the behavior they see onstage mirrored their own. All the medical knowledge and skill we possess cannot make up for atrocious bedside manner. Kindness is a key virtue for doctors, as it is for everyone.


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"W;t" only has a very limited run of only 4 shows: April 29, 3pm and 8pm, April 30, 3pm and May 2, 8pm. Tickets at ₱ 1,000 and ₱ 800 via Ticketworld. You can call 09274604652 for further inquiries.

Trinity University is very accessible to public transport as several jeepneys pass through E. Rodriguez Ave. The venue proper is Mandel Hall, about 100m walk from the gate. Bring an ID to show the guard as per university rules.  


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Recap of the TDR of COMPANY CALL: ATENEO BLUE REP @25

April 8, 2017




Honestly I am not sure I had ever seen a production of Ateneo Blue Repertory (or blueREP for short). (I recall watching a production of "Suessical" in Ateneo many years back, but unsure if that was blueREP or not.) Anyhow, because this theater company is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year via a reunion concert, I thought it would be very interesting to go watch, in order to see how they put up a show and who among the current crop of actors were blueREP members once upon a time.

Two anniversary concerts were supposed to have been staged today, April 8, 2017 at the Cine Adarna, UP Film Institute in UP Diliman. However, yesterday after, there was an announcement that the 3 pm show had been cancelled due to "unforeseen circumstances and technical difficulties." There will only be one show left, the 8 pm show, which I could not watch. However, I found out from a friend that they are opening the technical dress rehearsal (or TDR) that afternoon to the public. Thankful for this chance, I rushed over after work and reached the venue before the TDR started about 4 pm.


AM, Mia and future AM

The show proper had a unifying story (script by Gabbi Campomanes and her team) upon which the retrospective of past productions will be organized around. It involved AM and Mia, a couple of blueREP staff members who only had a few minutes before open house for their 25th Anniversary. They stumbled upon a magical production book which sang songs from old blueREP shows when you flip its pages. When they fight over the book, this causes all the pages inside to fall and scatter out and disappear. 

An mysterious bald man in black appears before AM and Mia and told them that he had come back from the future to help save the history of blueREP from being forgotten and lost. In order to do this, the three of them had to time travel into the past to pick up all the missing pages about each and every past blueREP productions. The three need to work fast because if they do not succeed, every memory about blueREP will fade forever.

We first heard present blueREP members sing the song "Magic to Do" from their maiden production "Pippin"As I learned from a video shown, blueREP was founded in 1991 by Dennis Temporal. For its initial show, Temporal chose "Pippin," which he was able to produce with a grand amount of P2,000. From such a humble and challenging beginning, blueREP had now grown to be the only musical theater group in the Ateneo de Manila University, and the premier college-based musical theater group in the whole country.


Jill Pena and Mako Alonso in "High School Musical"

These present members were practically in every suite throughout the show. They definitely got their hearty fill of physical and artistic challenges doing this show, either by themselves or supporting the visiting guest alumni performers. The frenetic and colorful suites for "High School Musical" ("Stick to the Status Quo") and "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" ("Pandemonium") were particularly fun and entertaining.

Then we see a series of blueREP alumni to perform their respective solo spots. I first recognized Red Concepcion with a song from "Freakshow." Vic Robinson III sang "Lost in the Wilderness" from "Children of Eden." Mako Alonso performed the title song from  "Footloose". Derrick Fuentes sang "Giants in the Sky" from "Into the Woods." Tanya Manalang had a smashing rendition of "Come to Your Senses" from "Tick...Tick...Boom!"  It was a pleasant surprise to hear pianist/musical director Ejay Yatco burst into song, singing "Not a Day Goes By' from "Merrily We Go Along." Abi Sulit soulfully sang final song of Act 1 which was "Home" from "The Wiz."


Gab Medina and ensemble in "Hair"

After a 15 minute intermission, Act 2 began with a suite from "Once on this Island" from the "Prologue" to "We Dance" and "Waiting for Life." Then the scene shifted to the coffee shop setting of the show "Stages of Love" and the ensemble sang "Ale (Na Sa Langit Na Ako)" in counterpoint with "Limang Dipang Tao." 

Maronne Cruz led off the suite from the dark musical "Spring Awakening," singing Wendla's song "Mama Who Bore Me." The boys then followed by singing "The Bitch of Living." Gab Medina took on the role of Melchior to lead the group in the singing of "Totally F**ked." Bibo Reyes took on the big stage by himself for the song "Role of a Lifetime" from "Bare." An suite from "A Little Shop of Horrors" included the song "Feed Me." The psychedelic suite for "Hair" featuring a moving rendition of "Let the Sunshine In." The hip-hop suite for "In the Heights" included the lively rap of "96,000."

A special suite was dedicated to the first original musical of blueREP, "Toilet the Musical" written and composed by Ejay Yatco. The storyline was about painful experiences high school students go through in high school. The dramatic songs were rendered by the ensemble led by Vic Robinson III, Abi Sulit, Boo Gabunada, Gabriela Pangilinan and Nel Gomez.

Since this was only a TDR I am watching, the flow is still rather rough, with uneven transitions from scene to scene with video and sound glitches. The acting and singing was occasionally stilted or awkward, but I am thinking that they were just getting used to the stage set up and blocking. This, after all, is still just a rehearsal. 

I am sure directors Toff de Venecia and Andrei Pamintuan all of these kinks will be ironed out by time the 8 pm concert proper begins -- barely an hour after the rehearsal ended just before 7 pm. I can imagine how awesome the actual show will be. There is no denying the power of youthful zest and energy in this show. Happy 25th blueREP!

Grand Finale



Friday, April 7, 2017

Recap of SINGKUWENTA: The PETA 50th Anniversary Concert

April 7, 2017




The acronym PETA stands for Philippine Educational Theater Association. Established on April 7, 1967 through the pioneering efforts of Ms. Cecilia Guidote Alvarez, the PETA is a theater company that not only focused to staging plays, but it also has an advocacy for teaching theater arts to all Filipinos, as well as to impart social awareness and raise questions that need to be asked. 


Soxie Topacio, Meann Espinosa, Dessa Quesada-Palm

Cris Gonzales, Mae Paner, Joel Lamangan

Today on its 50th anniversary, PETA celebrates its milestone by staging a special invitational concert that aims to remind everyone about how PETA came about, how it developed and survived to this day. It aimed to showcase the various social advocacies that PETA undertakes, apart from its well-known quality stage shows. This stories and ideals were told throughout the show via animated narrations and recollections by PETA stalwarts and mentors: Soxie Topacio, Joel Lamangan, Mae Paner, Dessa Quesada-Palm, Cris Gonzales, and Meann Espinosa

There were 17 musical numbers that comprise the two hour concert directed by Melvin Lee, showcasing the best songs from among the 400 or so plays PETA has produced in the past 50 years. The musical directors of the show were Jeff Hernandez and Myke Salomon, with Jed Balsamo on the piano and Tim Cada and Dodjie Fernandez on guitar.


Pilipinas Suite Singers

The first song number was the PILIPINAS CIRCA SUITE with Joel Lamangan singing about the colonial mentality in theater back in the 60s and 70s. He was given humorous support by Upeng Galang-Fernandez, Avic Ilagan, Glecy Atienza, She Maala, and Neomi Gonzales. Direk Lamangan sang with much gusto despite his very hoarse voice, echoing the old theater sentiment, "The show must go on."

This was followed by a very elegant KUNDIMAN SUITE, including "Sa Loob at Labas" ("Halimaw", 1971, with lyrics by Francisco Balagtas, music by Lutgardo Labad).
The songs were rendered by Upeng Galang-Fernandez, Michael Odeomene, and finally a glorious duet by husband and wife team, Cynthia and Lionel Guico. In this suite, PETA founder Ms. Cecile Guidote-Alvarez was escorted onstage to be serenaded in an early emotional moment of the show.


CB Garrucho and Cecile Guidote-Alvarez


There were also some solo and duet numbers. "Awit ng Karnabal" (from "Ang Buhay ni Galileo") was sung with masculine vigor by Rody Vera. Mr. Vera would then join the beautiful Ms. Dessa Quesada-Palm in a so-called SECTORAL SUITE, including the song "Awit ng Magsasaka" (from "Ang Panunuluyan ni Birheng Maria at San Juan sa Cubao, Ayala, Plaza Miranda, atbp. sa Loob at Labas ng Metro" 1982), and which also featured an exciting rap by Myke Salomon


Michael Odeomene and Neomi Gonzales

"Paghahanap ni Oryang" (from "1896", 1995) was dramatically rendered by a most glamorous Cynthia Guico dressed in a voluminous scarlet gown. “Pagsapit ng Dilim” (“Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas”, 1990, by Aurelio Tolentino) was sung by Michael Odeomene and Neomi Gonzales. The wedding song "Sa Hirap at sa Ginhawa" (from "Canuplin" 1980) was sung by Noel Cabangon and Aicelle Santos.

The GENDER SUITE had the songs "Ako Ito" (from ASL Please", 2004) given a powerful rendition by Jet Barun-Concepcion, "Hanggang Dito Na Lang Ba" (from "Hanggang Dito na Lang at Maraming Salamat" 1997) in a poignant performance by Paeng Sudayan, and "Buhayin ang mga Sana" (from "Libby Manaoag Files" 2000) by the PETA Choir. This suite was capped by "Saan Ka Man Dalhin" (from "Care Divas", 2011) featuring star/musical director Vincent de Jesus along with Ricci Chan, Buddy Caramat and Gio Gahol in their big top hats and fishnet stockings.


Care Divas Vincent de Jesus, Gio Gahol and Ricci Chan

An ETHNIC SUITE showcased the intense dance prowess of Carlon Matobato, Gold Villar-Lim, Gerhard Pagunsan and JP Basco interpreting the songs being sung by guest choir, the UP Singing Ambassadors, including "Iligtas ang Sanggol" and "Sinimulan ang Laban" (both from "Diablos", 1989). 

There was suites from more recent audience favorites, both jukebox musicals. The 3 STARS AND A SUN SUITE featuring songs by Francis Magalona was led by Mark Salomon. Of course, a PETA reunion would be incomplete without highlighting the megahit RAK OF AEGIS in its own suite, led by the original Aileen and Tolits -- Aicelle Santos and Jerald Napoles, with its musical director/original Kenny, also Myke Salomon.

The PETA choir was very hardworking tonight. They were Gold VillarYeyin dela CruzShe MaalaAda TayaoZoey DamagIcee PoUpeng Fernandez and Neomi Gonzales among the ladies, with Gio Gahol, Ian Segarra, Norbs Portales, Paeng Sudayan, Carlon Matobato and John Moran among the guys. 

Aside from participating in other suites, they had their own suites. From the upbeat title tune "Padayon" (2014), they then sang the GOOD VIBES SUITE, which included the songs "Kalikasan" (from "Ang Alamat ng Limbaswang" 1992) and "Bakit Ka Pa Maghihintay" (from "Juan Tamad, ang Diablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto" 2010). They also sang the song "Pag-asa ng Bayan" (from "Batang Rizal", 2007) and "Awit ng Haraya" (from "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang", 2005), as well as the closing song, "Alay ng Lumikha."





The best and most memorable moment of the whole show ago for me was the climactic MAKABAYAN SUITE which began and ended with stirring "Sulo ng Kapatiran" (from "1896", 1995) lyrics by the late Charley de la Paz and music by Lucien Letaba. This penultimate number had the entire ensemble of the night's performers -- from narrators, the singers and the choirs -- all singing together on that stage in one spectacularly inspirational number which ended in a colorful shower of confetti. 

Kudos to all the incredibly multi-talented people behind this uniquely Filipino artistic and educational institution called PETA, past and present, in its first of many 50 years!


The Multi-Talented People of PETA!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review of Rep Phils' IN THE NEXT ROOM, or THE VIBRATOR PLAY: Poked for Passion

April 2, 2017




Repertory Philippines is on its 50th anniversary this year. So far, with the two plays that already came and went this season -- "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" and "Agnes of God" --  Rep is on a roll as these productions have received critical acclaim. For its third offering this year, they chose Sarah Ruhl's 2009 Broadway-debut play "In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play". The catchy yet controversial title alone can surely generate social media buzz and interest potential audiences.

It is the late 19th century somewhere in America. Dr. Givings (Joshua Spafford) is a medical doctor who is known for treating patients, especially ladies, who were afflicted with so-called Hysteria. This was a term used to diagnose any form of inexplicable emotional distress. Since this condition was thought to have been caused by the congestion of "fluids" in the womb, the treatment prescribed involved being stimulated genitally with a vibrator in order to release this pent-up fluid in order to make the patient feel better.

While the good doctor was treating a frigid Mrs. Sabrina Daldry (Caisa Borromeo) and a stressed-out Bohemian painter Leo Irving (Jef Flores) with his new electrical contraption, Givings' own gregarious wife Catherine (Giannina Ocampo) is experiencing depression and insecurity for having to hire another woman Elizabeth (Cara Barredo) to nurse her newborn daughter. As she meets and interacts with these patients, Catherine begins to get curious about what actually goes on in the next room and wants to try her husband's miracle treatment out herself.   

I had already seen a movie before that tackled this very same controversial topic. It was entitled "Hysteria" (2011), starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Because of the sexual nature of the hysteria therapy shown here, the movie could be uncomfortable to watch. However, the interesting depiction of Victorian society mores and genteel execution of the screenplay rose above the potentially raunchy topic. That said though, I still could not believe that this movie was actually based on true events. But then again "Hysteria" was just still just a movie on a screen, "In the Next Room" is a live play -- a big difference!


The beautiful set of Mio Infante

Director Chris Millado told this multi-layered story well. This is the second play by Sarah Ruhl that I have seen this year. Tanghalang Pilipino had just staged a Filipino version of Ruhl's 2003 play "Eurydice". I can see that feminism and female empowerment is an important running theme in both plays. She always told the story in the female point of view. "In the Next Room" was so vibrant in the first act because the shock factor while the shock factor was still fresh. The second act tended to meander and feel long as various issues of the minor characters were being addressed. 

The set designed by Mio Infante was beautiful on its own, with all the Victorian-style furniture and home decor of that period. On the other side of the stage, we see the sterile doctor's clinic with an examination bed, a washing area and an elaborate electrical set-up that includes the titular vibrator. When the characters came out, we see gorgeous Victorian-era costumes by Bonsai Cielo. During the various undressing and dressing scenes, we see just how elaborate they really are. As the script also plays up the advent of electricity, the lights of Katsch Katoy were also essential to the story.



Tami Monsod, Jef Flores, Joshua Spafford, Gianina Ocampo
during the curtain call

I commend the cast for their boldness and commitment to their respective roles. I never would have expected Rep ingenues like the energetic Giannina Ocampo, the endearing Caisa Borromeo and the elegant Cara Barredo all grown-up and being so daring to enact those "sensitive" scenes in front of a live audience. Tami Monsod's deadpan delivery was simply on point as Givings' efficient midwife Annie, whose expertise was giving "manual therapy."

Ever-flamboyant Jef Flores looked like he was having a lot of fun up there. Mustachioed Hans Eckstein gave just the right nuance of a stuck-up husband. Joshua Spafford's epiphany moment is the show's biggest and most meaningful surprise. The comedy somehow diffuses the discomfort of these situations, but this does not detract from the difficulty and challenge of these characters.


Caisa Borromeo, Cara Barredo and Hans Eckstein
during the curtain call


While I was watching this play, it was interesting to note that the women seated around me, both old and young, were in stitches during the therapy scenes. They also gave an audible gasp during that liberating final scene in the snow. Ladies were clearly enjoying this show! The men though, including me, were generally silent. We were all probably trying to figure out in our heads the underlying messages this play wanted to tell us about the desires and frustrations of our dear wives. 


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"In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play" runs weekends at Onstage Theater at Greenbelt 1 in Makati City until Sunday, April 23 with a Holy Week break in between. 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3:30 pm matinees for Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets, call TicketWorld at (632) 891 9999 or visit the website of TicketWorld. Ticket prices: ₱1,045 for Orchestra Center (reserved),  ₱836 for Orchestra Sides (reserved) and ₱627 for Balcony (free seating).


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review of PETA's A GAME OF TROLLS: Awakening from Apathy

April 1, 2017




Because of the resurgence of a certain family back into the political limelight, there had been a slew of plays about Martial Law and its atrocities that had been staged by various local theater groups in an effort to educate millennials about that turbulent time in recent Philippine history. These theater artists have been showing vigilant passion for stemming the unsettling tide of historical revisionism that seems to be steadily being foisted on the new online generation.

The PhilStagers led by Atty. Vince Tanada first had a daring musical called "Katips" (MY REVIEW). In response to a certain controversial burial, a festival of nine one-act plays about Martial Law called "Never Again" (MY REVIEW). Even Ballet Philippines had a unexpected go at it in "Awitin Mo, Isasayaw Ko" (MY REVIEW). Sugid restaged "Buwan at Baril sa E♭ Major" (MY REVIEW) just earlier this year. PETA, presently on its 50th year of cutting-edge Filipino theater, certainly did not pass on the chance to make its own statement. 

Hector is an internet troll whose job was to heckle netizens who were posting against Martial Law. It turns out that he had abandonment issues against his mother Tere who was a deeply-involved activist during the Martial Law days. One night, he gets vivid nightmarish visits from several Martial Law victims. Their stories of torture and injustice shakes Hector up from his political and personal apathy.

Myke Salomon, who has long proven his mettle in both acting and singing, proficiently takes on the lead role of Hector. He does look more mature than the other guys in the troll center and those in his apartment, making him stand out. I was really drawn to the character of Nanay Tere, played by senior PETA artist Upeng Galang Fernandez. It was difficult not to be moved by her simple yet absorbing performance, especially in that moving confessional monologue about her painful past. 

The actors playing the Ghosts of Martial Law Past (Gie Onida as Bobby de la Paz, Norbs Portales as Edgar Jopson, John Moran as Eman Lacaba, Roi Calilong as Macli-ing Dulag and Ada Marie Tayao as Sister Mariani Dimaranan) all gave haunting performances full of depth and respect. Lea Espallardo and Icee Po played multiple supporting roles, and were most remarkable as the game show hosts and the simple folk victims of Martial Law.  

As the main antagonist, Vince Lim was really annoying and slimy as Bimbam, the chief troll and Apo loyalist employer of Hector. His wife in real life, Gold Villar plays Cons, friend-zoned flatmate of Hector and front man of her band the Bugambilyas. This girl can really sing so well, I wished her solo song number lasted longer than it did during the show. Kiki Baento, Jose Lemuel Silvestre, Jason Barcial, Daniel Cabrera and Justin Castillo play the other millennial characters in the ensemble. 

The cast takes their curtain call
"A Game of Trolls" is created by the same two ladies behind the PETA megahit "Rak of Aegis" -- writer Liza Magtoto and director Maribel Legarda. Instead of being a jukebox musical, this new show brought to fore its serious socio-political issues with original songs written by Vincent de Jesus. As before, they told their story with just the right balance between drama and humor, with a bit of romance to spice things up for audiences, especially for the younger ones. 

Using the "A Christmas Carol" device of visiting ghosts was an ingenious way to incorporate the disturbing stories of Bobby de la Paz, Eman Lacaba, Edgar Jopson, Macli-ing Dulag, Sr. Mariani and other unnamed Martial Law victims. That "game show" device for depicting forms of torture employed by the authorities back then was innovative, and the resulting presentation was no less horrifying, as they should. Also a key feature of this play is the interplay of video (by Ellen Ramos and Joee Mejias) with the live action.

That this show is presented in cooperation with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines says a lot about its authenticity as a drama about actual events in history. Meant to tour in colleges and universities around the country, "A Game of Trolls" works not only as a tool of historical instruction, but more so as an impetus for discussion and enlightenment.

The cast members meet their fans in the lobby after the show.


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"A Game of Trolls" is currently on a limited sneak preview run of four shows this weekend of April 1 and 2, 2017, with two shows on each day at 3 pm and 8 pm. Its main run will be during the whole month of September 2017. Venue is at the PETA-Phinma Theater in Quezon City. 

This show is available for mobile performances around the country from May to August and October to December 2017. Interested schools can call Yesh Burce at 0977-8425525. 


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).