Sunday, July 8, 2018

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIV - SET C: The Shrill. The Shocking. The Sweet.

July 8, 2018

Set C of VLF XIV is composed of three strong, well-written one-act plays. Any one or more of them can be in the running for the Revisited Set for next year.


Written by: Ma. Cecilia "Maki" dela Rosa
Directed by: Jose Estrella and Issa Manalo Lopez

The setting was a busy labor room of a public hospital. Veh was a nervous 22-year old who was about to deliver her first baby. Two ladies were there awaiting curettage for a miscarriage: Nay already had many children in a row before, Ate never carried a pregnancy to term. While Dr. Jean and her Nurse were attending to them, two more pregnant women both already about to give birth any moment come in to join in the fracas. 

This play brought me back to the OB admitting section of the UP-PGH where I had spent a number of memorably chaotic and dramatic 24-hour duties, with scenes exactly like the ones depicted or even worse. Writer Maki dela Rosa must have consulted and observed with an OB who trained in a public hospital to come up with such authentic script which was so funny, so witty, yet so heartwarming and affecting.

All the actresses playing the patients tended to be over-the-top noisy, but that was how these scenes unfold for real. Hariette Damole's expressive eyes betrayed Veh's fears. Sheryll Ceasico played that loud busybody character Nay delightfully. Skyzx Labastilla's Ate had a more serious tone because of her inability to bear children. Opaline Santos (finally I get to see her in action) was the typical whiny attention-hound. Ina Azarcon-Bolivar let her inability to pay get in the way of better judgement.

J-mee Katanyag perfectly captured the authority Dr. Jean needed to project to keep everything under her control. Kiki Baento reminded us of our dear nurses who maintain order and carry out orders in the labor room. Sherry Lara played a small but marked role as the janitress who waxed nostalgic about gossip she overheard while working. These are the characters which make the OB labor room run efficiently despite the stressful flurry of activities a steady stream of screaming moms-to-be brings up.


Written by: JV Ibesate
Directed by: Olive Nieto

Neil came back to their family home after 20 years of incarceration for a crime he committed against a student when he worked as a teacher before. Meeting him at home was his younger brother Norman who had been leading a tough life on his own, bearing on his shoulders the bitter stigma of his brother's crime all these years.

This is another one of those plays that need a SPOILER ALERT. It is preferable that you should not know the ending when you go watch it, so you can be properly shocked as the author intended it. JV Ibesate, who just won a Best Actor award at the Gawad Buhay last year, now adds VLF playwright to his credentials. That twisted twist of an ending came from completely out of left field to stun all unsuspecting audiences.

Arnold Reyes is a movie actor, but I had seen him act on stage before (in VLF XII, as MLQ, and as Valmont). Reyes is back in VLF XIV in another controlled and daring performance here as ex-con Neil. Acey Aguilar, whom I've seen twice before (in VLF XI and as a bad cop), looks more mature now than I remembered him. He matched Reyes' daring in his portrayal, but his character had a more damaged, vulnerable persona. Together they wrapped the stage with uncomfortable vibes the whole time, until that startling jaw-dropping surprise that would jar your sensibilities.


Written by: Juan Ekis
Directed by: Eric Villanueva dela Cruz

Peds and Tisha are senior citizens who joined a stage acting workshop. The scene assigned to them involves a kissing scene. Tisha cannot seem to accept that a scene like needed to be done. However, when Peds teased her about her chickening out, Tisha was challenged to prove she is a professional. Can she?

The situation in this comedy is very simple, and can be conveyed in a single sentence. However, writer Juan Ekis was able to stretch this stark plot into a rich and charming character study of two elderly people who are exploring new things and expanding their experiences in their old age. 

This worked mainly because of the sharp comic timing of the two veteran actors, namely Bembol Roco as Pebs and Sherry Lara as Tisha. For this VLF XIV, both are doing double duties. Roco is actually acting in another two-hander "Rosas" in Set B aside from this one. Lara was just seen earlier this same set as one of the ensemble of actresses in "Labor Room." Roco was more upbeat and on point in his portrayal as Pebs here than he was in "Rosas." His Pebs is a old gentleman, but still had that naughty rascal in him. Lara is really a delight playing the sweet and demure Tisha, donning that hilarious Oriental head-dress of hers. Their zippy repartee had the audience in stitches as we waited whether that elusive kiss will ever happen or not.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Review of BINONDO: A TSINOY MUSICAL: Celebrating the Chinese-Filipino Connection

July 2, 2018

In 1986, a Chinese professor related to Ms. Rebecca Shangkuan Chuaunsu his personal love story. The poignant drama of his story stuck with her from that time on. More than 30 years afterwards, Ms. Chuaunsu boldly took on the reins of creative producer, to spark the creation of an original Filipino musical to share that same haunting story with the everyone. This year, her major labor of love finally reached its fruition as "Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical" makes its world premiere on the stage of The Theater at Solaire last weekend.

The year was 1972, on the occasion of the Moon Festival. A Chinese scholar named Ah Tiong, then on a 2-week vacation, dropped into the Lotus Club in Manila. There, he was mesmerized with the beauty of Lily, the featured singer on stage that night. When Lily fumbles on the lyrics of a Chinese song, Ah Tiong gamely went on stage to sing it with her. From that moment was born a resolute love that would face insurmountable adversity. 

"The Moon Represents My Heart"
with Carla Guevara-Laforteza (as Lily)

The role of Lily was played by two of the most-sought after leading ladies in the local theater scene -- Shiela Valderrama-Martinez and Carla Guevara-Laforteza. I had been able to see both of them become Lily in separate shows, and I saw that they imbued the character with distinct personalities. Shiela's Lily was sweeter and demure. Carla's Lily was more spirited and feisty. In either case, it was not difficult to see why both Ah Tiong fell head over heels in love with her. As excellent singers, both ladies had no trouble navigating the challenging songs Lily had to sing, like "Dito sa Binondo" and "Paghihintay."

"Ang Pag-ibig ay Disco"
with David Ezra and Shiela Valderrama-Martinez (as Ah Tiong and Lily)

Ah Tiong was played by David Ezra. This award-winning singer-actor had his stage debut only in 2015, but is now a most in-demand leading man in several shows since then. The role of Ah Tiong was given a lot of difficult songs with soaring notes to sing, like "Kung Sino Nga Bang Una ay Siya Ring Huli". In the upbeat number, "Ang Pag-ibig ay Disco", he had to show off his dancing skills while singing, always a big challange to pull off for any performer. Ezra's voice never faltered, always strong and passionate, in his solos, his duets (with Lily, Jasmine or Carlos), and with whole company. 

(Ezra's alternate in this role is Arman Ferrer, whose career had grown together with Ezra since they had been sharing the stage or alternating in shows like "La Estrella", "Mabining Mandirigma" and coming soon later this year, "Side Show." There is no doubt that Ferrer can likewise pull off the challenge of playing Ah Tiong.)

"Mananagot Ka"
with David Ezra and Noel Rayos (as Ah Tiong and Carlos)

The character Carlos is a Manila-born Chinese-Filipino who had been Lily's friend since childhood. He was played by Noel Rayos, a stage veteran with nearly 100 shows under his belt playing a whole gamut of diverse roles. As Carlos, he gets to show off his comic timing, as well as his dramatic chops. The role of Carlos also gets to sing some punishing songs only the best singers can deliver with confidence, like "Dayuhan sa Puso" and "Ako Ay Pilipino". I consider the latter song as one of the most significant songs in the whole show as it declared that Chinese-Filipinos are indeed true Filipinos, whose loyalty lay with the Philippines, not China -- a sentiment that rings true up to the present time.

(Rayos' alternate in this role is Floyd Tena. I had only seen in him on stage twice before, in "Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag" and "Himala" in smaller roles. Too bad I missed his biggest role to date as Carlos which would really push his vocal and acting skills to the max.)

"Minamahal, Iniibig" 
with Mariella Laurel and David Ezra (as Jasmine and Ah Tiong)

Jasmine is Ah Tiong's childhood friend back in Beijing and the girl he had long been betrothed to marry by their parents. She was played by Mariella Laurel. This is the first time I had seen her onstage before and I thought she stood her ground solidly within all the brimming singing talent on that stage. Her best song for me was "May Tiwala Ako" -- a long-distance duet between her in Beijing and Lily in Manila as they profess their trust in the man they both love, Ah Tiong.

Mrs. dela Rosa, Lily's mother, was played and sung so powerfully by Ima Castro. Every time she dug into her deepest soul as she sang songs like "Tila Kandila", we are all drawn into her inner pain borne out of sincere concern for her daughter's well being. Lourdes, Lily's cousin and confidante, was ably played and sung by Jennifer Villegas-de la Cruz

Dondi Ong and Kay Balajadia-Linggayu (as Mr. and Mrs. Chua)

Mr. and Mrs. Chua, Carlos' parents, were played by noted operatic tenor Dondi Ong and soprano Kay Balajadia-Linggayu (with Carla Guevara-Laforteza alternating). It was a shame that we only get to hear them sing very short verses in the song "Hindi na Magbabago" which they sing with their son Carlos. Russell Magno and Elizabeth Chua played Mr. and Mrs. Zhang, Ah-Tiong's parents. They get to act and sing in heavier dramatic scenes of persecution in the numbers "Ang Bagong Tsina" and "Kalimutan na ang Lumang Pag-ibig".

""Kalimutan ang Lumang Pag-ibig"
with Elizabeth Chua (as Mrs. Zhang)

The key character of 14 year-old schoolgirl Ruby was played very sweetly by Ashlee Factor. Even if she only comes out in a few scenes in Act 2, she got to deliver heartwarming lines and sing one of my favorite songs in the entire show, entitled "Patawad". Her voice possessed a childlike quality which made her perfect for her small yet important role. 

with Rayos, Ashlee Factor (as Ruby), and Ezra

This play employed the device of a Greek chorus to narrate the goings-on between scenes. They were set apart from the rest of the ensemble by their more ornate costumes and make-up. They also served as conscience to various characters -- needling them, goading them, teasing them. They also got to play a number of other minor characters, either Filipino or Chinese, in the lives of our protagonists. The actors in the Chorus were Jim Pebanco, Lorenz Martinez, Khalil Kaimo, Ellrica Laguardia, Rhapsody Li and the irrepressible Tuesday Vargas with her scene-stealing antics. 

Ellrica Laguardia, Tuesday Vargas, Lorenz Martinez, 
Khalil Kaimo, Rhapsody Li and Jim Pebanco (as the Chorus)

The script is in Filipino, written by acclaimed veteran Ricky Lee, along with two younger co-writers Gershom Chua and Eljay Castro Deldoc. It eloquently wove the Fil-Chi love story tightly in the face of historical events in both Manila (Martial Law) and Beijing (Cultural Revolution). The length of the play can intimidating at three hours plus long (with a 15-minute interval in between), but thankfully Director Joel Lamangan made the flow of the scenes easy to follow, so the play was quite engaging and highly entertaining. I do think that the script can still be tweaked (especially in certain clich├ęd melodramatic scenes) so future stagings can be more streamlined. 

Last year, I was introduced to the music of Von de Guzman when I watched "Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag." His songs here in "Binondo" follow generally the same grand flowing style of musical composition. His songs were easy on the ears with their lilting melodies and smooth steady progressions which can reach stratospheric heights as they climaxed. Because of its high difficulty level, it takes a special singer to be able sing and give justice to a Von de Guzman song. Meanwhile, the vibrant choreography by Douglas Nierras certainly gave the huge production numbers involving the whole ensemble (imagine 50+ people dancing in unison) infectious verve and energy.


The big stage of the Theater at Solaire is a challenge for any production designer to fill. Otto Hernandez came up with very impressively huge set pieces which had to be easily moved in and out of stage as the scenes called for them. The concluding scene of Act 1 was a very imaginatively conceived and exectued stage illusion which involved passengers climbing up stairs to board an airplane.The opening scene of Act 2 with an enormous portrait of Chairman Mao overlooking a troop of soldiers waving red flags also had a very haunting effect as the scene depicted unjust violence. The lighting design of Joey Nombres enhanced the grandeur of the sets, as well as emotions of the scenes being depicted.

"Ang Bagong Tsina"

For several years, Ms. Rebecca Chuaunsu had the audacious vision of creating a bridge which would foster the positive values and heritage between the Philippines and China. With "Binondo," her most cherished dream had been realized in a most spectacular fashion, and I extend my hearty congratulations to her!

Ms. Rebecca Chuaunsu (third from left) 
joins her cast and crew at the curtain call

As a final note, I commend the Mandarin language coach for making the Filipino actors sound realistic in the delivery of their Chinese lines and the singing of a famous Chinese song like "The Moon Represents My Heart". However, I look forward to the day when actual Chinoy actor-singers can also get to play the roles of Ah Tiong and Carlos. While the portrayals of Ezra and Rayos of their characters in the present production are effective, I sincerely feel that it would make a significant positive difference in the overall impact of the story when the casting could somehow be more authentic.  


"Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical" opened last June 29, 2018 at the Theater at Solaire and will run for two weekends up to July 8, 2018. Showtimes are at 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices: ₱4,000 (Premium Center), ₱3,000 (Premium Side), ₱2,500 (Orchestra Center), ₱2,000 (Orchestra Side), ₱1,000 (Balcony Center) and ₱500 (Balcony Side).

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIV - SET D: Of Disputes, Decisions and Debauchery

July 1, 2017


Written by: Tyron Casumpang
Directed by: Ariel Yonzon

The play was set in a feeding center where a group of Christian and Muslim volunteers prepare food for the evacuees, especially the children. It had been four months since Maute-ISIS had laid siege on Marawi City, and the bombs are still falling around them. They sing to release their pent-up fear and pain.

Writer Tyron Casumpang had actually gone to Marawi with fellow Ateneo teachers and got inspired to write this play about the food volunteers he met there. While the intentions are sincere, one cannot help but feel that the story felt incomplete, that this play was just scratching the surface with familiar conflicts. It could still be expanded into a full-length play to better cover all relevant issues. The side issue between the music therapy volunteers from Manila (played by Lhorlie Ann Nuevo and Nazer Salcedo) felt forced and unclear.

Jonathan Tadioan was right at home playing Kuya Jhong, the gentle and optimistic team leader who was also worried about his sick son back home. The most memorable song in the musical was a plaintive prayer to Allah sung by Muslim characters Salanka (Junelie Barrios Villegas -- more popularly known as Bayang Barrios) and Khalid (Poppert Bernadas) as they plead for the safety of Abdul, Salanka's husband and Khalid's brother. That one song lifted the whole play up to an ethereal level with their beautifully emotional singing. The three kids Marlowe Concepcion (Yusof), James Ramil Garlando (Asis) and Tyrone de la Cruz (Moner) all sing very well.


Written by: Lino Balmes
Direted by: Tess Jamias

Chona and Ramil were informal settlers who lived under a railroad bridge with their young son Igit. Day in and day out, the couple argued loudly about their wretched living conditions where every train that passes would shower a coat of dust over everything they owned. A recurrent point of contention were the decisions Ramil made a few months ago when he had the chance to win a million pesos as a contestant on TV's "Pera o Bayong."

Writer Lino Balmes caught an episode of real "Pera o Bayong" on TV and got curious to explore about the aftermath of those situations when the contestant did not win. The way director Tess Jamias staged those flashback scenes with every train that passed was so effective, with the shower of dust from above, the loud engine noise and the mesmerizing strobe lights. Kudos go to production designer John Carlo Pagunaling and Lights desinger Barbie Tan-Tiongco for coming up with these realistic technical details.

I had seen Bong Cabrera before as a loud-mouth brother in "Ang Naghihingalo" (VLF X). He plays another loud-mouth character here, and again he was so effective. He may have had a fumble with the lines (or the timing) at the end which affected the dramatic twist at the end a bit. Marjorie Lorico had once won Female Lead Performance in a Play for “Nobyembre, Noong Akala Ko Mahal Kita” back in 2012, and you can see why with her loud, passionate and committed performance here. The stage time of John Paulo Rodriguez (as Igit) was very short, but it was a painful scene which will haunt you for a long time.


Written by: Allan Lopez
Direted by: Chris Martinez

Abe and Mara  met while undergoing chemotherapy of their respective cancers. Despite their health conditons, the two got along well and had an affair. Abe was still married to a very busy wife, but he did not want to bother her with his needs, medical and otherwise. Mara was a spinster who was just liberated from her responsibilities and was now free to explore life on her own. 

Writer Allan Lopez had a solid idea -- ruminations about the temporariness of human pleasures vis a vis the permanence of death, while checked into a sleazy motel for some short-time sex. The title alone, alluding to the river in Greek myth where people bathe to forget, tesitified to the depth of the writer's intention. Director Chris Martinez decided to insert interludes of  "cleaners" dancing salaciously around the room before and between the more serious scenes between Abe and Mara. While definitely attention-grabbing, liking them or not is a matter of personal taste. I do not really see why these cleaners were there (aside for shock factor) or what they symbolize (if any).

Veteran VLF actors Paolo O'Hara and Dolly de Leon play Abe and Mara so naturally and so fearlessly, such that it gave the feeling that everybody in the audience were voyeurs invading their intimate time. I'd seen O'Hara go sleazy before when he did "Macho Dancer the Musical" back in VLF XI. I had been a fan of Dolly de Leon since "Ang Naghihingalo" (VLF X). As Mara, she gave a stirring performance of such deep sensitivity that went well beyond the dirty talk and sexual acrobatics her role required.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIV - SET B: Of Flowers, Fantasy and Fiction

June 28, 2018

I have been watching the Virgin Labfest at the CCP for five years in a row now. The fresh one-act plays chosen for this festival had been exceptional theater pieces, and this year is already its 14th year, with the provocative theme of "Silip". This year, 150 scripts had been submitted and the top 12 were chosen to be staged. 

Last year I had been able to catch all 12 plays, the first time I has been able to do so. This year, with all the road works causing more traffic in the Metro, I am not sure yet if I can do it again.  The venue this year was still the CCP Little Theater Aurelio Tolentino, same as last year. VLF XIV opened yesterday with Set A. Today, I attended the premiere staging of the Set B plays, which were the following:


Written by: J. Dennis Teodisio
Directed by: Charles Yee

Ex pro photographer Anding is now old and blinded by his diabetes. One day, he came back to the reunite with his best friend Merto in his former nursing home. Anding thought Merto would never forgive his sudden leaving the home a few years back. As they sat on the swing set in the rose garden, they talk about the old times, and their future together.

Playwright J. Dennis Teodisio wrote this play after visiting a nursing home for aging gay people. It was not glaringly obvious from the script, but upon listening to the conversations  between Anding and Merto, you do get that subtext about them. 

This was a very very slow and quiet play about two old men talking about memories and other mundane things. It was not exactly the best play to watch at siesta time in the afternoon, if you get my drift. Not even the sincere performances of veteran actors Crispin Pineda (as Anding) and Bembol Roco (as Merto) could give it more life. As this was only the first show, tweaks can still be made to liven this up some more.


Written by: Sari Saysay
Directed by: Carlos Siguion Reyna

Three scavenger kids were taking their trolley of trash to the junk shop. They were playing a game of pretend based on the junk they picked up. Pia used a discarded video camera and a damaged keyboard to be a reporter. Roel found an old scrub suit and stethoscope to be a doctor. Lauro used a stick as a gun to be a policeman, like he always did.

Mr. Sari Saysay was able to incorporate so many witty bits of social commentary from several current topics. Through Pia (probably inspired by a controversial Rappler reporter), Saysay discussed freedom of the press, persecution of journalists and the PCOO. Through Lauro, he tackled the issue of EJK and police brutality. Roel's doctor character served as the balancing factor between the two. There were times though when the words used by the kids did not seem consistent with their life condition.

This play joins "Ang Bata sa Drum" and "Ang Mga Puyong" as outstanding VLF plays with kids as main characters. But here, Krystle Campos (Pia), Arthur Castro (Roel) and Jian Markus Tayco (Lauro) are real kids, all not older than 15 years of age, which was impressive. Director Carlos Siguion-Reyna managed to strike the balance between innocent childhood fantasy and harsh violent reality as the script blurred the line between the two.


Written by: Carlo Vergara
Directed by: George de Jesus III

Computer programmer Levi Llorca topped the New York Times Bestseller's List with his debut novel "Revisita," which critics hailed as a perfect mix of the diverse writing styles of Jane Austen and Alex Garland. His loyal partner Barns Noble doubles as his efficient manager to handle his busy schedules and finances. Back in Manila for a series of media activities, Levi made time to meet with old college friend George, now a copywriter and a frustrated novelist.

The name of writer Carlo Vergara is a brand of theatrical excellence. His previous VLF plays, "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," "The Missing Peace" and "Mula sa Kulimliman" all had innovative plots with very entertaining elements. This play was no different, the writing is so logical, witty and smart. This show needs a spoiler warning. One should see it without knowing what it is all about for it to work best.

Ricci Chan was a riot as usual as Barns. In past plays I've seen Ricci in, including VLF plays, he is consistently the life of the show, really so funny. Guelan Luarca, I know as an excellent playwright and translator, but this is the first time I am seeing him as an actor on stage. His portrayal of George is quite delightful in his frustration and desperation. Rafa Siguion Reyna mainly played the straight man of the play, and he held his own ground firmly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review of KLSP's SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED: MACBETH: Engaging and Explanatory

May 29, 2018

From May 28-30, 2018, the Asian Shakespeare Association, an organization dedicated to researching, producing, teaching, translating, and promoting Shakespeare from an Asian perspective, is holding their 3rd Biennial Conference in Manila. Aside from panel sessions, seminars, workshops and screenings, there are also theater performances (with Q&A sessions with the director) scheduled. 

One of them is "Shakespeare Demystified: Macbeth" by the KL Shakespeare Players from Malaysia, performed today at 4 pm in UP Diliman. Since 2011, the KLSP is a theater company in Malaysia that focuses only on Shakespeare’s works. Their signature Shakespeare Demystified series target young audiences. In order to keep them interested in the play, the Players judiciously cut the play short enough (this "Macbeth" was only 110 minutes with a 10 minute intermission) and incorporate explanatory narration in modern English, while still maintaining key scenes in their original text. 

Director Lim Kien Lee demonstrates his Tibetan singing bowl,
as actor Zul Zamir looks on.

The director Lim Kien Lee was also the musician, seated on one side of stage, with his various instruments (like a djembe drum, a Tibetan singing bowl, a thunder-maker drum) on hand to create the mood and tension in the various scenes. 

Once the play started, the five actors never left the stage almost the entire time. They sat on monobloc chairs upstage, waiting for their next cue to enter. Their props and costumes (mostly scarves of different colors) are right there onstage beside their seats. The ensemble acting effort of this multiracial cast was amazing to behold as the actors seamlessly shifted in and out of different characters, plus being narrators to boot.

Macbeth was played by Lim Soon Heng. He may have been the most senior member of the cast, but his energy was electric and his stage presence was very strong as he essayed Macbeth's descent into mad ambition and tyranny. The delivery of his lines was flawless and clear at all times. Lady Macbeth (also Lady McDuff, First Witch and Fleance) was played by Safia Hanifah. She nailed Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene with that chilling soliloquy about the spot on her hands. Her beautiful singing voice was highlighted when Lady McDuff sang a sorrowful lullaby. 

Nave VJ, Safia Hanifah and Ivan Chan in one of their clarificatory scenes.

McDuff and Banquo were played by Zul Zamir. This actor with long hair (which he tied up in a bun as McDuff) delivered on the anguish and anger of his characters. King Duncan (also Ross, Third Witch, Murderer and Messenger) was played by Ivan Chan. This tall bearded fellow was a very lively physical actor. Malcolm (as well as Second Witch, Murderer, and Young McDuff) were played by Nave VJ. This darker-skinned actor had a clear resonating voice which he can delineate the characters he played.

Since I knew the story of Macbeth very well, I knew what was going on even if there were times I did not catch clearly what was being said. Mostly, the shrill cackling voice quality assumed by the witches was not too easy to understand. It was in those scenes that I really appreciated the explanatory narratives woven into the main text. I noted that these were the same explanations I was giving my daughter the first time she watched Macbeth. These clarifying interludes definitely could hook those unfamiliar with Shakespeare into the story.

Q&A session with director and cast after the show
(L-R Ivan Chan, Safia Hanifah, Nave VJ, Lim Soon Heng, Lim Kien Lee, Zul Zamir)

I wish one day I could catch their Demystified performances of "Othello," "Julius Caesar" or "Merchant of Venice," which I had never seen performed live before. Like the "Macbeth" I just saw, I am sure these other plays will also be as engaging and interesting because of their clear abridged text and enlightening side commentary. Be that as it may though, I know the essential spirit of Shakespeare's story does not get distilled, thanks to the focused direction and impressive acting.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


May 5, 2018

The PSF Theater Festival is not only a forum for some very daring pieces of original Filipino one act plays. For me, I also get a valuable education about the theater process from the commentary given by the illustrious and learned panel of judges and theater professionals in attendance. Like for the third week shows today, I learned a lot about appreciating various aspects of theater from judges Frank Rivera and Rodel Mercado and guests Ronald Carballo, Jeffrey Ambrosio, Robert Encila, and Neil Tolentino. Their spontaneous, frank, passionate and precise comments, borne out of their years of theater experience, were very instructive and enlightening for a theater enthusiast like me, and moreso for the young theater artists in the house.

The workshop showcase this week was "I DIDITH SHOW", the first prize winning play in the 2014 PSF Theater Festival. It is written and directed by JP LopezDidith Lorenzo is a superstar singer who has had been hosting a long-running TV variety show, on air for the past 20 years. In this latest episode of her show, her special guest was a pretty and popular new singer named Love Moreno. The two singers vie to get the upper hand over the other during the whole show. While Love had her boyfriend Stephen (Michael Cabangon) and her manager Ferdie (Roznel Destajo), it seemed that all Didith had on her corner was her loyal gay PA Lilibeth. Or does she?

Love (Rachel) steals the camera from Didith (OJ)

Didith literally steals the camera!

Lilibeth (Ado) makes a move on Stephen

The play is very entertaining, frenetic and hilarious, roasting showbiz stereotypes. At the same time it also had some unexpectedly touching bittersweet moments. OJ Bacor delivered such a rousing bravura performance as Didith, you won't believe he only pitched in today. JP Lopez gave a wry portrayal of the show's cynical floor director Rick. Standing out among the workshoppers was Rachelle Mae Penaflor, a pretty petite girl who exuded Ariana Grande-like confidence and verve as Love; and Ado Tolentino, who gave a poignant performance as Lilibeth, Didith's big fan now her personal slave.

The revisited play of the week was "TULA NI VITO AT LIRA", which won the first prize during the 2016 PSF Theater Festival. The playwright is Rachael Gianan and directed by Vince Tanada. It was Valentine's Day at a Spoken Word Night in a bar, where two contestants tackle three given topics using extemporaneous poetry. The contestants that night were a shy newbie Lira and a confident veteran Vito. As the contest between the two ensue, their poetry revealed a painful past relationship that never had proper closure. 

Gianan, Sadsad, Olmedo

The poetic writing of Gianan in the Filipino language was gloriously eloquent. The delivery of those dueling lines by Vean Olmedo (as Lira) and Kenneth Sadsad (as Vito) was flawless, brimming with sharp emotions that just poured out so naturally from them. Those tears were flowing even when the tension was still on the rise, testifying how deeply in character these two actors were. Their chemistry together was undeniable and vital. Humor was provided by the flamboyant emcee Dindi (Jayjay Andres) to keep the play from going into full-on romantic melodrama mode.

The first play in the main competition tonight was "LUKREZIA" written by first-time playwright Johnrey Rivas and directed by Vince Tanada. An exhausted set designer (JP Lopez) brought in the main prop for their play, a life-size porcelain doll. Going into the doll's history, this doll was created by a man named Vladimir with an obsession for his departed childhood friend Lukrezia. A widow named Olga, who rented a room in Vladimir's house, would soon realize why Lukrezia's face looked very familiar to her.

Adult Vladimir (Magallanes), Lukrezia (Belen) and Young Vladimir (Dean Rafols)

Rivas shared that his play was inspired by a minor news article with a story so bizarre that he felt it would make a perfect macabre play. Gerald Magallanes gave another one of his intense creepy performances as the disturbed doll maker Vladimir. Adelle Ibarrientos with her intentionally melodramatic acting as Olga provided some lightening balance to the dark story. The center of attention though was the riveting performance of Pearl Belen as the doll Lukrezia. With her bright open eyes and limp arms, she had no lines, but she dominated the stage the whole time with her mere chilling presence.

The second play in the main competition and final play of the night was "BABAE NGA NAKA-ITUM" written by Chin Ortega and JP Lopez. This was again directed by Vince Tanada. The story told about beautiful Jacinta (a boldly incandescent Cindy Liper) who was the town's celebrated prostitute, and her profound effect on the devoutly Catholic townspeople, in particular, the grotesquely deformed sculptor Ramon (Chin Ortega) and the spunky lesbian, Judit (Arian Golondrina). 

Cindy Liper

In his introduction, Lopez shared how the script, written in the Ilonggo language (with Filipino surtitles on a TV screen on the side), had been so difficult to write, barely completed four days prior to showtime. While watching the play in progress, you know you are watching something special. Even if you do not really comprehend at once every thing that was going on, this provocative material will make you ruminate about it and discuss it well after its final scene and lights out.

Ramon (Ortega) and Judit (Golondrina)

As the show was in progress, one can only stare in awe in how the director Tanada was able to achieve such a complexly artistic staging of such a philosophically-loaded, religiously-charged controversial material in so little time, with a bare stage, classically inspired choreography, with practically no props. This could only be a collaborative product of sheer genius.


The first play of the afternoon was already ongoing. This was an competing entry in the Inter--Collegiate category, "FELIPA" by senior high school students from the University of Batangas. The depressing play told the tale of the town prostitute Felipa (representing the Philippines) who was consecutively abused by a series of "customers" (representing the presidents, from Marcos to Duterte). 

"Felipa", writer-director Errol, and "Rudy"

I cannot comment much because I came in towards the tail end already. A snooty "GMA" was doing a Cha-cha dance, a childish dolt "Noy" was stealing potted cactuses, then brusque "Rudy" came in for the final rape. The concept was daring, but the final execution was limited, maybe because of the very young actors. The episodes of presidential "abuses" could have been staged with better symbols. I was disturbed that Felipa was depicted as a resigned prostitute, especially when who she symbolized became apparent. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018


April 29, 2018

This year is the 12th year of Theater Festival by the Philippine Stagers Foundation. This is held for four consecutive Saturdays each summer, and yesterday was the second week Critics Night. Despite starting past 8 pm already because of technical problems, there were still seven original one-act plays presented -- three amateur (by participants of their FREE summer acting workshop), one competition piece by a guest collegiate theater organization, one revisted former winning play, and two new competition plays written by Stagers themselves. As before, this was held in PSF Studio in Sampaloc, Manila.

The judges for the competition this year include theater writer, director and actor Frank Rivera, artistic director of Frontline Theater Company Rodel Mercado, and award-winning young actor Christian Bables (of "Die Beautiful" fame). I look forward to listening and learning from their instructive comments about the plays being presented. Last night though, only judge Bables was present. However, actress Chai Fonacier (so awesome in "Respeto" "Pauwi Na" and "Patay na si Hesus") was also there with her insights. Also on hand that night with valuable comments was Prof. Gigi Velarde David, a choreographer, director and professor of humanities and theater.

The first play in competition in the Inter-collegiate category was Danielle Hill's "PULA" presented by the Tanghalang Batingaw from Lyceum College, directed by Kyxz Feliciano and Justin Santiago. This was the same college company that won the big prize in this same category last year, and with their performance last night, they are certainly in the running for Best Collegiate Play again this year. 

The Chorus of "Pula"

The intense Sweet Hearty Puyong

"Pula" is a play about Martial Law abuses, but this one goes for the jugular in portraying the horrible torture experienced by Lilli Hilao and Boyet Mijares. To say it is gory or explicit is an understatement. This is not a play you "enjoy." Rather, it is absorbing and disturbing, gut-wrenching and painful to watch. The staging with the dramatic red lights and pulsating music was very effective. However, the centerpiece of this intense play was the raw, bold and fearless multi-character performance of Sweet Hearty Puyong. One of the most heart-wrenching and realistically harrowing acting I had ever seen on a stage. 

Norma (Nacional) and Wilma (Liper)

Next was a play which won the first prize in the PSF Theater Festival in 2012, "STARS" by JP Lopez, directed by Vincent Tanada. This was about Norma Aunor (Glory Ann Nacional) and Wilma Santos (2012 Best Actress Cindy Liper), two neighbors who used to be best friends, but are now bitter enemies. When they argue with each other, they use famous lines from the movies of their idols, Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, a lot of fun for fans of local pop culture. Their maids, Jolens (Quincy Ramos) and Juday (Pearl Belen) also reflect the rivalry of their masters, but their sons Boyet (Kiel Najera) and Edward (Cedie Duller) seem to be getting along just fine.

Girl (Bagtas), May-akda (Martinez) and and Boy (Garcia)

The first of the plays in the main competition this year followed, "CONTROL S" written by Cedie Duller, directed by Vincent Tanada. This was about a successful movie scriptwriter May-Akda (Brent Martinez) now devastated by the recent death of his partner Josh. The characters of the script he is working on Boy (Poul Garcia) and Girl (Cherry Bagtas) try to get him to start writing again. The concept of the play was very interesting, although I cannot say I completely understood what Boy and Girl were trying to do and why they were doing it.

Roy (Rivas) and Dion (Bocor)

The final play of the night, which started almost 1 am already, is another play in the main competition, "THE GALLERY" written by three-time Best Play winner in the festivals past, JP Lopez, again directed by Vincent Tanada. His new play is an absurd, over-the-top play about a young drug addict gigolo Roy (Johnrey Rivas) who answered an ad by intersex artist Dion (OJ Bacor) for a model. This wild play went in all directions, with diverse elements of various genre -- comedy, sexy, horror and even politics -- all rolled into one campy, flamboyant and schizophrenic show. Its sense of the macabre simply went off the charts! I won't be surprised if this one will also win something come awards night. 


Before these competition plays, three short one act plays by workshoppers by presented and critiqued by the judges and members of the audience. These were directed by Stagers who were participating in the ongoing Director's Workshop. 

The cast of "Sa Parlor"

The first short one-act play was called "SA PARLOR" written by Atty. Vince Tanada in 2005, and performed many times over the years. This time, it was directed by Pearl Belen. This was about a pair of gay beauticians, the veteran Chit and the newcomer Chanda, who were arguing if their boss Carding was gay or not. The two actors playing the beauticians were very shrill, while the guy playing Carding was on the other end of the energy scale. There seemed to be a lot of lines missed by the nervous actors, which ended up with a puzzling plot that I did not really understand.

Geraldine of "Sa Carinderia"

The second short one-act play was called "SA CARINDERIA" which Atty. Tanada says he wrote 30 years ago. This was directed by Chin Ortega. This was a one-woman show about a bored owner of a roadside eatery with no customers so she ends up talking to the flies and the food she cooked (and recooked). This was certainly very challenging, but this young aspiring actress named Geraldine took it on with a lot of cheeky nerve. She was not shy to make fun of her prominent chin to gain more laughs. There may have been some issues of comic timing last night (like reacting ahead of seeing what was in the pots), but this girl is a very promising comedienne.

Biboy and Yvonne of "Babae Po Ako"

The third short one-act play was "BABAE PO AKO" written by Jordan Ladra. This was directed by Cherry Bagtas. It is about a young lady Yvonne, who had once been deceived by her first boyfriend Biboy, who turned out to be gay. Now, her new boyfriend Noel is planning to propose to her. How will she react? The pretty actress playing Yvonne was so over-the-top and loud, as was the style of actor playing Biboy. They had some funny slapstick moments together, but it was not always clear what they were talking about in all their hyper excitement.