Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review of Rep's ANNA IN THE TROPICS: Smoky and Steamy

April 28, 2020




Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Anna in the Tropics" is the second offering of Repertory Philippines for their current season. It was supposed to run from March 13 to April 5, 2020. Unfortunately, the run-up to opening night was already rife with increasing serious concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. There were still several theater shows which still managed to push through on that weekend of March 8, when a public health emergency was declared nationwide.

Even then, Rep was still planning to push through with its opening night on March 13 with social distancing precautions. But as the threat of a Metro Manila lockdown loomed, Rep sadly decided to cancel the run on March 12. That same night, they still pushed through with their preview show with limited audience of a few special guests only. That one show was already the first and final performance of Rep's "Anna in the Tropics." More than a month later, I was able to watch a video of that single staging, and I am thankful for the privilege. 


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It was 1929 in Tampa, Florida. There was an immigrant family from Cuba who were in the business of making traditional Cuban cigars. The family was headed by a middle-aged couple, Santiago and Ofelia. Their eldest daughter Conchita was married to a fellow factory worker Palomo. Their much younger daughter Marela was still single in her early 20s. Working with them was Chester, Santiago's younger half-American half-brother.

It was the tradition in cigar factories back then to hire a lector, or someone who read stories to entertain the workers while they were they were busy rolling the tobacco in paper. The new lector who just arrived was a handsome man named Juan Julian. As he read the steamy story of Leo Tolstoy's classic novel "Anna Karenina,"  long hidden frustrations and passions were roused among his rapt audience.

The setting of the play was uncommon and very interesting. The atmosphere of the stage was very exotic with all the raw wooden elements used in the set. Together with the muted lighting, the homey set evoked a heady sense of that bygone era. A most stunning technical element were those very stylish costumes designed by American costume designer Becky Bodurtha. Those clothes (mostly whites, creams and khakis), and the hairstyles, hats and accessories, completed the whole nostalgic picture and brought us back to the late 1920s America. The accent the actors used to deliver their English lines sounded like they could be transposed to pre-war Philippines as well. 

There were no lead roles, as each character all had their turn to be at center. Gie Onida and Madeleine Nicolas played Santiago and Ofelia. They both reflected the pride of being the owners of a cigar factory which valued the traditional way, as well as the grounded relationship between a long-married couple. As they are both known for, Skyzx Labastilla and Brian Sy gave intense performances individually as Conchita and Palomo. But together as a couple, their chemistry was lacking, and their relationship unconvincing, but this may be what the story required. Gab Pangilinan had the verve and naivete of young Marela, making everyone want to take care of her.

Ricardo Magno was magnetic as the debonair Juan Julian, as the role required him to captivate all the females and gain the ire of the men. His natty white suit and fair refined features made him stand out in every scene he was in. Paolo O'Hara seemed to be miscast as Chester (nicknamed Cheche) in the physical sense, but this did not mean he did not give a potent performance. He had the most memorable scenes that were raising hell (modernization and change) and chilling to the core (desire and despair).

This casting was unique because all seven actors in the ensemble were portrayed by actors who were acting in their very first Rep play. Aside from Pangilinan, who had starred in imported musicals like "Side Show" and "Beautiful," the other six veteran actors were more known for their work in productions in the Filipino language. I first knew of Onida from PETA; O'Hara and Labastilla from Virgin Labfest; Magno and Sy from Tanghalang Pilipino and Nicolas from her indie films and telenovelas. 


Cast Photo 
(from Rep FB page)

There was something odd about the play because major events that happened, be they scandalous or traumatic, were never mentioned again until the show ended. I wanted to see some sort of repercussion or justice, but these were not immediately forthcoming. The way New York-based set-designer and director Joey Gonzalez-Mendoza told his story flowed very well, with clear peaks of emotion along the way. However, as the play was written by Cruz, that climax came so abruptly (the lighting of Barbie Tan-Tiongco and sound of Fabian Obispo was remarkable in this scene), just when you wanted the story to flow some more. 

Perhaps watching this play performed live will make a difference in final impact. Watching  play on video may be the next best thing, but the experience is simply not the same. Hoping that the opportunity to see this play live may still come to pass some day, when the local theater scene comes back to life again after this health crisis blows over. May the Lord grant that day to come soon.


Sunday, March 8, 2020

Review of Kapamilya Theater's TABING-ILOG the Musical: Troubled Teenagers

March 8, 2020




The original "Tabing Ilog" was a popular teen-oriented tv series on ABS-CBN that ran from four years, from 1999 to 2003. This show, most probably inspired by its American contemporary "Dawson Creek," was the springboard for several currently well-known actors, such John Lloyd Cruz, Patrick Garcia, Baron Geisler, Paolo Contis, Kaye Abad, Desiree del Valle, and Jodi Sta. Maria. I disclose that I never saw a single episode of this show.

This year, for its maiden foray into the theater scene, ABS-CBN's Kapamilya Theater decided to translate this series (and its typical array of teen-related problems) into a full-length stage musical. They definitely wanted to get things right their first time out by getting the services of multi-awarded artists to create this piece, namely Vincent de Jesus (for music and lyrics), Jade Castro (for book) and Topper Fabregas (as director).

The story opened with a gathering of friends at their favorite hangout spot under a tree beside a river. As usual, it was James (PBB's Jem Macatuno) who led in texting everyone to come. Rovic (Ian Pangilinan) came with his girlfriend Eds (PBB's Kiara Takahashi). Fonzy (PBB's Argel Saycon) came with his sister Corrine (PBB's Lou Yanong). Badong (PBB's Batit Espiritu) came with his trusty sidecar. Their special guest that day was George (Miah Canton), their gangmate who went to the States, now here on vacation. 

These character names were the original character names from the TV series. James was Patrick Garcia. Rovic was John Lloyd Cruz. Eds was Kaye Abad. Fonzy was Baron Geisler. Corrine was Desiree del Valle. Badong was Paolo Contis. George was Jodie Sta. Maria. Of course, these names alone would give the currently millennial fans of the original series a serious case of throwback nostalgia back to their teenage years. Along with that, there were also memory-triggering props, like the bicycles and the tree with a swing made from an old tire.


The stage with the bikes and the tree with the tire swing

The play lasted for two hours, with a 15 minute intermission. The main story dwelt on how the gang dynamics were severely altered after Rovic and Eds broke up on account of a Fil-Am interloper named Jerry (Justine Narciso), George's best friend from New York who came home with her. The second act would deal with some social activism, when their beloved riverside spot was threatened by the planned building of a dam in their area. 

In between were little anecdotal side-stories about moving out, speaking up, alcoholism, mental health, platonic friendships, LGBT issues, and the graduation ball. This caused the story telling to be episodic, thus making the flow of the story erratic. The scene about Fonzy getting injured was puzzling because it was not clear what he was doing and why. There was a gay character Ely (Franco Ramos) to make a point that calling them "bakla" was okay as long as it was not said in an insulting way. James' kid sister Sammy (MNL 48’s Brei Binuya) was given her own song to sing to represent the "future generation".

Among the young actors in the cast I watched, the best singer of them all was Miah Canton. You can clearly hear the difference between a classically-trained voice (like Canton's) and someone who can just sing (the rest). Tough as it may sound, everyone's singing (except for Canton) were of inconsistent quality, to put it mildly. Some teetered precariously on the edge of the correct tune and a few actually veered off-key, to the misfortune of De Jesus' songs. The group dancing could have had better coordination and timing. Their acting performances frequently came off as quite self-conscious. These issues are nothing that more intensive training in voice, dance and acting cannot fix, if they seriously want to pursue stagecraft. 

I saw the list of alternates per role and saw a number of proven stage singers among them, like Gab Pangilinan (for Eds), Teetin Villanueva (for Corrine), Krystal Kane (for Jerry) and Noel Comia Jr. (for Sammy). The other alternates were mostly graduates of PBB, like Abi Kassem (for Eds), Sky Quizon and Hanie Jarrar (for Rovic), Emjay Savilla (for Badong), Gian Wang and Gabby Sarmiento (for James), Shawntel Cruz (for Jerry), Art Guma (for Ely) and Lie Reposposa (for Sammy). There were MNL 48 members, like Abby Trinidad and Belle de los Santos (both for George). The alternates for Fonzy are theater actor Vino Mabalot and Star Hunt alumnus Elyson de Dios. 

The various adult characters involved in the teens' stories were played by two seasoned senior actors. On the show I watched, the characters of Rovic's grandmother, Eds' mother, and the school teacher in charge of the grad ball were all played by Joann Co. (Her alternate in these roles is Agot Isidro.) The characters of Eds' father, the school principal, and Eds' gay fashion designer boss in Rizal was played by Jojit Lorenzo. (His alternate in these roles is Paolo O'Hara.) Their extensive stage experience in singing and acting was definitely apparent vis a vis the younger actors. 


The cast at the curtain call
(Espiritu, Yanong, Takahashi, Pangilinan, Macatuno, Saycon, Canton, and Binuya)


Overall, the script could use some streamlining or the direction more tightening, to get the story flowing more smoothly. Better yet, some more interesting plot points could maybe be developed to generate more excitement in the story. Another teenage love triangle was not exactly novel nor compelling. They sneaked in the name of Anne (that was Paula Peralejo's character in the TV series) at one point, but they never mentioned her again before the show ended. While this show can still be entertaining especially for the fans, I'd say there is still much room for improvement for it in future stagings. 


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TABING ILOG runs from March 7- April 26, 2020, at the Dolphy Theater, Sgt. Esguerra Ave, Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila. Access to the theater is via the Audience Entrance. Show times are at 8 pm from Thursdays to Sundays, and 3 pm matinees on Saturday and Sundays. Ticket prices range from P2,500 (VIP), P1,500 (Orchestra Side), P1,200 (Balcony Center) and P1,000 (Balcony Side). 


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Review of Blue Rep's NEXT TO NORMAL: Breakable Bipolarism

March 7, 2020




This is the third time I had seen "Next to Normal" (music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey).  In 2010, my wife and I were able to catch it at Booth Theater on Broadway, starring Marin Mazzie (as Diana), Jeff Danieley (as Dan) and Kyle Dean Massey (as Gabe). My review of that show was posted HERE. In 2011, we watched a local staging by Atlantis, starring Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (as Diana), Jett Pangan (as Dan) and Felix Rivera (as Gabe).  My review of that show was posted HERE. Today, I was able to see a third version of this intense psychologically dramatic musical.

Diana Goodman was a very stressed out housewife. Her husband Dan was very concerned for Diana's fragile psyche, as she juggled several psychotherapeutic drugs. Diana seemed very closely attached to her clingy eldest son Gabe, who was determined to be her center of attention. However, she was emotionally distant from her rebellious daughter Natalie, who was turning to drugs herself. When Diana's delicate psychiatric condition took a turn for the worse, her new doctor Dr. Madden recommended electro-convulsive therapy with all its attendant risks to her memory.


Dan and Diana argue as Gabe looked on

The Fine Arts Theater on the third floor of the Gonzaga Building in the Ateneo de Manila University campus was a very intimate space. This is very surprising because the stage of the Booth Theater was huge as well as the multi-tiered metallic set for the Goodman house. I already considered the set for the Atlantis production staged at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium to be a significant downscaling of the set. Now seeing this very small stage right in front of me, I felt this was going to be a very different viewing experience, and it was.

The story being told gained a different point of view the very intimate way this musical was staged this time around. The simplicity of the set directed all the attention to the actors. The actors were so up close to the audience, we can see the sweat on the brow and the tears on their faces. The songs, especially "I'm the One" and "Song of Forgetting," seemed to have gained so much more angst and power when I can clearly see the actors' every facial expression while singing them in a setting like this. Yorkey's deep and witty words were heard loud and clear. 


Dan and Diana in an intense scene

Cris Villonco and Jef Flores may initially seem too young to pull off the roles of Diana and Dan. However, it soon became evident that being younger made their Diana and Dan all the more vulnerable to the extreme stress of parenthood that they crumbled under. Villonco had a delicate physicality which made her Diana so precarious. Her vocals were given quite a strenuous workout in driving rock songs like "The Break," but they remained crystal clear and pitch perfect the whole time. Flores gave his Dan a fragile edge himself which I did not see in previous incarnations of the role, so evident in that final duet of him with Gabe.

Tim Pavino was very earnest as Gabe, a son who had an unhealthy connection with his mother. The revelation scene about Diana's problem with Gabe still packed a punch even if I am watching this for the third time. Pavino's soaring vocals were pushed to extremes with the range of his song "I'm Alive." (Adrian Lindayag alternates as Gabe.) 


Dan and Diana revisit memories with Natalie

Ateneo freshman Nikki Bengzon was remarkable as the jaded teenager Natalie, both singing- and acting-wise, unfazed by her professional multi-awarded co-stars. Sophomore Carlos de Guzman was delightful as Natalie's supportive boyfriend Henry. (Jam Binay and Davy Narciso alternate as Natalie and Henry.)

Jobim Javier made a big splash in the theater world in 2018 with his star-making performance as Butch in "Eto Na! Musikal nAPO," which eventually won him the Gawad Buhay award as Best Actor in a Musical for that year. Here however, his weaker singing vocals as Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine tended to be drowned out in group numbers under the superior and better projected vocals of his co-stars. (Jason Tan Liwag alternates in these two doctor roles.)


The cast at the curtain call
(Javier, Pavino, Villonco, Flores, Bengzon and de Guzman)

Director Missy Maramara overcame the severe venue and budget constraints and successfully used these limitations to bring out to the fore the play's innermost powerful emotions. Despite the fact that this was already my third time to watch the show, this one was so stripped down that hit me in a whole different impact, with the intensity of its raw display of heart and soul by the lead actors. Thanks to the musical direction of Ejay Yatco, the original Broadway soundtrack (on Spotify) sounded so sterile in comparison. Emotions here are so frayed, a debriefing is in order after the show. 

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Blue Rep's NEXT TO NORMAL runs from March 6 to 22, 2020 at the Fine Arts Theater, 3rd floor of Gonzaga Building, ADMU, QC. Show times are at 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and 8 pm from Thursdays to Sundays. Ticket prices at P530 (Gold), P430 (Silver) and P380 (Bronze-SRO). So far, a check of the KTX website (LINK) showed that all show dates are already sold out! Stand by for any announcement of additional dates. 


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Review of TP's BATANG MUJAHIDEEN: Manipulating Minors

February 29, 2020




In March of the year 2000, Abu Sayyaf rebels led by Ustadz Janjalani and Abu Sabaya held hostage all the Christian staff and students of Claret School in Tumahubong village in Basilan province. It was a grueling 45-day ordeal for all the hostages, particularly for the school priest Fr. Rhoel Gallardo (as the very symbol of the invaders' rival religion) and one of the teachers Ms. Marissa (with whom Ustadz took fancy on).

Meanwhile, 7-year old Yakan girl Fatima had just witnessed her father ruthlessly murdered and cannibalized by the bloodthirsty Christian extremist called Kumander. Soon after this heinous crime, Fatima was recruited by Abu Sabaya to be a "mujahideen" or a guerrilla fighter in the name of Islam. Ustadz hid Fatima under the boy's name Al Mustafa (meaning "chosen one") to undergo training, where she even bested the other boys in combat skills.

The Little Theater had been rearranged so that the audience members are seated on four sides of a slightly-elevated square stage in the center. The show began with all nine members of the cast forming one diagonal line across the square and perform a washing ritual. Doray Dayao stood up from the center of the line, broke the fourth wall to address the audience about what the play was going to be about, explaining how the character of Fatima was going to be represented by a puppet which she carried on her left arm and moved with sticks held by her right hand. . 

Lhorie Nuevo was Ustadz and Eunice Pacia was Abu Sabaya, both compelling performances. Jonathan Tadioan played Fatima's proud father. Ybes Bagadiong was the ill-fated Fr. Gallardo. JV Ibesate played a chilling Kumander. Iman Ampatuan was Pyong, a Grade 4 student hostage at Claret. Monique Nellas had two memorably standout roles, as Fatima's grieving mother and as the unfortunate Ms. Marissa. Usual TP leading man Marco Viana oddly did not have a particular character to play.

A tense scene of retribution in "Batang Mujahideen"
(photo credit: Gian Carlo Vizcarra)

It may not be easy to get into the drift of the story right away because the casting of the multiple characters of either religion fluidly changed among the actors, regardless of gender. Notably, the two Abu Sayyaf leaders were both played by women. There were also two stories being told in parallel, that of Fatima (fiction) and that of the Claret School hostage taking (factual), which can get confusing at first. However, eventually you will soon get the drift of the various experimental techniques (puppetry, documentary theater, devised theater) employed by adventurous young director Guelan Luarca in this staging, and be engrossed with the drama up to the very end.

The liveliest scenes in the play was the circuit training montage of the titular mujahideen children, all of them portrayed by puppets doing obstacle courses, firing rifles and swimming in the river. Because of this, the scene ironically came across as whimsical and even cute, despite the perverseness of what was actually being presented. However the symbolism of the children being actual puppets of the adult extremists was not lost. 

The other remarkable scene was the literal shower of bullets that occurred during the fiery encounter between the military and the Abu Sayyaf. The bullet shells that littered the entire stage after that scene were a noisy reminder of the violence that had transpired. The spine-tingling depiction of Fatima's father's gory death and Fr. Gallardo's bloody torture was likewise imaginatively staged without resorting to graphic violence. 

The cast of nine at the curtain call
(Ampatuan, Nuevo, Ibesate, Nellas, Dayao, Viana, Bagadiong, Pacia, Tadioan)
(photo credit: Gian Carlo Vizcarra)

The play was written by Malou Jacob, whose main output had been political plays since the 1980s. Antonette Go assisted director Luarca in the directing chores. Cagayan de Oro-based playwright Dominique La Victoria took on the dramaturgy of this sensitive piece. The creative team was composed of Marco Viana and Paw Castillo for the set, D Cortezano for lights, Arvy Dimaculangan for sound, music and puppetry, and Joemel Era for choreography. The overall result was one haunting, thought-provoking presentation about Christian-Muslim relations which every Filipino should watch to gain at least some valuable understanding and empathy about these pressing issues of national concern.


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BATANG MUJAHIDEEN runs from February 21 to March 9, 2020 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. There are four shows left: March 6 at 3 pm, March 7 at 3 pm and 8 pm, and March 8 at 3 pm. The tickets are at P1500 (VIP) and P1000 (Regular). The running time is a compact 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission. 


Sunday, February 23, 2020

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

February 23, 2020




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


Saturday, February 22, 2020

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

February 22, 2020




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

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

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

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


Stella Canete-Mendoza and Julienne Mendoza

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

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


Jon Abella, Abe Autea, Iggi Siasoco and Boo Gabunada

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

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


Gel Basa, Matel Patayon, Victoria Mina and Phi Palmos


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

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

Director and Writer Pat Valera

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



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


Monday, February 10, 2020

Review of Rep's STAGE KISS: Acting Actualized

February 10, 2020




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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