Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review of Odeon Production's PAYONG THE MUSICAL: Pluvial Playlist

May 24, 2019




This musical was originally supposed to run from from March 27-29, 2019 within the University of Santo Tomas campus. However, the run was cancelled at the last minute. It was only this month that it finally pushed through at a different venue -- at the Girl Scouts of the Philippines Auditorium, located along Padre Faura, near Taft Avenue. It was my first time to watch a show there.

Ella was a salesgirl at the Sunshine Mall, where they aimed to serve customers with a sunny smile. She expecting her boyfriend of two years Alexander to propose marriage to her over dinner. However, her fervent wish never happened. To make things worse, her umbrella got stolen so she had to walk home in the pouring rain. Fortunately, Ervin passed by and stopped to offer Ella to share his umbrella with her all the way to her house. Such was the simple love story told by this OPM jukebox musical entitled "Payong." 


Immanuel Uykhilam (Alex) and Alexandra Mendoza (Ella)

The play started on a high note with the vivacious "Time In" by Yeng Constantino.  As expected, we hear songs which have rain and umbrellas in the lyrics, like "Sukob Na" by Aiza Seguerra, "Umaaraw, Umuulan" by Rivermaya, "Ulan" by Cueshe, and "Ambon" by Barbie Almabis. As this is a rom-com, there were love songs of course, like "Ikaw Pala" by Sugarfree and "Kilometro" by Sarah Geronimo. 

The student cast is very young and admittedly still rough around the edges, but the three lead actors delved sincerely into their roles. Alexandra Mendoza was perky and enthusiastic all the way through from beginning to end as Ella. Nico Orduna was an earnest romantic as Ervin, with a fluid tenor voice that fit best with the songs he was singing. Mendoza and Orduna had chemistry between them and their singing voices sounded good together in their duets. Immanuel Uykhilam was the insensitive rascal Alexander. It was rather confusing though when he also played a cellphone holdupper in another scene.


Nico Orduno (Nico) and Alexandra Mendoza (Ella)

The rest of the supporting cast were erratic and inconsistent with their acting and singing during this actual performance, as if this was still a rehearsal. There were a few memorable turns among them: Alexandra Vazquez as Ella's outspoken BFF Duchess singing Miss Ganda's "Payong," Filipino version of Rihanna's "Umbrella," Irish Marcos as the trampy other-woman Veronica singing Sarah G's "Ikot Ikot," and Shaina Dulay as the inexplicably dense English-speaking maid Innocencia, who got to sing Aegis' "Basang Basa ang Ulan."

The production values were simple and basic, understandable being a show by amateur students. There were sound issues that plagued this production like feedbacks and malfunctioning mics. The most unfortunate in this regard were the four actors who played the "parents" of Ella and Ervin, whose mics never worked properly at all, even after the 15-minute intermission. You can never hear clearly what they were saying or singing all throughout the show. There was supposed to be an interesting twist about the parents but that never got off because of these sound issues. 


The young student cast of "Payong"

Directed by Audric Abas with a book by Marlon Villoso and musical direction by Edward Paolo Talavera (who was conducting live musicians for the show), this story was told using Original Pilipino Music pop hit songs, all duly licensed by the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (FILSCAP). Save from a few upbeat songs, most of the chosen songs, being about rain and heartbreak, were on the slow burn side. While these were good songs individually, the predominant downbeat of these melancholy songs one after the other affected the mood and energy of the whole play, especially with the faulty sound system. 


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"PAYONG" has the following show schedules: May 21: 7PM, May 23: 3PM, 7PM, May 25: 11AM, 3PM at 7PM and May 26: 8PM. Tickets are sold at the gate at P300 for the orchestra seats, with discounts for students. The venue is at the Girl Scouts of the Philippines Auditorium on Padre Faura St. near Taft Avenue in Ermita, Manila. For tickets, contact Kristen (09672416033) or Jason (09202408459) or message the Odeon Productions' Facebook Page.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review of UP Dulaang Lab's ALEMBONG: Interclass Intercourse

May 19, 2019



It was the feast day of Sta. Clara in the town of Obando, and the whole town was out dancing.  Miss Julie went to the kitchen on her father's mansion to invite her father's driver Jun to go out and dance with her (with the unwilling consent of Jun's fiancee, the kitchen maid Crissing). Their conversations over beer after the dance led the two to get to know each other better, until some talk of naughty seduction ensued. One thing led to another, and before the night ended, what should not have happened happened.

The original "Miss Julie" was written in the Swedish language by playwright August Strindberg in 1888.  Since then, there had been translations in English as well as other languages. In 1967, Repertory Philippines' very first production was a Tagalog version adapted by Rolando Tinio. They famously performed it in front of only seven people in the audience. (Rep eventually only played English plays after that Filipino debut.)

The Filipino script used for this UP Dulaang Laboratoryo production was written by Eljay Castro Deldoc. It was not just a direct verbatim translation. He changed the title into "Alembong," a Filipino word that meant "flirt" or "coquette." He transposed the whole setting of the play from aristocratic Sweden to rural Obando, Bulacan. The Midsummer's Eve festival (feast of John the Baptist, June 24) in the original play was changed to the feast of Our Lady of Salambao (held every May 19 -- the exact date I watched this show). While Jean was a valet who knew French in the original, Jun was a driver who knew Spanish in this new local version. 


Jun kisses Miss Julie's shoe
Photo credit: Kuya So (from the FB page of Eljay Castro Deldoc)

The play was a sexually-charged social-commentary piece about clashing between the sexes and clashing between the social classes. With all the changes Deldoc made in the local adaptation, the time setting of the story could not readily be transported to the present digital age when sexual mores had changed more drastically, as pre-marital sex and conceiving out of wedlock are hardly considered scandalous anymore nowadays. However, an affair between a master and a servant could still raise quite a few eyebrows. 

Unlike the two other previous thesis productions I watched in the past month, this production of Miss Julie was thesis project of only one candidate, and that is Joshua Ade Valenzona for acting performance. His Jun was always dominant and in control from the start to end. He never really felt like he was ever beneath Miss Julie. Valenzona's sardonic attack on the role was quite different from the humble, apologetic way Colin Farrell portrayed the role in the first act of the 2014 Liv Ulmann movie version. Valenzona looked effortlessly charming most of the play, despite some flubbed lines and actions.

I had seen Chase Salazar two times before. First in 2014 in "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" (MY REVIEW) and then again in 2017 in "Sakuntala" (MY REVIEW), so this is the first time I had seen her not wearing tribal costumes. But in any case, she was really a very confident performer in the title role of Miss Julie, with her disturbed, damaged psyche in Act 1 and all those erratic idiosyncratic defenses breaking down in Act 2. Ajee Garcia as Crissing was usually seen just fussing around in her kitchen or off stage sleeping. But come Act 2, she was able to nail her showcase moment when she confronted Miss Julie and Jun and gave them a piece of her mind. Crissing's attitude of steadfast respect is one of those attributes rarely seen in employees these days. 


Ajee Salazar, Joshua Ade Valenzona and Chase Salazar
take their triumphant bow

This production was directed by Mara Marasigan. Ricardo Magno was the co-director and was also responsible for the sensual ritualistic choreography of Miss Julie and the girls wearing chemises (Nicole Andrea Villanueva, Marjeorie Peleno, Janna Gerald Cortes, Margarita Lugue, Jasmine Velasco). Hershee Tantiado designed costumes evoking the fashion of pre-war Philippines. Jun's costume had unusual green patches seen on his shirt and undershirt. I do not know what these meant exactly, but they were interesting details. 

Ohm David's innovative set design of the kitchen had those multiple individually-standing tall wooden newel posts (usually seen in bannisters of stairs in old stone houses) serving as the walls giving the stage a wider dimension of space. This illusion of space (and the mysterious dancing ensemble) was enhanced by the lighting design by Jethro Dibaten. The sound design was care of Jack Alvero


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Recap of PSF THEATER FESTIVAL 2019 (Week 3): NUNAL, AKI-ARI, GEMETZEL

May 18, 2019

This final week is the only week I was able to catch of the Philippine Stagers Foundation yearly Theater Festival. This festival had been held every summer since 2009 as the culminating activity of their month-long free theater workshop. Like previous years, the Stagers are expected to take daring risks and push boundaries in their experimental plays.

The first play this afternoon was JP Lopez's "I Didith Show" (PSF Theater Festival first prize 2014) as performed by the all-student cast. The second play performed was Chin Ortega's  "Ang Babaeng Naka-itum" (PSF Theater Festival first prize 2018) still featuring star turns by Cindy Liper and Arian Golondrina. I appreciated the story of "Babae" so much better this second time around.

There were three plays in competition played this day. All three plays were directed by Atty. Vincent Tanada himself, as always. In their tradition to be become all-around theater artists, Stagers also took charge of backstage matters even if they were also performing on stage -- namely, stage manager Johnrey Rivas and production manager OJ Bacor. The lights were handled by John Paul Santos, while the sounds were mixed by Ean Flores. The set designs were by Atty. Vince Tanada and Johnrey Rivas. 


1. NUNAL




The first play in competition staged this day was Chin Ortega's NUNAL. This play told about a make-believe situation when Superstar Ms. Nora Aunor had passed away because of a self-inflicted accident. During her public wake, loyal Nora fanatics Flor (an OFW from Singapore) and Elsa (short for Eliseo, Flor's trans eldest brother) meet after being estranged for several years. Aside from their tense reunion, they were also vying for a chance to win a gold necklace bearing an important relic from the superstar -- her mole. 


Elsa (Gabrentina), Ian (Rafols) and Flor (Nacional)

This was certainly a hilarious play especially for the fans of Nora Aunor, as this is a play about their religious-level veneration of their screen idol. Attentive viewers can surely identify all the references to La Aunor's extensive filmography, as her film titles, character names, hit songs and memorable lines were mentioned within the deliciously witty lines of dialogue. Significant people in Nora's family and career were also woven in, with arch-rival Vilma Santos getting very special citations. 


Magallanes in one of his wacky characters in this play

Actors Glory Ann Nacional (as Flor, as in "Flor Contemplacion") and Art Gabrentina (as Elsa, as in the visionary in "Himala") went to town with their over-the-top interpretations of Nora's signature line delivery, complete with stifled crying and emotional eyes acting. Gerald Magallanes also went all out with his multiple characters, from a TV reporter to a vivacious lawyer, but mainly an over-eager housegirl named Nelia (from her character in "Atsay"). Child actor Dean Rafols completes the cast as the Flor's son Ian (of course from the name of Kristoffer Ian de Leon, Nora's real life son.)


2. AKI-ARI




The second play in competition was OJ Bacor's AKI-ARI. The story was about the intertwined sexual relationships among three neighbors, namely Aki (an unselfish transgender), Haruki (with a prostate fetish) and Zenki (a brazen exhibitionist), as narrated by Aki's male member. The plot may have been a simple love triangle among three men, but the way the story was told went way beyond the ordinary. 


Aki (Bacor), Daquioag (Haruki) and Zenki (Galut)

This play was given a Japanese Noh drama treatment, elevating the stage artistry of the sensitive, potentially scandalous, subject matter.  The narrative was mainly fueled by the philosophical musings of Aki's member detailing how his master went along with his sexual affairs. The proverbial envelope for stage decency was pushed to the ultimate limits here, as it already straddled the borderline between high art and pornography, but never exceeding. 


The Phallic Narrator (Martinez)

Being bold in subject and treatment, the audience was enraptured into silence during the play. The three actors who played Aki (OJ Bacor), Haruki (Gian Daquioag) and Zenki (Peter Galut) were all very courageous to literally bare their vulnerabilities, trusting only translucent white curtains and skillful lighting design to protect their modesty. In the middle of the stage the whole time was this figure in brown wearing an oversized helmet on his head (Brent Martinez). This phallic character could have been silly or comic, yet the writing and direction saved it from being so.


3. GEMETZEL


The third play in competition was Patrick Libao's GEMETZEL. I had to look up what this title meant, and it turned out to be a German word for " butchery, massacre, bloodbath, carnage, slaughter." In his introduction, Libao called his piece shock theater, and warned that it was going to be ugly and gory. The people seated in the front row were even given a long piece of black cloth to protect their clothing from fluids that may gush out at them during the course of the play. 


The Butcher (Ortega) and Agatha (Esperida)

It was after World War II in a remote village in Germany. The former inn called Otel Muller was now better known as an abattoir. It was being managed by an elderly Jewish butcher and his ward, a girl named Agatha, who served as his maidservant. One day, Otek, a young gentleman from Berlin, came in to check into the inn. Meanwhile, Agatha saw him as a chance to escape her wretched existence. 


Otek (Rivas) and the Butcher (Ortega)

The pacing of this play started out very slow as it described the melancholy and hunger that enveloped that time period, with the bitter butcher (Chin Ortega) and his miserable maid (Marina Esperida) on the brink of insanity because of their intense suffering under the Nazi Third Reich. However, the action picked up when the dashing guest (Johnrey Rivas) arrived at their doorstep. The breathtaking climax was a grisly, gut-wrenching, action-packed Grand Guignol affair which had the whole audience screaming with excitement. 


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Review of Rep's THE DRESSER: Agony of an Aging Actor

May 11, 2019




I had first heard of "The Dresser" back in the 1980s when a 1983 film of that title (adapted from a 1980 play by Ronald Harwood) was nominated for five major Oscars: Best Picture, Director (Peter Yates), Actor (for both Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney) and Adapted Screenplay (for playwright Ronald Harwood). Sadly, I never got to watch that film. More recently, there was another adaptation of this play for BBC TV, starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins in the lead roles. I likewise did not get to see that one. 

That was why I was very excited to hear that Repertory Philippines was going to stage it this year. My excitement doubled when I learned that it was going to star two of the best actors on the local stage -- Audie Gemora and Teroy Guzman -- a major casting coup. This was definitely THE play I was most looking forward to the most for this season. It was quite disappointing that I was not able to see it during the opening weekend last week due to schedule conflicts, but I made sure I watched it today, on its second week.

Norman had been the dresser (or "personal assistant" in today's parlance) of "Sir," an elderly classical-style Shakespearean stage actor, for the past 16 years. One day during the World War II days in Britain, Sir suffered a nervous breakdown in public that prompted Norman to take him to the hospital. That same night, amidst the ruckus of blaring alarms and falling bombs outside, Sir had to get back into condition to play "King Lear" for his 227th time, with his wife "Her Ladyship" playing Lear's daughter Cordelia. 


Norman (Gemora) and Her Ladyship (Maramara) attend to a beleaguered Sir (Guzman)
Photo by Boboy Ramiro from Repertory Philippines FB page

Teroy Guzman was a riveting presence onstage as Sir. Physically, Guzman possessed the classic visage and magnetic charm of a star with a complex. Acting-wise, Guzman felt so real, so fully in character, sometimes you forget that he was an actor merely playing another actor. His English accent was so natural, effortlessly shifting inflections from his regular speaking voice and his modulated stage voice. This was indeed tour-de-force acting.

Audie Gemora was delightful as the earnest and fussy dresser Norman, who was loyal only to his boss, his Sir. He had settled well into his daily routine as Sir's personal servant, minding all his duties with pride. We later get to know him better as the play went on, discovering some of his secret vices, faults and idiosyncrasies, all of which Gemora played with tongue-in-cheek, obsessive-compulsive glee. 

Missy Maramara played "Her Ladyship," Sir's concerned wife who wanted him to retire from his profession. Tami Monsod played "Madge," Sir's stage manager for more than 20 years, a spinster who carried an unrequited torch. Justine Narciso played "Irene," the new girl in the production, who knew how to use her youth to get ahead. All these ladies get to shine in their respective scenes with Sir. each with her own particular concern and agenda. 

Jaime del Mundo (as the sheepish Geoffrey who got bit by the acting bug late in life) and Jeremy Domingo (as the aloof actor Oxenby who was also an aspiring playwright) complete the ensemble. 


The Cast at the Curtain Call
(photo by Jaypee Maristaza from Repertory Philippines FB page)

This intimate play is a contemplative piece about an old actor who was larger than life on stage, but frustrated and broken offstage. It was slow of pace, and had more talk than action. While the overall mood was somber, there was biting wit and humor. Despite my own professional background, I loved the sarcasm Sir hurled against doctors ("When a doctor tells you you need rest, you can be sure he hasn't the slightest idea what is wrong with you.") and theater critics ("Critics, I only have compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, demented and the deficient?"). 

This is indeed a play which bonafide fans of theater will love. It had several juicy little details about backstage activities, superstitions and rituals, and actors' egos. The best scene for me was definitely that one where Guzman transforms himself into King Lear, applying makeup by himself without a mirror. I also liked how they showed King Lear's storm scene from behind the theater wings with their sound effects equipment, only hearing the performing actors offstage (and their ad libs). The lengthy interval between acts those days was also interesting to note. 

Director Loy Arcenas led the production team with a clear vision. Ed Lacson Jr. recreated Sir's old decrepit dressing room, one which you could imagine reeked with moth balls. Tata Tuviera's King Lear costume was elaborate and magnificent, especially when we watch Guzman put it on in layers. Barbie Tantionco's lighting design and Jethro Joaquin's sound design were efficient and effective in their subtle unobtrusiveness. 


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THE DRESSER runs from May 3 -26, 2019 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1 in Makati. There are 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are selling at P1,500 for center orchestra, and P1,200 for side orchestra.



Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review of UP Dulaang Laboratoryo's MARAT/SADE: Mutiny in a Madhouse

May 5, 2019




The full title of this play is very imposing -- "The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade." It was first written in German by Peter Weiss in 1963, with an English translation by Geoffrey Skelton in 1964. For ease, it was also known as "Marat/Sade."

Some intrepid Theater students of UP Diliman chose this intense material to be their thesis production. They are: Joy Cerro (for Direction), Hariette Damole (for Acting) and Rowel Pasion Cristobal (for Costume Design). 

The Filipino translation of the play which was staged by these students this weekend was written by Gio Potes (who is also the dramaturgist) and the very prolific Guelan Luarca. The title in Filipino sounds even more formidable -- "Ang Pag-Uusig at Pagpaslang kay Jean-Paul Marat ayon sa Pagkakatanghal ng mga Pasyente sa Asilo ng Charenton sa Ilalaim ng Direksyon ni Marquis de Sade." 

The director of the Charenton Asylum for the mentally ill, Mr. Coulmier, had commissioned the Marquis de Sade (who was really confined in an insane asylum for three years in real life) to write and direct a play about the brutal 1793 assassination of French journalist / politician Jean-Paul Marat (whose skin malady confined him to his home's bathtub at that time) by a woman of opposite political convictions, Charlotte Corday. The play was to be performed by the various mentally-disturbed patients of the asylum.


The Calm Before the Storm


An eerie atmosphere of human madness pervaded the entire Tanghalang Hermogenes Ylagan the moment you enter the room. The stage (designed by Io Balanon) was at the center of the round of chairs and bleachers, converted into a white bathroom floor of the mental hospital, with the famous bathtub in one corner. The tub is quarter-filled with water, so there is a risk for people seated near it to get wet when the water gets splashed around in the course of the play. A number of insane patients were on the doing their own thing in various parts of the floor.

The play started when Eraldo (Khen del Prado) entered the room with his bell and staff, and announced the arrival of the playwright and director, the Marquis de Sade, and their sponsor Mr. Coulmier (Jacques Borlaza) who came in to watch with his wife (Adrianna Agcaoili) and daughter (Veronica Fortuna).  Eraldo also introduced the main characters of the play -- the passionate writer Jean-Paul Marat, his dutiful wife Simonne, and the lovely Girondist assassin, Charlotte Corday.  Rowel Pasion Cristobal's period costumes brought us back in time to 18th century France. 


Sade (Cayabyab) confronts Marat (Soriano)


Jojo Cayabyab was a very intense and forceful Marquis de Sade, with sheer sadistic madness reflecting from his eyes. Xander Soriano spent practically the whole play shirtless, in linen ruffled shorts, declaiming his political convictions while soaked in the tub. Sheryl Ceasico's Simonne was always fully in character, silently and repetitively wiping Marat with her towels, ever at his beck and call. Hariette Damole's Charlotte was a quiet, withdrawn sort, with her eyes coming to life whenever she got her hands on the dagger hidden in her bosom. 

The most notable among the supporting actors were Chris Abecia as the explosively violent Jacques Roux (with the face straps and straitjacket ala Hannibal Lecter) and Io Balanon as the cannibalistic sex maniac Duperret (with that fearsome lascivious leer on his face). Among the singing "ladies", it was Auriz Judaver (as Rossignol) who stood out because of his soaring vocals, as well his whistling during one dramatic scene. Among the nameless patients, it was Nico Labrador who caught attention with his distinctive full body tremors and his powerful monologue which he nailed.


Corday (Damole) and Duperret (Balanon) at Marat's door


Remember that all the "actors" (including the director himself) of the make-believe play were insane, so the play within this play took on a noisy, chaotic and most unpredictable character. The delivery of the lines also had various degrees of derangement -- from the monotone of the depressed, to the over-the-top of the outright psychotic. There were two "nurses" (Kiko dela Paz and Roi Cacnio) who were trying to keep their patients in check. 

There were a number of scenes with a heightened feel of insanity it can make your skin crawl. It is very difficult to pull off horror in a play, but director Joy Cerro faced the challenge full-on, taking full advantage of the intimate setting. With lights by Jethro Nibaten and music by Jack Alvero, Cerro brought us all through a very realistic experience of sickening and terrifying madness. 

While there seemed to be timely political messages being declared, I honestly could not concentrate of those pronouncements, as the feeling of dread and terror overcame me first. This play was definitely unnerving, unsettling and scary, even when the lights were fully on. That climactic scene of shocking bloody full-blown Grand Guignol horror, ended with me genuinely fearing for my own life. When the lights turn back on, then the political metaphors and implications squarely hit you, and hard.

The Grisly Aftermath



Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review of UP Dulaang Laboratoryo's MAKINAL: Woes of a Woman

April 14, 2019




This play was second of a series of seven plays which will serve as thesis productions for graduating theater arts students. "Machinal" was a play written by American playwright Sophie Treadwell and had its Broadway debut back in 1928. For this particular production, Treadwell's script had been translated into Filipino by Eljay Castro Deldoc. It will serve as the thesis of Theater 200 students: Nour Hooshmand (for direction), Rachel Jacob (for performance), and Steven Tansiongco (for video design), under the supervision of Prof. Dexter M. Santos

Helen was a harassed secretary at work and an unappreciated daughter at home. Desperate to get out of her situation, she agreed to marry her wealthy boss, Mr. George Jimenez, despite being totally repulsed by his presence and his touch. After an unwanted baby and a steamy one-night-stand, Helen stood at a crossroads in her life, not knowing how to get out of the prison built around her.

At the beginning of the play, it was emphasized that this play was about this one woman (bravely played with mad wide-eyed fervor by Rachel Jacob), and she could actually be any woman. From there, the whole play was divided into eight episodes in the life of this woman, namely: Business, Home, Honeymoon, Maternal, Prohibited, Intimate, Domestic and the Law. I did not hear the name Helen mentioned until the final episode already. It was a powerful statement that this tragedy could happen to any woman.

In the first episode, we hear the cacophony at her workplace as her vicious fellow employees were all ganging up on her when they felt that she was the favorite of their boss (first of multiple roles played by Jack Yabut). The next scene with her mother (an ear-splitting Karen Romualdez) was a shouted exchange of words where each one was not actually listening to the other. Seeing her daily hell as set up in these two first scenes, we already feel the inner turmoil boiling inside this woman and clearly see why she was going out of her mind.


The Cast at their Curtain Call

We all saw and felt how dirty, disgusted and resistant she was during her honeymoon night with her new husband. Then later in stark contrast, we saw how calm, happy and relaxed she was when she was intimate with this other man Arturo (a very confident Kevin Vincent Pajara), whom she just met for the first time in a bistro. The shift of her facial expression and personality were so drastic, she felt like two different women. However, it was clear that we were still watching the same one woman. 

There were excellent supporting turns by two other character actors, both of whom played multiple distinct characters. The first was shape-shifting Gino Ramirez, who was the ingratiating stenographer in the office scene, then a homosexual seducer in the bar scene, then a forceful prosecuting lawyer in the court scene. The second was big hefty Nico Dans, who was a hunched-over accountant in the office scene, then a boisterous boyfriend in the bar scene, then an indignant defense lawyer in the court scene. 

Director Nour Hooshmand was very sure in her vision on how she wanted Helen's story told. The backdrop, ceiling and sides of the set designed by Marc Dalacat looked like slabs of cold copper. It felt like an inescapable metallic box in which our young woman was trapped. On these were placed multiple LCD screens where the video graphic designs of Steven Tansiongco also set the time period and the mood of the scenes. This claustrophobic set effectively created a stifling mechanical milieu that could overwhelm the weak of heart and constitution, like poor Helen. 


Thesis candidates Nour Hooshmand, Rachel Jacob and Steven Tansiongco 
take a bow with the cast

I was surprised to learn after the show that this play was written way back in the late 1920s, even before the Great Depression on Wall Street. These hellish situations that Helen experienced still exists now among the women of today. It is disturbing to realize that the story about this young woman is as current now as Sophie Treadwell wrote back then, as if no Women's Liberation Movement ever happened in between. 

So, Treadwell's words from her very first scene were indeed prophetic. This IS a story about any woman, but maybe Treadwell never foresaw that this statement was going to be a timeless truth to this day, Or then again, maybe she did. 


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MAKINAL played for only 5 performances from April 12-14, 2019, 7 pm with 3 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The shows were for free, but a bag was passed around after the show for donations since this was a students production.  The venue was at the Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan in Pavilion 3 of Palma Hall. This was the first time I had been in this black box style theater, fashioned from one of the labs of the old Physics Pavilion as I knew it during my own days in UP Diliman.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Review of Ateneo Blue Rep's SPRING AWAKENING: Earnest and Energetic

April 6, 2019




10 years ago, it was Atlantis who first brought the controversial musical "Spring Awakening" to Manila, under the direction of Chari Arespacochaga (MY REVIEW). I did not like it too much back then, mostly because I could not hear the lyrics of the songs too well where I was seated. Because of this, I did not like most of the songs too much because of the poor sound quality or unintelligible singing by some members of the cast. 

This year, the Ateneo Blue Rep is restaging "Spring Awakening." Once again, there is a female director Missy Maramara at the helm. Initial reactions from the shows of the first weekend had been exuberantly positive, so I decided to catch this new staging in the hopes of renewing my appreciation for this multiple Tony Award winning musical (for Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor) which I did not get the first time.

It was 1891 in a German town.  Wendla Bergmann had "blossomed" as a young woman yet her mother does not think she should know who babies are made. Melchior Gabor is radically intelligent in thought but still tended to be rash in his actions. Moritz Stiefel had been doing badly in school and his teachers do not want him to graduate to the next level. Ilse Newman was a victim of abuse in her home, so she ran away to live in a liberated artists colony. The play followed these four young people, along with their relationships with each other, their friends, teachers and parents.

The venue of this Blue Rep production was the Hyundai Hall of the beautiful new Arete building in the Ateneo de Manila campus. The entire production was only set up on the huge stage, including the audience area with chairs and floor seating areas . The actual theater seats were not used anymore as everyone was on the stage very close to the action. However, this time, the sound system was designed to fit that setup, so I was hearing the words and lyrics crystal clear.

In the matinee show I caught yesterday afternoon, the lead roles of Wendla and Melchior were played by student actors, Erika Rafael and Ian Pangilinan respectively, making them very close to the actual ages of these two characters. Rafael had a dusky radiant beauty that made her stand out from the rest of the ensemble. Her rich sensuous singing voice was clearly heard right at the beginning with her solo "Mama Who Bore Me." Pangilinan may have a magnetic presence as an actor, but his falsettos were at times not strong enough to be heard clearly through the musical accompaniment. The chemistry between them was not really an automatic click, but it eventually became more believable before Act 1 ended. (More experienced actors Krystal Kane and Sandino Martin alternate in these roles, so that should be very interesting to watch as well.)

The marked role of Moritz was played by Jason Tan Liwag. He had that angry grit in his singing voice which worked very well in songs like "The Bitch of Living," "And Then There was None" and "Don't Do Sadness." (Juancho Gabriel alternates in this role.) The supporting role of Ilse was played by Alexa Prats who had a unique powerful timbre in her singing voice, best heard in "Blue Wind" which she sang in a scene with Moritz. The role of abused child Martha was played by Sabrina Basilio, who sang solo in "The Dark I Knew So Well." The homosexual pair of Hanschen and Ernst was played by Anthony Peralta and JP Lapuz, but their featured reprise of "The Word of Your Body" in Act 2 felt oddly detached and extraneous in the narrative. 

The strong underlying current of teenage rebellion and highly sexualized themes in its book and lyrics as written by Steven Sater (based on an 1891 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind) and put to music by Duncan Sheik may not be everyone's cup of tea. At the risk of angering the show's devoted fans, it is not exactly my cup of tea to be completely frank as I realized after watching this show twice now, ten years apart. 

However, this Blue Rep staging led by director Missy Maramara was undisputedly topnotch,  The ensemble work by the youthful cast was earnest and energetic. The stylized set design, featuring loosely-hatched wooden beams and wooden floors barely painted with white, was by Ohm David, enhanced by the lights of Miyo Sta. Maria. The raw musical arrangements by Ejay Yatco brought forth a heady atmosphere of teenage angst. This production of "Spring Awakening" possessed an excellent overall quality that could rival those of professional theater companies.

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Ateneo Blue Rep's SPRING AWAKENING opened last March 29 and will run up to April 14, 2019 at the Hyundai Hall located inside the Arete in the Ateneo de Manila University campus. There are 8 pm shows on weekdays Wednesday to Friday, and two shows 3 pm and 7 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.