Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review of UPPT's MGA AMA, MGA ANAK: Painful Patrimony

September 9, 2017




I got off work a little late this afternoon. I reached the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater a little past 3 pm already, and the play had already started. I was standing at the back first, waiting for a time when I can find myself a seat. However, director Tony Mabesa noted this old man standing there sticking out among the young kids and offered me the empty seat beside him. So that was how I got to watch this play seated beside the director himself, hearing some of his directorial commentary along the way. 


Director Tony Mabesa sharing his thoughts after show,
with Paula Benitez and Issa Litton beside him.

It was a day in the mid-1970s in a suburb just outside Manila. Zacarias Monzon was a man who rose out of poverty by running a horse-drawn carriage business. From his earnings, he was able to build himself an enormous mansion. The most remarkable piece of furniture in his house was a very long dining table which can accommodate three dozen people. 

Aside from his first wife and his two surviving legitimate children Marcelo and Nena, Zacarias would go on to have many mistresses and many other children. However, when the family fortune turned to the worse and a debilitating stroke, Zacarias was left alone in his house with only Nena and his last mistress, a young prostitute named Bessie, taking care of him. His son Marcelo, now a business bigshot, never forgot nor forgave his cruel father who found pleasure in using the whip on his children.

Veteran actor Leo Rialp was playing a flawed man on the ebb of his life, yet his performance of Zacarias was vivid and strong. His naughtiness brought about by his dementia was even oddly delightful, especially in that scene when he was getting drunk with gin. There was a scene when he was repeating lines over, when you cannot tell if this was a mistake or it was in character, so realistic in his breakdown. The tattoos (henna) you see on Rialp's body was an idea of the dedicated actor himself to make him fit the look and personality of Zacarias more. (Menggie Cobarrubias alternates in this role.)

I think this is the first time I saw acclaimed playwright Rody Vera act and he was intensely passionate in his role as Marcelo. He was the character in the middle of the three generations in this play -- his father's son and his son's father -- so his was technically the central character. Reacting to the faults of his father and those of his son, this was the character who developed the most. It was his emotional explosions that ended Act I and Act II which were the most painful dramatic highlights of the whole show. (George de Jesus III and Greg de Leon alternate in this role.)

We only see the character of Sofia, Marcelo's socialite wife, in Act II, she provided that vital sparkle of humor and frankness that kept this play from wallowing in melodrama. As brilliantly played by Issa Litton with perky, almost manic, energy, she stole every scene she was in. Our attention gets drawn to her patrician beauty, her chic fashion but most importantly to her scintillating personality and shocking liberality --  a woman ahead of her time. (Adriana Agcaoili alternates in this role.)

The cheap and skanky way she was dressed, you'll think that the character of Bessie is just a comic figure at first. However, her maligned character's true heart and dignity will unfold and be revealed before the play ends. It was in these concluding scenes that Paula Benitez shone, providing the play's most tear-jerking moments. (Bessie is also played by two other young actresses Sarina Sasaki and Chloe Jenna. However the most interesting casting choice is that of Candy Pangilinan, who is more mature than her other alternates, hence will definitely give the character more depth to work with. Her age will also change the dynamics between her Bessie and the other characters.)

The dutiful sister Nena is the symbol of society's expectation of daughters -- to be the one to care for their aging parents. She never left the family home, never got married, never practiced her profession, yet to the end, she still felt like she had not offered her father her best. This self-sacrificing role was played with sincerity by Banaue Miclat-Jannsen, as her character tread the line between filial duty and personal frustration. (Stella Canete-Mendoza alternates in this role.)

Tracy Quila played the role of Chitong, the son of Marcelo and Sofia who could not make up his mind on what career he wanted to take. He quit law to become a seminarian, but the event in the play made him even more confused. (Carlo Tarobal and Mark Dalacat alternate in this role.) Olive Nieto played the humorous role of Mrs. Paulo, the nosy neighborhood nurse who had a big crush on Zacarias as she was growing up. (Belen Calingacion alternates in this role.)

The magnificent set depicting the classic all-wood interior of the Monzon mansion by Ohm David is the first thing that will strike you when you enter the theater. The lighting of Meliton Roxas Jr. provided the shadows that enhances the dramatic moods, particularly in that haunting last scene. Eric Pineda's best costumes were those stylish pieces worn by the flamboyant Sofia. Those striped bell-bottom pants worn by Chitong reminded us that this play was set in the 1970s. The sound design was done by the ever-efficient Jethro Joaquin.


The cast members answer questions from the audience after the show.

"Fathers and Sons" was written in English by Nick Joaquin based on his own short story "Three Generations." This was in 1976, exactly the year when he was declared National Artist for Literature.  Its Filipino version "Mga Ama, Mga Anak" was translated by National Artist Virgilio Almario (Rio Alma) and Jose F. Lacaba for the PETA production in 1977 directed by National Artist Lino Brocka.

Just three years ago in February 2014, Tanghalang Pilipino restaged "Mga Ama, Mga Anak" directed by Joel Lamangan and starring Robert Arevalo as Zacarias. There was nostalgia in that TP show as Lamangan and Arevalo were in the cast of that original 1977 PETA production. Unfortunately, I was not able to watch it then. So I was glad that to learn that UPPT is going to restage it this year to mark Joaquin's birth centenary. Nick Joaquin was born Sept. 15, 1917. 

Director Tony Mabesa shared he decided to complete the translation of the last few pages of Joaquin's English script (skipped in previous productions) because he wanted to clearly deliver what he thought was the essential message of the play. The political undertones of the play (remember that this was originally staged in 1977) became crystal clear and undeniable because of that fiery final scene. 


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"Fathers and Sons"/"Mga Ama, Mga Anak" opened last Sept. 6 and will play up to Sept. 24, at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall of UP Diliman. English shows are scheduled on Sept. 6,7,15,19 & 21 (7pm), 10,16,23 &24 (10am) and 10 & 23 (3pm). Filipino shows are scheduled on Sept. 8,13,14,20 & 22 (7pm), 9 & 17 (10am) and 9,16,17 & 24 (3pm).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review of The Necessary Theater's BLACKBIRD: Payback for a Predator

September 3, 2017




Founded in September 1992, Actor's Actors Inc. (a local theater company born out of the combined talents of Roselyn Perez, Dodo Lim, Jaime del Mundo, Cita Astals, Bart Guingona, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Wylin Gervacio) now prefers to be called The Necessary Theater. Their last show "The Normal Heart" staged in 2015 was great critical hit first, then a bonafide box-office hit on its re-staging last year.

This year The Necessary Theater has chosen to stage a critically-acclaimed harrowing two-hander play written by Scottish playwright David Harrower back in 2005. It had won the 2007 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play. When it was revived in Broadway in 2016, it garnered  Tony Award nominations for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor Jeff Daniels) and Best Actress (Michelle Williams). This local staging will have the dynamic Topper Fabregas at the helm. 

One day, a 55-year old office employee Peter Trivinian unexpectedly gets a visit at work from a pretty 27 year old young woman named Una. He led her into a room to talk in private. It turns out that 15 years ago, 40-year old Peter (then called Ray) carried on an illicit sexual affair with 12-year old Una which eventually wound up in a nasty trial for statutory rape and incarceration for Ray, and cruel social ostracism for Una.


Una confronts Ray
(publicity photo from TNT)

The set was a typical multipurpose room in an office where employees would eat their meals during break time. Set designer Joey Mendoza made it feel very cold in there because of those silvery gray metallic wall paneling, which later turned out to be translucent blinds through which you can see the blurry bustle of activity outside. Prominently placed in the foreground on the right is a big trash bin overflowing with garbage. There were lockers at the back, and a water cooler that does not work. On the left side are random piles of storage boxes full of paper. 

Eight white fluorescent lamps ominously hang overhead. As designed by John Batalla, these lights were made to turn off one at a time to slowly dim the room during key moments of the play to heighten the brewing mood of tension inside. During an intense flashback monologue by Una, all eight of these white lights were off and a warm yellow spotlight was focused only on her. The power outage scene felt very real when there were emergency lights that automatically turn on.

And then there were just these two people talking on and on about an affair between them that happened 15 years ago. At the start, the man was obviously flustered, speaking nervously in fragments; while the girl was composed and confident, knowing she had the upper hand. The moods of the conversation will then switch up and down, shifting from one character to the other, mesmerizing the audience as they hear a mystery unfold. The topic is not easy to listen to. The language use is blunt, frank and direct. It was a very unsettling 90 minutes for an audience, but we are riveted.


A harassed Ray
(publicity photo from TNT)

Bart Guingona plays Ray, a man trying desperately to move on after a major failure of judgement in his past. He thought he had already done so, reestablishing himself as Peter, a respectable employee at this medical equipment firm. But then that evening, his nightmare came visiting in a cute floral mini-dress. Guingona, as always, was very natural in his acting. His distress and panic and loneliness all felt very real.

The very situation of seeing an older man talking to a younger girl in a two-hander play brought back memories of David Mamet's "Oleanna"  which I watched when New Voice Company of Monique Wilson staged it maybe 10 years ago or so. Suddenly it dawned on me that it was actually Bart Guingona also who played the role of the older man in that play! Guingona's character then was a professor accused by his female student of sexual harassment. No wonder the performance felt familiar in its feeling of helpless despair and emotional breakdown.


A playful Una
(publicity photo from TNT)

Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante plays Una, a girl trying desperately to move on after a man took advantage of her innocent pre-teen crush.  The first time I saw Mikkie Bradshaw on stage was in a dark production "Carrie" by Atlantis four years ago. Even if she was still a newcomer at that time, she held her own ground opposite Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo who played her dominating mother. It was only this time that I had seen her in another lead role, and she has certainly grown more more mature as an actress. 

Una is such a complex character for any actress to play. What was she really hoping to achieve with this visit? Was this for revenge? Or was this for reconnection? Was this visit one of hate? Or was it one of love? Una is the one driving the story forward, with Ray merely reacting to her every word. Bradshaw-Volante's portrayal captured this vagueness with all her little character quirks and nuances. This performance of hers as Una is certainly of Best Actress caliber. 

Congratulations to Director Topper Fabregas and the rest of Necessary Theater's cast and crew for their excellent work on this controversial material. Admittedly, this topic is not audience-friendly at all, being the stuff people would rather not talk about, stuff people subsume in their subconsciousness. Nevertheless, this staging of "Blackbird" is still an immersive theater experience that deserves to be seen, if only for its two powerful acting performances alone. 

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BLACKBIRD opened last September 1, 2017 and will run for only 6 performances up to Sept. 10. Showtime is 8 pm for Fridays and Saturdays and 3 pm on Sundays. Venue is at the Carlos P, Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza in Makati. Ticket price at P1200 for Orchestra Center, P1000 for Orchestra Sides and Back, P800 for Loge, and P500 for Balcony. Show is for mature audiences only because of its sensitive nature. It runs for 90 minutes straight with no intermission.

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P.S. I really hope RCBC Plaza would be able to adjust its parking rates for the sake of theater viewers. The new rate is P60 for first 2 hours, and P25 for every hour or fraction thereof after that. I was given an extra card at the theater door to prove that I watched a show in the Auditorium. I thought that would limit the parking rates. However when I went to pay however, I still racked up a parking bill of P110.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Review of TP's AURELIO SEDISYOSO: Parsing a Patriotic Playwright

September 1, 2017




This new musical play from Tanghalang Pilipino "Aurelio Sedisyoso" (literally, "Aurelio the Seditionist") is dubbed a "rock sarswela" about a heroic intellectual artist whom not everyone knew -- Aurelio Tolentino. I confess I knew next to nothing about his life even if I knew his name because the CCP Little Theater is formally called Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, coincidentally the venue of this very show about him. 

The musical begins at the turn of the 20th century when the Philippines was newly under the control of the American colonials. By then the revolutionary forces for Philippine Independence was being conducted in three key fronts. The military was under Gen. Macario Sakay, The labor sector was under Dominador Gomez. The theater artists were under Aurelio Tolentino, whose forte was the symbolic drama. 

In 1903, Tolentino wrote and produced his play entitled "Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas" ("Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow") which directly enjoined the audience to join the revolution against the Americans. His repeated arrests and incarcerations from that time on adversely affected his family life, as well as his friendship with his lawyer, future president Manuel Quezon. 

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This is the first time I saw David Ezra perform and he is indeed impressive with his vocal gifts as Aurelio Tolentino. His tenor can definitely soar but his lower registers are likewise solid. There was one song when he hit a perfect Ted Neeley-like rock wail which caused the audience to spontaneously erupt with applause. He was the most consistent vocal performer of the whole show, though the demands of his final song seemed to take its toll on his voice last night. A small drawback was that he seemed to be too young-looking to play Tolentino, whom his actors called Tatay.

The role of Tolentino's symbolic antagonist Tikbalang representing the American Government. Playing this role last night was Jonathan Tadioan in another one of his richly nuanced, scene-stealing performances. There must have been some microphone issues because I could not tell at times if Tadioan was speaking in English or Filipino (and he is definitely known to speak clearly). It was much hyped that this role was to be played by movie bad boy Baron Geisler in his first theater role. I'm sure people were expecting him for Opening Night, but that did not come to pass.


Main Cast Tadioan, Teodoro, Ezra, Maranan, Villanueva, Palmos, Ibesate
at the curtain call. with some of the company behind them


The role of rich and well-connected Dominador Gomez was played by JV Ibesate. By the end of the first act, I understood why probably I had never heard the name of this person before. The role of Macario Sakay was played by Remus Villanueva. I expected the part to be longer than it was, though he did figure in a "gory" tableau. Villanueva also ditched the long wig and hoodie to play Andres Bonifacio in other parts. The frills-free performance of Rivermaya vocalist Norby David as clean-cut Manuel Quezon stood out for me. 

Tolentino had two wives, one wife for each act of the show. His first wife Saling was played by Hazel Maranan. His second wife (after a whirlwind courtship it seems) Natividad was played by Kakki Teodoro. Both ladies were in good soprano voice last night, always crystal clear in their song delivery, overcoming any microphone issues. 

Tolentino and Saling had two children, Crising (a girl, but played coyly by Phi Palmos) and Didoy (played by Paw Castillo). They both have their respective featured songs. The scene and song where Celing was introducing a strapping new actor Dodong (Aldo Vencilao) to her father was the scene that finally broke the ice with the audience. Didoy had his big moment in Act 2 when the girl he fancied named Diday (Blanche Buhia) broke off with him. A third child Corazon was introduced in Act 2 when she was fined in school by her Marilyn Monroe-wannabe teacher Ms. Diwata (Sasa Cabalquinto) for speaking in Tagalog.

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The playwright and librettist is Nicanor Tiongson, the same genius behind the last TP hit "Mabining Mandirigma." This new play continues to explore the issues of American colonization from 1902 to 1907, including the pushing of English in schools and organization of the National Assembly. The musical director and composer is Joed Balsamo. I get vibes of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "A Chorus Line" in his musical score here mixed in with the classical sarswela, with touches of hiphop. The arrangements were done by Francis De Veyra of Radioactive Sago Project under Balsamo's supervision.  

The best production number in the show for me was the fliptop rap battle between Jonathan Tadioan and David Ezra during the trial scene. The rapping of these two guys was so crisply enunciated to the beat of the driving Another remarkable number was the duet number of Ezra with Norby David with both of them playing acoustic guitars. The musical talent levels here were really off the charts. 

The multi-level, multi-stage set designed by Toym Imao was huge as it sprawled across the entire audience area of the the Little Theater. The first act ended with a carnival spectacle featuring one gigantic equine set piece with lights. The lighting design of Katsch Katoy along with the graphic projections of GA Fallarme gave this already expansive set more depth and color. 


Grand Set, Grand Props

I may be too traditional in my preferences, but there are times when I felt that the anachronistic choreography by Denisa Reyes would confuse rather than enhance the story being told. James Reyes's costumes (with all the skirts and tulle overskirts) did not work too well for me in this production, especially when compared to his amazingly innovative work in "Mabining Mandirigma". 

There were still a lot of sound glitches that hounded the show throughout, understandable for opening night. The live band (the 3-piece Radioactive Sago Project Rhythm Section with Balsamo on the keyboard) would oftentimes compete with the singing with their inordinately loud, occasionally off-key instrumentals. Even the violin of the soloist sounded twangy. Because of this, I could not understand many of the lyrics being sung, a lot of times I just relied on context. I am sure adjustments would be made to correct these sound issues.


The cast are all known to be triple threats, but there are times when the singing harmonies among the company members also sounded off-key. One particularly awkward sounding number was when a Filipino song was sung in counterpoint with "God Bless America." That combination did not blend smoothly last night. I am sure adjustments would be made to improve these arrangement issues. 

I commend and congratulate director Chris Millado for taking on this massively ambitious project full on. There was really a lot of material to show and tell that the show lasted almost three hours (with a 15-minute intermission). There may still be room for streamlining the telling of the story, especially in Act I which may feel long for some viewers. Act II picked up some pace but the ending felt like it came on too suddenly. Anyhow, while this story may have happened at the turn of the previous century, we can still feel its pertinence during our present time when love of country is very much an issue of importance.

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"Aurelio Sedisyoso, A Rock Sarswela" runs from September 1 to September 17 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater). There is an 8 pm show on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 pm shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at P1,500 and P1,000. 


Monday, August 28, 2017

Recapping GAME OF THRONES Season 7: Reunions and Revelations

August 28, 2017




Needless to say, this recap has MAJOR SPOILERS. Read only after watching the whole Season 7. 

This Season 7 of Game of Thrones that just concluded this morning was the most controversial one of this celebrated TV series. These controversies involved both its shortcut storytelling style, as well as the advanced leaking of a couple of episodes. 

Many people were complaining how this season eschewed the cherished GoT tradition of slowly building up the story in several episodes, especially since the distances between the various locations in Westeros would take a lot of time to traverse. In this season though, characters looked like they were teleporting from one place to another, most particularly in Episode 6. Even messages by raven seemed like they were just text messaging each other. 

There was also a minor controversy in Episode 1 where there was a needless scene featuring pop star Ed Sheeran as a friendly Lannister soldier who sang a short rustic ditty, then later shared a meal with Arya Stark. This was a charming scene, no doubt, showing a calm Arya. But yes, it had no contribution to the storyline except to give GoT fan Sheeran some screen time as guest star.

There were two episodes which were leaked several days in advance. Episodes 4 and 6. The leak of Episode 4 ("The Spoils of War") was from Star India. Four individuals with company credentials were eventually arrested because of this leak. The leak of Episode 6 ("Beyond the Wall") came from HBO España and HBO Nordic five days early. These leaks though did not affect the ratings of these highly anticipated episodes.

Controversies notwithstanding, I personally found the quick pace of the developing story in Season 7 very exciting. This was done without losing the beauty of the dialogue being delivered by characters we have known and grown to love or hate for the past six seasons.

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Season 7 Episode 1 ("Dragonstone") opened immediately with a major kill. Arya Stark, disguised as their (already dead) patriarch Walder Frey, killed off the entire Frey family right in the very banquet room where the infamous Red Wedding (where her mom Catelyn and brother Robb Stark were killed) was held back in Season 3 Episode 9. 

For every episode after that, there would at least be one or two major characters killed off. The Sand Snakes Obara and Nymeria Sand were killed in Episode 2 ("Stormborn") when Euron Greyjoy attacked their ship. Their youngest sister Tyene was killed in Episode 3 by Queen Cersei with the same poison they used to kill her daughter Marcella. The final scene of Episode 3 ("Queen's Justice") was the final scene of the Queen of Thrones -- Lady Olenna Tyrell-- mercifully with poisoned wine offered by Jamie Lannister. 

There was no one character of note who died in Episode 4, but that was the episode where we saw in full spectacular display the firepower of Daenerys's dragons (and her Dothraki horde) during the so-called "Loot Train Battle," practically decimating the Lannister army on that field that day, nearly killing Jamie Lannister himself.

Episode 5 ("Eastwatch") had the noble deaths of Randyll and Dickon Tarly via Drogon's dragon fire upon order by his mother. Episode 6 saw the deaths of fire priest Thoros of Myr (after being mauled by an undead bear) and Uncle Benjen Stark (who appeared one last time to save Jon Snow before sacrificing himself to the Night Walkers). But the most memorable death was that of dragon Viserion from an ice spear to the neck thrown by the Night King himself, who later turned the beast into his own undead monster.

My most favorite death of this season happened in Episode 7 ("The Dragon and the Wolf"), when Sansa, Arya and Bran Stark turned the tables on and eventually executed the sneaky and snarky Petr "Littlefinger" Baelysh, the very master of chaos himself. This man had been behind a lot of the mayhem in Westeros, including the deaths of Ned Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Jon and Lysa Arryn. To see Littlefinger's slimy neck slashed by Arya's Catspaw dagger while he was on his knees and crying (!) was very satisfying. 

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Season 7 is a season of jubilation for fans of the Stark family because ever since they were split up in Season 1, the three surviving Stark siblings are now finally all together with Sansa in Winterfell -- Bran in Episode 3, and Arya in Episode 4. While their reunion scenes seemed cold at first (especially because Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, and Arya is now a master Assassin), by season's end, we know they will work together well. In Ned Stark's own words: "When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives."

In Episode 2, Arya met Hotpie again first time they met since Season 3. Later that same episode, Arya met her direwolf Nymeria while she was en route to Winterfell. In Episode 5, Jorah Mormont, healed of his greyscale by Samwell Tarly, was finally reunited with Daenerys after they parted ways in Season 5. 

Episode 7 alone is fun to watch because of all the mini-reunions that happened like Brienne and the Hound, Brienne and Jamie, Tyrion and Podrick. Brothers Sandor (the Hound) and Gregor (the Mountain) Clegane had a face off. All the Lannister siblings (Cersei, Jamie and Tyrion) were all together since the Purple Wedding in Season 4. For the first time, the three main contenders to the Iron Throne (Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow) were all in one place to talk about joining forces against the Night King. 

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The biggest revelation of Season 7 was the true nature of Jon Snow. All this while, he was known as the bastard son of Ned Stark. However, throughout the seasons, hints have been dropped about his real identity, and this was finally revealed in Episode 7 via a conversation between Bran Stark (who had seen visions of a dying Lyanna Stark endorsing a newborn infant to her brother Ned) and Samwell Tarly (whose wife Gilly read him a passage from a private diary saying how crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled to marry someone else). 

It was previously thought that Rhaegar (Danaerys' eldest brother) kidnapped Lyanna Stark and held her captive, an event that triggered the revolt of Robert Baratheon (Lyanna's betrothed) against the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. It is now confirmed that Jon Snow was in fact a legitimate child of a Targaryen (R + L = J), and is therefore higher in the line of succession to the Iron Throne than his aunt Danaerys. However to further complicate things with a little more incest, the writers decided to have Jon and Dany succumb to their carnal desires in Episode 7 (after they just met for the first time in Episode 3).

The whole season ended on a somber note as the Wall comes crashing down from the icy fire breath of the undead Viserion as piloted by the Night King and the Army of the Dead go charging on beyond it. I cannot wait for the final Season 8 to know what will happen next in the Great War. Season 8 reportedly will have only 6 episodes, all more than an hour long. However, word is that we will have to wait for more than a year (late 2018 to early 2019) for it. 




Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review of PETA's TAGU-TAGUAN NASAAN ANG BUWAN?: Charm of our Childhood

August 26, 2017




PETA has always been known for its outstanding theater shows for children, like "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" and "Ang Post Office." This year, on its Golden anniversary, PETA once again comes up with a new show for kids and kids at heart -- J-mee Katanyag’s “Tagu-Taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan”.

Against his wishes, Popoy was brought by his strict and stressed out Father to Lola Luna's house to take care of her because she was ill. Popoy was puzzled when his Lola called him Jepoy, and told him that she needed to look for her friends. His Father though told him to ignore her because this was all mere nonsense idle talk of a sick old woman.

Later that night though, a giant mouse named Ngo appeared and told Popoy that he had a shining heart and was the prophesied savior of Dilim-Dilim Land from the curse of the monstrous Papaw Halimaw. With the help of Ngo and the crazy and colorful Princess Mina, Popoy collected some items from the other denizens of Saysay Lupalop -- essential things for him to complete his fated task. 

Those new to PETA may not recognize them, but all those nutty residents of Saysay Lupalop were actually characters culled from other PETA children's shows. I recognized Pepe and Pepito to be from "Batang Rizal" (MY REVIEW).  As for the others, the hypernasal Ngo is from “Ngo ang Dagang Patay,” the bipolar Prinsesa Mina is from “Ang Tiririt ng Ibong Adarna,” the English-speaking Little Match Girl is from “Hans Christian Andersen Must Be Filipino”, and the challenge-hungry travelers Ismail and Isabel are from “Ismail at Isabel.”

To make the play attractive to kids, the set and costumes have to be vibrant and colorful, and they are! Costume designer Leeroy New had some very imaginative designs for the costumes of the Saysay Lupalop characters, especially Ngo, Princess Mina and Match Girl, also with accessories recycled from household items. The lighting of Loren Rivera and the shadow designs of Sig Pecho worked well with the sets of Charles Yee to create a world of wonder. The giant puppet of Papaw Halimaw was a sight to behold!


Bugcat, Silos, Relavo and other cast members 
meet fans in the lobby after the show


In the show I watched, the boy Popoy was played by Albert Silos ( his alternates in this role are Noel Comia and Omar Uddin. The role of Lola Luna was played by Joann Co (her alternates in that role are Marichu Belarmino and Upeng Galang-Fernandez). Popoy's father was played by John Moran. Silos gave a spirited lead performance with confidence and verve. Co gave the third act a potent emotional core. Moran did not feel like he was comfortable playing a father. 

The delightful audience-favorite Ngo was played by Roi Calilong. His speech defect must have been so hard to sustain the whole show with a straight face. The very exhausting role of the unhinged Princess Mina was played by Joan Bugcat. She also got to display her belting voice that we heard before in "Rak of Aegis." 

Match Girl had a pitch perfect English accent care of Teetin Villanueva. Her Tagalog with an accent is even cuter to the ear. Ismail was rather awkwardly played by Gelo Lantana, but Isabel was sprightly played by Raven Relavo. Pepe and Pepito were given energetic portrayals by Lemuel Silvestre and Vic Robinson III respectively.

Vien Alen King, Eric Dela Cruz, Phil Noble, Gab Pangilinan, Angelo Lantaco, Julia Enriquez, Yeyin Dela Cruz, Gerhard Krysstopher, and Norbs Portales alternate in these roles on other show dates.

Director Dudz Teraña kept the physical comedy up on high gear for almost the whole one and half hours running time of the show, knowing how any dip in the show's momentum might cause the attention of the kids in the audience to wander. The music by composer Jeff Hernandez may not have been immediately catchy for me, but it was lively and bubbly enough to keep the energy of the show going. 

For adults though, the payoff will be in the third act, which will resonate with them, with me, the most. Writer J-mee Katanayag delivers a message of not losing our connection with our childhood and the stories we have heard back then. We should never be too jaded with the pressures of adulthood. Instead, we should always hang on to our inner child with its essense of awe and imagination. Our kids will love us more for it. 


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“Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” debuted last August 18, 2017 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. It will have one more show at that venue on August 27 at 3 pm. The next weekend, it will be staged at the Star Theater in Pasay City on September 2 and 3, with shows at 10 am and 3 pm. For the Sept. 2 shows, contact Eko Baquial at 0915-734-7431. For the Sept. 3 shows, contact PETA at 0917-539-1112. 


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review of PhilStagers' OBRA NI JUAN: Perturbed Patriotic Prodigy

August 5, 2017




The PhilStagers newest musical play once again returns to the late 19th century to tell the story of the Philippine Revolution from the point of view of another one of its heroic protagonists -- the celebrated painter Juan Luna. Most of us know Juan Luna only for his spectacular 4.2 m x 7.6 m masterpiece -- the "Spoliarium" -- which is now hanging in its own special hall inside the National Museum. We frankly know nothing much more about him other than that beautiful gold medal-winning painting. It is time we knew more.

In an inventive and bold twist of storytelling genius, Atty. Vince Tanada brings us inside the disturbed psyche of Juan Luna as he argued within himself about key decisions and events of his life, both celebratory and tragic.  While this potentially controversial two-in-one characterization style (the genteel artist vs. the volatile cad) can cause confusion for the viewers at first, this novel approach also made us gain a unique understanding of the artist and his state of mind. I marveled at how Atty. Tanada was able to create such an imaginative manner of telling what could have been a straightforward dry history lesson.


Vince Tanada, Cindy Liper and Patrick Libao

The two stalwart lead star actors of the PhilStagers, Patrick Libao and Vince Tanada himself, portray these two disparate personalities within Juan Luna, known here as Juan Luna 1 and Juan Luna 2. Libao is making a comeback of sorts since he took a year-long leave from the company. It was as if he never left at all as everything he did was on point. Tanada is consistent with his signature acting and singing style that earned him a lot of devoted young fans over the years. His singing vocal range seems to be expanding with his every show -- impressive. (Kenneth Sadsad and Chin Ortega alternate as JL1 and 2.)

Juan Luna's story could not be told without including his group of friends in Spain with him -- namely, best friend Jose Rizal (Johnrey Rivas), propagandist Marcelo H. del Pilar (JP Lopez), brother-in-law Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (Kenneth Sadsad), and his hot-headed younger brother Antonio Luna (Jomar Bautista). The story of brotherhood of these Filipino illustrado indio intelligensia in Spain had never been told in a more vibrant way. Their boyish antics together played well to thrill the ladies in the audience. 


Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (Kenneth Sadsad), Antonio Luna (Jomar Bautista), and MH del Pilar (JP Lopez) talk about Jose Rizal  (Johnrey Rivas in background)

While all four of them had their own moments to shine, an inordinate amount of time was given to Jose Rizal, his despair about Leonor Rivera (Judyy Tolentino) and his love triangle with Antonio Luna and Nellie Boustead, even his incarceration and execution. These side stories did take the play on a significant detour away from the main Juan Luna thread. However, I did not mind the side trip because it featured the ballad "Ako na Lang," which I thought was the best and most memorable song of the whole show. 

Johnrey Rivas had a strong stage presence as Rizal, and he also gets to sing his own arias. His strong singing voice is a pleasant surprise. Jomar Bautista, who looked like a heftier Enrique Gil from afar, was an excellent Antonio Luna, both as youth and as general. Rutchel Leonor plays the girl which came between their friendship, Nellie, and she certainly projected so well why the two heroes are crazy about her. Her crystalline singing voice is certainly another one of her virtues. 


Liper, Adele Ibarrientos and Sadsad
as the Pardo de Tavera family in happier times

One of the best-executed scenes as staged was that about the biggest scandal attached to Juan Luna's name -- the murder case involving his wife Paz Pardo de Tavera and his mother-in-law Juliana. The two stalwart lead actresses of the PhilStagers, Cindy Liper and Adele Ibarrientos, portray these two ill-fated women. Director Tanada again stages this sensational episode with the characters involved with only a stand-alone door and doorway prop between them. The dark and loud musical score in this scene certainly gave this outstanding scene a heart-pounding air of insanity, tension and violence. (Vean Olmedo and Rutchel Leonor alternate as Paz and Juliana.)

Juan Luna's artistic oeuvre not only served as the backdrop of the stage, but also played important roles within the story being told. The "Spoliarium" had a whole production number on its own, with the ensemble portraying the gladiators and the townspeople gathered around them as depicted in the painting. There was another nice scene where four ladies behind colorful frames told the story behind four other Luna works ("Las Damas Romanas," "Despues del Baile," the sublime "Tampuhan" (a personal favorite painting of mine) and "La Muerte de Cleopatra"). The subjects behind his "Mi Hijo Andres" and "The Parisian Life" came to life on stage.


A moment of restful calm with Ina (Vean Olmedo) and the 2 Juans (Libao and Tanada)

"Obra ni Juan" is a 2 hour show without an intermission. Unlike most previous PhilStagers plays which were more immediately accessible, it took time for me to get into the groove of this given the more challenging novel approach it took in telling its story. (No wonder they told the audience to "open your mind" during the opening remarks.) However, once I got on, the rest of the ride was engaging and entertaining. A lot of the tried-and-true signature PhilStagers gimmicks in acting, choreography and humor were still very much there to effectively capture the attention of their youthful audience. Passion overflows in all scenes.

Kudos to director-writer-lyricist Atty. Vince Tanada, musical director-composer Pipo Cifra and the rest of the cast and crew! Special mentions go to Jeff Ambrosio (Production Manager and Set Designer), Art Gabrentina (Technical Director), Gerald Magallanes (Choreographer), Emy Tanada (Costume Designer), and John Paul Santos (Stage Manager).for their valuable behind the scenes work.


Johnrey Rivas, Libao, Tanada and Bautista take their bows

After a month's worth of soft opening shows, tonight's Grand Opening of "Obra ni Juan" was held in Cinema 9 of SM North EDSA, 6pm. Tickets cost P300 for regular patrons. This show will be touring in various Metro Manila and provincial venues. Check out the PhilStagers FB page (LINK) for more details about future shows.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review of Upstart's MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT: A Cheery and Chuckly Camelot

July 29, 2017




Monty Python were a British comedy group composed of British comedians Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. They shot to fame because of their sketch comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus, which was broadcast by the BBC from 1969-74. After the TV show folded, they had films as well. Their first "proper" film with all-original material was a spoof of Arthurian legends called "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975).

"Spamalot" is musical stage version of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" with book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by John Du Prez, which made its Broadway debut in 2005. There were a couple of songs from the source film itself, "Knights of the Round Table" and "Brave Sir Robin", both by Neil Innes. The show's most familiar-sounding song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was also by Idle, but it was for the film "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979).

The original 2005 Broadway production was a commercial and critical success. It won three of its 14 Tony nominations, including Best Musical, Best Direction for a Musical (for Mike Nichols) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (for Sara Ramirez, who played The Lady in the Lake). The show ran for more than 1,500 performances, closing in 2009. A West End production ran from 2006-2009, and had multiple Olivier nominations as well (no wins).


King Arthur (Lorenz Martinez) and his horse Patsy (Domileo Espejo)
(Publicity photo by Jaypee Maristaza)

Arthur, King of the Britons, armed and guided by the Lady of the Lake, is riding around the British countryside gathering a group of brave men to be his Knights of the Round Table. God spoke to Arthur to tell him and his men to go on a quest for the Holy Grail. Along the way, the King and his knights encounter a great many adventures, like the one with taunting French soldiers, the persistent Black Knight, the demanding Knights Who Say Ni, the effeminate Prince Herbert, the suspended Tim the Enchanter and the deadly Killer Rabbit. 

When you first see how King Arthur "rides" his horse Patsy, you'd think that this was just a silly technique to save the production from having to have a real horse on stage. Actually, though this was really the way Monty Python portrayed the horse in the film, a man galloping behind the king clip-clopping a pair of coconut shells for the hoof beats. In a later number, the Knights slyly inserted a "maglalatik" segment with their coconut shells, just one of many ad libs in this show.

In fact, that whole conversion with the guards about the coconuts and the migrating swallows was actually straight out of the film. Incredibly, a lot of the outrageous scenes and dialog of the play were likewise directly lifted from the film: like the man collecting corpses, Arthur's first meeting with Dennis Galahad and his mother, Arthur being told by God about the quest, the bloody fight with the Black Knight, the French soldiers throwing a cow off the ramparts, the stupid Trojan Rabbit incident, the loopy exchange between Herbert's father and his guard, the search for the shrubbery, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, among others.  


Knights and Horse take a bow (Rayos, Schulze, Rosen, Reyes and Espejo)

Lorenz Martinez is ever so comically hammy as King Arthur, like he did playing Mandy Patinkin in "Forbidden Broadway" (MY REVIEW) and Christian Gray in "50 Shades the Musical" (MY REVIEW). Martinez was no slouch in the singing department as we know very well. Domileo Espejo plays the loyal horse Patsy, and in that role, he got to sing the bright and cheerful show tune "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." 

Noel Rayos (as Sir Lancelot, the French Taunter, Tim the Enchanter, the Head Knight of Ni on stilts) is really very much at home in these loud and florid roles, as we had seen him from in past shows. Reb Atadero gave it his all in all those little roles he did, like never-say-die Not Dead Fred, the boot-licking minstrel of Sir Robin (singing the funny "Brave Sir Robin"), and the damsel-in-distress Prince Herbert.

With their long locks, facial hair and Caucasian looks, actors George Schulze (as the cowardly Sir Robin), Bibo Reyes (as the flatulent Sir Bevedere) and Dean Rosen (as the dashing Sir Galahad) looked like real British knights. In my opinion though, they still came across a wee bit awkward with the comedy routines they had to do. Nevertheless, they were clearly having fun up there.


Carla Guevara-Laforteza in one of her Libiran gowns
(Publicity photo by Jaypee Maristaza)

A totally new character not in the film gets to sing the most showstopping numbers, the Lady of the Lake. A couple of her songs actually talks directly to the audience, "The Song That Goes Like This" in Act 1 spoofing overwrought musical theater love songs, and the totally hilarious "The Diva's Lament" in Act 2, where she whines about her short role in the play. 

The fabulous Carla Guevara-Laforteza was radiant every time she stepped out on that stage solidly belting out those killer notes. As the Lady of the Lake, she also gets to wear glamorous gowns designed by Francis Libiran, channeling divas from Cher and Norma Desmond. Laforteza clearly enjoyed every high-fashion moment as she sashayed with aplomb in all her flowy and glittery get-ups. 

Chino VeguillasRoxy AldiosaRachel Coates and Edrei Tan complete the wacky ensemble.

The jokes fly fast and furious here. Some may fly above your heads. Some don't fly at all. Some are drowned by the heavy British accents. Some are corny and groan-inducing. But a lot are still really very funny, especially all the references to musical theater and all those crazy puns (symbol, arms), hilarious pop references (like Justin Bieber, Village People) and Pinoy-centric ad libs (RCBC Theater, Lea Salonga). The unrefined set (by Ed Lacson, Jr) and silly props fit right into the absurdness of the whole show. 

This is simply one very rollicking happy show. A smile on your face is guaranteed, with several chuckles and guffaws along the way for the especially ticklish, like me. Kudos to director Joel Trinidad, co-director Nicky Trivino, musical director Onyl Torres, the live band, and the rest of the cast and crew!


The Whole Cast Takes a Bow



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"MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT" has a very short run of 9 shows: Fri. Jul 28 (9pm), Sat. Jul 29 (3pm), Sun. Jul 30 (3pm), Fri. Aug 4 (9pm), Sat. Aug 5 (3pm & 8pm), Sun. Aug 6 (3pm), Fri. Aug 11 (9pm) and Sat. Aug 12 (8pm). 

Venue is at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium (4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City). Ticket prices are: ₱2,090 (Orchestra Center), ₱1,881 (Orchestra Sides), ₱1,567.50 (Loge) and ₱1,045 (Balcony) from Ticketworld.

I need to comment about the price of parking at the RCBC which increased effective this month. I arrived and parked at a little before 2:30 pm and left around 5:30 pm, and paid P110, which I found exorbitant for the time I spent there. I wish there would be special consideration for people watching a play there.