The story is already familiar with most fans of Filipino cinema. "Bona" is a Lino Brocka film of 1980 starring Nora Aunor as Bona, a fiercely loyal fan of a movie bit-player Gardo played by Phillip Salvador. In my vague memories of that movie, Bona practically becomes a maid for Gardo as her adulation turns to blind love. Gardo's callous attitude and response to her voluntary servitude drives Bona to a scalding conclusion.This time though, since the role of Bona will be taken on by current star comedienne
Eugene Domingo, director Soxy Topacio and scriptwriter Layeta Bucoy turned the play into more of a comedy in the first act, with the melodrama of the whole situation taking over in the second act. They used videos to bridge various scenes, such as the Star of Tomorrow tv show scenes, or the movie shooting scenes, making this a multi-media play. The set was spare, but they took pains to create a bathtub with a running faucet on stage, telling us that it will play an important role in the play, and indeed it did.
Eugene's Bona is not jobless nor penniless. She is a working woman, a call center agent holding multiple online jobs on the side in order to support the education of her nephew Bingo (BJ Lacson) and the vices of her wanton sister Binky (Olive Nieto). She has a gay best friend Baldie (Joey Paras) who also enjoys borrowing money from her in order to support his relationship with his "baby", Ralph. However, when she gets hooked on the reality show Star of Tomorrow, particularly being obsessed with Contestant #5 Gino Sanchez (Edgar Allan Guzman), her world completely turns upside down.
I have one hitch about the story, the turning point was rather shallow. It was not too convincing that a woman like Eugene's Bona could simply quit her job, consciously turn her life around and become a "Gino's Angel" just after watching his brief cheesy stint on TV. Unlike Nora's Bona, this new Bona seemed so sensible and no-nonsense in the beginning of the play, how could she just drop everything she was and she has for someone she just admired from a television show? They seemed to have just glossed over that critical point with one cavalier sentence then that is it. Once we get past that motivation issue though, watching Bona's self-depreciation unfolding on stage is something else, a very involving and unnerving experience.
"Bona" is Eugene Domingo's personal showcase as you may expect. It seemed to have been written and conceptualized with her in mind, and she thoroughly owned the role. She dominated the stage with her presence and performance, from when she entered and lit the candle of her altar, up to when she exited the door of Gino's apartment at the end. She was remarkably so real and accessible, as if you were just watching your next door neighbor going cougar over a macho movie starlet and implode into her own trap of naivete, so you do feel affected. Whatever you see of Eugene on TV and her movies, that would exactly be how she was onstage. What you see is what you get. You should see her face during her steamy love scene with Gino!
I have never seen a previous performance by Edgar Allan Guzman before. He has got his spoiled and smarmy mama's boy character down pat. He has the charm and swagger of a reality show contestant and neophyte actor. He has the guts to walk around the stage with nothing more than boxer briefs on. He got the whole lead-antihero thing going all the way to the end. Guzman was so effective the way his Gino played and used Bona, you will thoroughly understand and agree with what she does at the end. Of course, there is no convenience of slow-motion and freeze-frame in a play, as this iconic scene ended the Brocka film.
The rest of the supporting cast did their jobs well. Special mentions have to go to Joey Paras did well with his funny (albeit stereotypical) flamboyant gay best friend role Baldie, as well as Juliene Mendoza in his less showy but effective portrayal of Bert, Bona's landlord and suitor. I did not exactly like how Gino's manager Ronald (Jeff Henson-Dee) and his minions (Dudz Terana and Junevir Tabor) were portrayed, but hey, maybe that is really how it is in the real seedy world of local showbiz. The language of the play is acceptable given the situations depicted (there will be fight scenes and intimate scenes), but will not be appropriate for very young audiences.
Congratulations to Direk Soxy Topacio, Ms. Eugene Domingo and the rest of the cast and crew for this successful adaptation of a modern Pinoy film! Do catch "Bona" at the PETA Theater as it runs every weekend with 3pm and 8pm shows up to September 23, 2012.