Saturday, February 23, 2013

Collection (Dulaang UP)

February 23, 2013

"Collection" is a piece of original Filipino theater originating from the fertile imagination of multi-awarded playwright Floy Quintos and directed by Dexter Santos. I did not read the synopsis of the play before I watched it.  I did not even know who was in the cast.  Now that I have seen it, I have to say I was totally blown away by it.  I do not think I had ever watched a play quite the same as it.

The title is nondescript, does not say much.  The ticket simply billed it as a "very dark comedy."  I totally did not expect what would come out on stage.  The very first scene was an auction with no less than the Banaue Rice Terraces as a piece of real estate up on the block.  This shocking opening already sets the over-the-top, bombastic mood, pace and scope that would characterize the next three hours of complex, witty and mesmerizing theater.  The play would go from the mystic 17th century to the electric future, with a vivid script in both English and Filipino, on an impressive and innovative set that looked like it had doubled the size of the old Wilfrido Ms. Guerrero Theater stage miraculously.  

The story was set in the Philippines, in a year when there is nothing sacred anymore except money.  Everything is for sale already.  A government agency called the National Council for the Disposal of Patrimony (NCDP) cooperates with a private auctioning firm to sell pieces of Philippine culture and history in order to raise funds to give measly dole-outs to the masses in the form of a national raffle.  The next item up for bids would be an icon of the Virgin Mary with a back story most melodramatic that it would capture the intense materialistic fancy of even the most hedonistic of billionaires.  To whose collection of treasures would this coveted ivory statue go to?

If the script by Floy Quintos was mind-blowing and the direction by Dexter Santos was inspired, the actors in the cast were more than capable to embody and bring to life the challenging and larger-than-life characters of "Collection."

Jeremy Domingo plays Carlo Vibal, the celebrity auctioneer.  This actor I have seen in many roles before, but this one is the very best I have seen him in.  Domingo effectively essays the public arrogance and the private guilt of his complex character.  His best scenes were his "conversation" with a ghost from centuries past, all the way up to the shattering climax of the final auction.  That stage moment is so triumphant,  I would already end the race for Best Actor in a Play for 2013 right here this early with this flawless characterization and performance.

I do not think I have seen Stella Canete before, but her portrayal of the jewelry magnate Tatiana is a favorite of mine.  Her scene in the second half where she extols her own plans for a basilica for the Marian icon was pure comedy, striking brutally at the hypocritically "religious" Catholics.  I was in stitches during this wildly funny number.  Her partner in that scene was Jules de la Paz, who was simply hilariously irreverent, as a gay social climber who had supposedly reformed.

Alexander Cortez was clearly enjoying himself in the character of the flamboyant homosexual film director Alphonse.  He had a lot of naughty one-liners throughout the play.  His notable dig to the idealism of the student protest leader Gus (Red Concepcion) was very memorably funny.  

Talking about enjoying oneself, I would say the same about Jean Judith Javier who positively went to town playing the NCDP head Helena with utmost glee.  She would neurotically vacillate from Madame's Imeldific-isms to Miriam's Brenda-isms to the delight to the audience.  She has come a long way since I first saw her as Sisa in "Noli Me Tangere, the Opera."

Leo Rialp played aristocratic Spanish industrialist Don Manolo Estancio, while Roeder Camanag played Chinese beauty taipan Dr. Stephen Yan.  These two actors had a particularly memorable scene doing their usual "routines" as they discuss about their business philosophies, side by side .

Young Teetin Villanueva will move you and shock you with her courageous performance.  Her portrayal of the tragic Hermana Augusta Beata is haunting and heart-rending.  Her performance was a bit marred by some sound issues where we cannot hear some of what she was saying, but good thing her body language could already convey them effectively.  Her singing though is definitely strong and beautiful.

This is most definitely must-watch theater!!!   It succeeds in so many levels: as religious satire, as political satire, as social satire.  Simply and seriously amazing.  After seeing this play,  I now regret that I have missed many of Floy Quintos plays recently, like "Fake" or "Isang Panaginip na Fili". I know I will have to watch his future works, definitely looking forward to the next one.

After this weekend, "Collection" will only run one more weekend next week.  The final shows will be on March 1 at 7pm and March 2-3 at 10am and 3pm at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, University of the Philippines, Diliman.  Do not miss this very original, provocative and timely play. This closing production of Dulaang UP's 37th season will definitely make you think, as it also effectively entertains you.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Boeing Boeing (Repertory Philippines)

February 9, 2013

This straight comedy play is the first offering of Repertory Philippines 76th season.  I have not heard anything about this title before.  Furthermore, except for the veteran Ms. Baby Barredo, this play was incredible in that there were NO real star actors in any of the lead roles, which I found quite brave.  Honestly, it did not really cross my mind to watch this play, however I was tempted when the initial reviews all were very enthusiastic.  Therefore when I won a raffle for tickets on (again), my wife and I grabbed the chance to check out what the fuss was all about.

"Boeing Boeing" is set in the pad of American architect Bernard, in the city of Paris.  Bernard had what he thought was the perfect arrangement when it comes to his women.  He was simultaneously juggling three beautiful fiances, all of whom are airline stewardesses.  Bernard depends on their respective route schedules to plan his days with them, and so far everything was going on like clockwork.  His old friend from the province, Robert, who came to visit Bernard, was at the same time shocked and fascinated with this arrangement. Well, that is until one day, a big storm forces all three stewardesses to be in Paris, and in Bernard's flat, all at the same time!  That was when the fun really starts.  How can Bernard extricate himself out this big mess?

The three-timing playboy Bernard was played by a Caucasian guy named David Bianco.  He does pretty well but I thought he lacked that certain dash and debonair spark that would make it believable that this guy could actually snag and handle three gorgeous girls at a time.  Well, maybe that was part of the plan, that he could do it yet remain looking innocent about it.  

Jennifer Blair-Bianco, David Bianco's real life wife, played the vivacious Gloria in fiery red, the American who works for TWA.  Giannina Ocampo plays the passionate Gabriella in royal blue, the Italian who works for Alitalia.  Carla Dunareanu plays the feisty Gretchen in bright yellow, the German girl who works for Lufthansa.  Where have these ladies been before?  They were really spot on as they were all beautiful, sexy, daring and funny as their roles demanded.  Ms. Dunareanu (said to be Christian Bautista's girlfriend) stands out with her character's neuroses and German accent and attitude, which she succeeded to make endearing despite the stereotype.  It was only when Gretchen appeared on stage when the play finally "woke up" for me.  

While Topper Fabregas felt like the odd man out in the cast when it comes to his moreno complexion, he was generally energetic and delightful in his performance as Bernard's provincial friend, Robert.  He projected that naivete his character required, not knowing what he was getting into that day he decided to pay his old friend Bernard a visit.  But in some scenes, his character can be confusing because Topper's acting can be inconsistent.

As the only veteran and most senior member in the cast, Ms. Baby Barredo was quite the effective female curmudgeon as the maid Bertha. This crude, grumpy, ever-complaining character gets to deliver many of the funny one-liner jokes, and of course Ms. Barredo delivers as only she could.   I would have liked to have seen her alternate, Ms. Joy Virata, play Bertha as well.  I can imagine a very different attack on the character.

"Boeing Boeing" was originally written in French by Marc Camoletti.  It was translated to English by Beverley Cross, and was first staged in London's West End in 1962, and in Broadway in 1965.  It had a successful Tony Award winning revival on Broadway in 2007.  To be honest, it really felt like the play was written and trapped in the 1960s, with a very dated concept and setting.  The stereotypes of the girls' nationalities are not exactly politically correct and potentially offensive as it was written (especially if you are American or German).  Fortunately though, the effective stage direction by Miguel Faustmann and the energetic performance of the cast, especially the vivacious ladies dressed in those attractive and sexy air hostess uniforms by Raven Ong, make the play somehow feel fresh, fun and light-hearted.  We were actually laughing out loud in many hilarious madcap scenes, and that really felt great, but you still feel something lacking somewhere.

Rep's production of "Boeing Boeing" runs at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Ayala Malls for one more weekend until Sunday, February 17.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review of PETA's D' Wonder Twins of Boac

"D' Wonder Twins of Boac" is the last offering of PETA for its 45th theater season. Writer Rody Vera adapted Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and transported the story to the Philippine movie industry of the late 1960s when the film studio system was already on the decline.  I found that a very interesting concept, and furthermore, it will star one of my favorite stage actresses Cris Villonco in the lead.  This was most certainly a must-watch for me.

Viola (Cris Villonco) and Bastian (Chrome Cosio) are the titular twins from Boac, who were a talented song and dance duo.  On their way to try their luck in the movie industry in Manila, their ship capsizes and the two were separated when they were lost at sea.  We later see Viola in Manila as a sampaguita vendor. When she hears that Campanilla Pictures were holding an audition for an Elvis movie, she gets the idea to dress as a boy named Cesar to try her luck.  

The owner of Campanilla Pictures, Don Orsino (Lex Marcos), wants to propose marriage to the recently-widowed Donya Olivia (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) of rival BLV Pictures, in order to unite their two studios.  He sends Cesar to be his emissary to Olivia. However, fate has it that Olivia actually takes a fancy to fair Cesar, not knowing that "he" was actually a girl in disguise.  By this time, Viola/Cesar was already falling in love with Don Orsino!

On the other hand, unknown to Viola, Bastian had long been in training as a movie stuntman, so it was inevitable that the twins' paths will cross one day.  However, how will Bastian figure in this already complicated love triangle entangled in a web-like comedy of errors that his cross-dressing sister is now involved in?

This whole absurd situation is hilarious as you can imagine.  The comedy worked back in Shakespeare's time and it works up to now.  The director Maribel Legarda, fresh from her directorial successes in other PETA hit shows "William" and "Care Divas," injected a lot more Pinoy comic touches to tickle the young audiences whom this play targets.  The theater was full-packed to the rafters with high school and college students and they were really howling with laughter in many scenes.

I have never seen Cris Villonco in a role like Viola before.  She was quite "cute" as Cesar.  Of course, she did not really look like a real man, but she looked like she was having a lot of fun doing it.  Her songs were  in a more pop voice and style, rather than the trilling soprano we are more used to hearing her sing in her previous shows like "Walang Sugat" and "Noli Me Tangere." Those scenes of Doc Orsino and Direk Luciano (Roi Calilong) teaching Cesar how to seduce a woman was very laugh-out-loud funny, as with that scene where Donya Olivia turns the tables on Cesar seducing moves.

Chrome Cosio's role as Bastian was not as extensive as Viola's.  His memorable highlight were those scenes with his stunts trainer, the sneaky Antonio (Riki Benedicto), that really brought the house down with laughter!  Chrome was not shy in showing off his physique, to the delight of the high school girls in the audience.  However, since he was showing his body off several times from the first song number to the last, it did look a little too repetitive, thus losing its novelty factor.

This is my first time to see the acclaimed Shamaine Centenera live in action.  She was very fierce, funny and fearless as Dona Olivia.  She had a near wardrobe malfunction during the show I watched, but she survived it with aplomb.  Lex Marcos was debonair as Doc Orsino, but also very funny. I cannot imagine his alternate, the older Bodjie Pascua, to be better fit as Orsino than Lex.

A side plot involved Luciano, a low-brow director of masses-oriented "bakya" movies, and his nemesis Malvolio, who is a snobbish director of quality serious films.  The conflict between these two directors was also very interesting as it was funny.  The Malvolio character took time to warm up to the audience though, as played by Lao Rodriguez.  The supporting characters of Olivia's drunken Uncle Toma (Gie Onida), her foolish suitor Rudy Castelvi (Eric V. dela Cruz) and her secretary Maria (Kat Castillo) also had their funny moments.

The whole play worked out quite rollickingly fun. Well, that is, until the ending when they tried to inject something of a historical perspective as to what happens next in Philippine cinema.  In my opinion, it did not really end the show too well, as it felt like a totally different play.  There was that one moment when the audience fell silent also, so I think maybe they did not get it too.  This is only the first weekend though, and maybe they still tweak the execution of that scene a little in the coming shows.  In any case, after that momentary hiccup, the play recovered when the final song number came on and enlivened the stage again.

(photo credit:  PETA FB page)

When I entered the auditorium and took my seat, the first thing I noted was that the old stage was not there.  Instead there was a beautiful multi-tiered stage with a staircase going up to the balcony on one side.  There were now seats all around this stage.  This new stage made everything more exciting.

Congratulations to PETA, Ms. Maribel Legarda, Mr. Rody Vera and the cast and crew of "D' Wonder Twins of Boac" for this most innovative and originally envisioned Shakespearean play I have seen, after "King Lear" also by PETA just a couple of years ago.  May you continue to succeed in your mission to bring to the Filipino youth original interpretations of the Philippines' and the world's best literature!

"D' Wonder Twins of Boac" runs at the PETA Theater in Quezon City, weekends from February 1 to March 3, 2013, Fridays and Saturdays: 3pm and 8pm; Sundays: 10am and 3pm.

Tickets are available at For inquiries, contact 725-6244, 0916-5675400, or