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.