"PIAF", a brutally frank 1978 play written by Pam Gems, is all about French torch singer Madame Edith Piaf. I did not really know much about her or her life and career, except for her signature song "La Vie en Rose." I know there was a movie about her life which won Marion Cotillard international stardom and an Oscar for Best Actress, but I have not seen that yet (and now I should).
The picture that "PIAF" paints of Edith Piaf is not exactly flattering at all. We see her very humble beginnings as a street singer and prostitute, her big break to sing at a club, her arrest, her French resistance efforts during World War II, her career rise and fall. We see her heavily dependent on the company of men, alcohol, and later morphine. We meet the real woman behind the beautiful voice, potty mouth, coarse behavior and all.
This is an ultimate acting piece for the actress who will play her. It is an awards-baiting role, and indeed it had won a Tony in 1981 for the actress who originally played Piaf on Broadway, Jane Lapotaire. I have no doubts that even if this is only March, we could practically give the Best Actress to Ms. Pinky Amador already. She was giving this character everything she's got. It is her powerful, full-bodied smokey singing voice that is front and center in this play. Even if her spoken voice was already quite strained, her singing was still breath-taking!
Ms. Amador's rendition of "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" (originally "Hymne a l'amour", lyrics written by Piaf) was simply ethereal and beautiful. Good thing that song was rendered in English. It is too bad I am not familiar with her French songs. The final song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" was also very powerfully sung, but I wished this last song would have been sung in English too so its message can be understood by more members of the audience. I was expecting the song "La Vie en Rose" to occupy a more climactic position in the play, but it didn't.
The hard-working supporting cast consisted of two females and eight males. They did everything on stage. Aside from acting multiple roles, they also moved props and dressed each other. The females were Ima Castro (mainly as Toine, Edith's best friend) and G Toengi (mainly as Marlene Dietrich). The males (Jamie Wilson, Reuben Uy, Altair Alonzo, Hans Eckstein, Mako Alonso, Nel Gomez and Sandino Martin) played the men who went in and out of Edith and her life, from her discoverer Louie Leplee (Wilson), to the love of her life French boxer Marcel Cerdan (Eckstein), to her protege singer Charles Aznavour (Uy), to last husband 20 years her junior Theo Sarapo (Martin).
The stage design by Faust Peneyra was impressive with huge brown walls and doors covering all sides of the stage with lights passing through the slats in the upper sections, which had some surprises in store as the play went on. The lighting effects by Martin Esteva was very dramatic and vital in the story telling, a star of the show in its own right. The huge "PIAF" in red lights illuminating the left side of the stage was very striking.
I cannot say this show is for everyone. The play played like an indie film, graphic and gritty. The language is uncouth and can be downright dirty. This is definitely for mature audiences only - Rated R. However, for people who love serious theater, this is a must-see. Even if the whole play was already excellent, Ms. Amador's bravura performance alone is already worth the price of admission. She was fierce and fearless. This is the best I have seen her. She is transformed as Piaf. You do not see Pinky Amador anymore. This is a worthy showcase for her 30th year in show business. You would think you are actually watching Piaf herself. Kudos to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis crew for this amazing initial offering for this year.
"Piaf" runs from March 8 to 23, 2013 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. For information, call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078.