August 18, 2013
"Batang Rizal" is a play by PETA that I have heard about for a very long time. This musical about the child Jose Rizal had been first staged way back in 2007, and had been toured around the country several times since then. I knew that this is a play I would like to watch with my children. When I found out just a few days ago that PETA will be re-staging this modern classic at the PETA Theater for a limited engagement this month, I made sure my whole family went to watch it this rainy Sunday morning.
"Batang Rizal" tells the story of Pepito (Vic Robinson), a student of Rizal Elementary School, who is in deep trouble for accidentally breaking the expensive new Jose Rizal statue donated by their oily Mayor Rafcu (Wylie Casero) for their Linggo ng Wika celebrations. Pepito encounters a magical Book which teleports him from the present time back to the late 19th century in Calamba, Laguna when Jose Rizal, or Pepe (Lemuel Silvestre), was still a young boy like him.
From such an innovative scenario, we are given an inside view into the psyche of the still young and innocent boy Rizal, still being bullied by other kids for his diminutive stature, only beginning to be wakened to national consciousness by his elder brother, already very devotedly attached to his mother. The situation gets more interesting when Pepe is likewise brought by the magic Book to present times and he meets Pepito's teacher and classmates. Ultimately, the young Rizal and his modern day friends will be taught lessons in nationalism and heroism.
We will get to see all the stories we hear about Rizal's childhood unfold on the stage as they have been skillfully integrated into the script. The oft-repeated fables of the "Turtle and the Monkey" and the "Moth and the Flame", were retold in imaginatively via hand puppets. We will hear the young Rizal himself recite "Sa Aking Mga Kabata," the poem he supposedly wrote when he was only eight years old. There was even an episode about Rizal's mother being arrested and incarcerated, which I have never before heard of until I watched this play.
The young adult cast playing children was so cool and natural, not trying too hard at all to be childlike. Vic Robinson is charming as the lead character, Peping. Hard to believe this guy had already played a romantic lead in "Sa Wakas" just a few months ago, and here he is now playing an elementary-age kid. This is the first time I am seeing Lemuel Silvestre on stage, and yet here he is now playing co-lead as Pepe. He may not be conventionally good-looking as Robinson is, but Lemuel's charisma steadily grew as the play went on. Most importantly, he is credible as the titular young Rizal.
Peping has his friends: the bossy Bambam (Timee Gorrecho), the big cutie crybaby Chiqui (J-mee Katanyag), and of course, his crush, the pretty Kaye (Rissey Reyes). Of course, as in any school, there are those bullies: the naughty Manuel (Ron Alfonso) and his gang Raffy (Rafael Sudayan) and Ella (Divine Aucina). These mischievous bad guys were quite the hit with the crowd with their boisterous antics.
What is amazing about this supporting cast is that in complete contrast to the relentlessly zany characters they play in the present time, they also play the very serious characters in young Rizal's life on the other side of the time tunnel. Casero also plays Rizal's older brother Paciano (though he did look old enough to be Rizal's father). Katanyag, Gorrecho and Reyes also play Rizal's sisters Saturnina, Maria, and Narcisa respectively. Alfonso tells the grim tale of the execution of Gomburza with the garrote. Sudayan plays a wicked Spanish friar selling indulgencias.
The most remarkable extreme transformation was by Ms. Noemi Gonzales. She was just so perky and crazy as their ditzy Filipino teacher Ma'am Tangolang, who has a penchant for channeling opera diva Sylvia la Torre. Yet in a total turnaround, she was also a serenely solemn and very dignified presence as Teodora Alonzo, fondly called Donya Lolay, Rizal's mother. You would never imagine that these two exceedingly contrasting characters were just played by just one very talented actress.
This play was brilliantly written by Christine Bellen, with such loving respect for the Filipino language. It also features lively all-original music composed and arranged by no less than Vincent de Jesus. Dudz Terana directs the action very well, mixing the serious and the comic moments with much control. The moment when Pepe realizes the lesson of the "Moth and the Flame", and that moment when Pepe discovers how exactly he became a hero, were so beautifully and sensitively written and staged.
This is by no means a very serious play about patriotism. As PETA targets this play for children, the audience is also treated to rollicking, laugh-out-loud, schoolyard comedy. This 2013 script was obviously updated to include hilarious present day pop references, like the current Pork Barrel issue, Ser Chief, Juan de la Cruz's "latigo ng katarungan", and many others.
My whole family really enjoyed our two hours (no intermission) watching "Batang Rizal" this morning. I do not wonder why this play had already achieved its status of being a beloved PETA production. It definitely deserves to be seen by all Filipinos, young and old, all over the country.
To celebrate Buwan ng Wika this month of August, do bring your whole family to watch "Batang Rizal"! This play will run August 16-18, August 23-25, August 30-31 and September 1 at The PETA Theater Center. There are two shows per day, 10 am and 3 pm.
For tickets and more information, contact 725-6244, 0917-5765400. Tickets are selling for P600 for adults, and P400 for students. These shows sell out because entire groups of students book these shows, so hurry to reserve your seats!