Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review of TP's JUEGO DE PELIGRO: Sinister Seductions

February 23, 2015

"Dangerous Liaisons" is one of my favorite movies of all time. It was shown back in 1988, but the performances of Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves in this complex web of social intrigue remain unforgettable. This film was in turn based on a controversial French novel first published in 1782, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. There had been other film versions of this story set in 18th century Korea, or 1930s China and even 1999 New York (as "Cruel Intentions"), showing how adaptable the story was for any culture or any time in history.

Tanghalang Pilipino is currently staging a Filipino adaptation of this timeless story, set in the late 1800s in Manila. Entitled "Juego de Peligro", the cruel and manipulative French aristocrats Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont in the original story are now Spanish peninsulares Senora Margarita and Senor Vicente. The victims of their sadistic games of sexual hijinx are convent-bred virgin Cecilia, her indio music teacher Daniel and the very virtuous Senora Teresa. Watching these dangerous liaisons unfold live on stage in vibrantly scintillating Tagalog as adapted by Elmer Gatchalian remained to be as entertaining and absorbing as the film it was based on.

Arnold Reyes and Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino

Sharmaine Centenera-Buencamino was an excellent choice to play Senora Margarita, a truly challenging and ruthless role only the best actresses can play. She delivers her lines with just the right amount of classy naughtiness it was a brilliantly convincing portrayal. She was thoroughly delightful despite the many sins committed by her character. Her worldly maturity and innate confidence makes her a perfect Margarita, dominating the stage whenever she is on. I wish they could have had more people in that final ballroom scene in order to make the sting of humiliation more powerful and more painful than how it appeared.

Arnold Reyes definitely has the requisite irresistible masculine charm to seduce the ladies as Senor Vicente. At first, he did seem too young for the role especially when side by side the magnificent Ms. Buencamino, but he gains believability as the play went along. Vicente is the busiest character in this play, with scenes happening one after the other, entering from various parts of the set, in various states of dress (or undress) in some of them. Reyes ran through these difficult transitions seamlessly. His interpretation of the classic "It is beyond my control" scene is as hateful as it should be.

Arnold Reyes and LJ Reyes

LJ Reyes plays Senora Teresa. With her small doll-like face with porcelain complexion, she seemed to be so young for her role. I always imagined that Margarita, Vicente and Teresa should approximately be of the same age. The delicate Ms. Reyes does succeed in looking pitiful in her virtue. However, because of LJ's  childlike looks, Vicente looked more like a lecherous pedophile. (The alternate for this role is Valerie Concepcion, whom I believe is the better choice based on age and maturity of mien vis a vis Arnold Reyes' Vicente. That should also be interesting to see.)

Adrienne Vergara was a joy as the foolish Cecilia. She was unafraid to make a fool of herself, from her very first scene "singing". She has a lot of chemistry with Reyes' Vicente, which was a lot of fun to watch. The actress who played Cecilia's mother Senora Violeta, Raquel Pareno, was also a delight. Lharby Policarpio as Daniel, was hardly seen in Act 1. But he certainly gets more "exposure" in Act 2. He has the required youthful naive face, and the willingness to bare. He seemed a bit tentative, unsure in his delivery of lines at this point, but will probably improve as the play's run continues. (TV5 actor Vin Abrenica alternates in this role.)

Arnold Reyes and Adrienne Vergara

Being a sex comedy of the vicious sort, this is for mature audiences only. There is some nudity from three male characters, even from Jonathan Tadioan (as Vicente's manservant), but the ladies were more modest. The very elegant costumes for the aristocratic characters by James Reyes, particularly those for the ladies, were so meticulous in detail. The complex set design is by no less than the play's director Tuxqs Rutaquio. That wide balcony looks so real from where I was seated -- it was breathtaking. The lights designed by John Batalla, vital for the sensitive parts of the play, were faultless. However, there were some sound effects which seemed to have been mistimed in that show I watched.

Congratulations to Director Tuxqs Rutaquio and the rest of the Tanghalang Pilipino cast and crew for another bold and entertaining production.

"Juego de Peligro" is the closing production of TP's 28th Theater Season. It opened on February 20 at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater). It runs for two more weekends, Feb. 27-28, and March 1, 6-8 at 3 pm and 8 pm. 

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