Yesterday was the second Thursday of of this year's Virgin Labfest XI, and I was able to catch Set C during the 3 pm matinee slot. What is striking about these three one-act plays in this set is that all of them involve only two characters and we witness a particularly crucial conversation between them.
Playwright: Jose T. Garcia
Director: Audie Gemora
A nameless 29 year old man and a nameless 18 year old lady have been engaged in a texting relationship for nine months. For their "monthsary," they decided to meet up at the foodcourt of a mall. However, they were not honest about how they described themselves, a game of evasion ensues. Will their relationship go on to the next stage?
The conceit of this play is that majority of the conversation is in the form of text messages projected on TV screens onstage. Thanks to the charm of Ron Capinding (as Lalake) and J-mee Katanyag (as Babae), they were able to catch the audience sympathy with their largely silent performances. Capinding I have seen before in a markedly different light, as the director and as Uncle Berning in "Rite of Passage" in Ateneo. Katanyag I have seen in PETA's musical "William" and as playwright of "Betang" in the VLF last year.
The timing of the two guys on the side manning the laptops where the text messages came from was crucial and they pulled their critical parts off, fully deserving the ovation accorded them come curtain call. It must have been quite a challenge for Director Audie Gemora how to keep audiences interested in what's going on. It was obviously a formidable task to to sustain the audience's attention for the full 50 or so minutes of the play's running time just reading off the monitors.
Admittedly, there were some moments when the text messages were getting redundant, only to be saved by the antics of the actors. Yet those antics would also feel repetitive after a while as well. The idea of writer Jose T. Garcia felt like it would work better as a short film than a play, but the production efforts displayed in staging this play were very much commendable.
Playwright: Jerome Ignacio
Director: Guelan Luarca
Two high school boys talk about various things when they met in a secluded bench on a hill overlooking Marikina. One of them Julio (Abner Delina Jr.) was graduating already while the other one Mike (Joshua Tayco) is only a freshman.
A purely conversational play like this is fully dependent on the cast, and this cast of two really delivers. The chemistry between Delina and Tayco was undeniable. I have seen Delina before playing characters younger than his real age in PETA and Ateneo, and he can really pull this off credibly with his boyish countenance and energy.
However, for me, I confess I could not seem to get the drift of the stream-of-consciousness, flight-of-ideas type of conversation these two guys were having. Sorry but I don't really get what the dinosaur was all about. It relied much on bad language to liven things up and jolt audience attention. To their credit, those profanities did work to help keep me awake during this play.
Despite my opinion, the audience reaction after the play seemed positive as the cast was met with rousing applause. The young lady seated beside me was actually wiping off tears (though I cannot be sure they were because of the play). So maybe It is just me. Maybe it is an age thing. I could not relate to the teen angst in this play.
Playwright: Juan Miguel Severo
Director: Raffy Tejada
This play is set in purgatory where souls get prepared to go to heaven. Lisang has been here for two years because of her bad temper and quarrelsome ways. Even her husband Nestor had gone ahead to heaven and was waiting for her to join him there. One day, a new soul and old friend, the tall and handsome Manolo, joins Lisang in the waiting room. They catch up on things which had transpired since they last met.
Now, talk about saving the best for last. This one act play by Juan Miguel Severo is a beautiful theater experience -- funny, insightful, moving. I did not want the banter between real life husband and wife -- the ever-elegant first couple of Philippine ballet, Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida Froilan -- to end. When he was called up on stage during the curtain call, I was so surprised to see Severo so young, when he so effectively captured the essence of senior citizens in his script.
I am sure there is no dry eye in the theater when Lisang delivered her climactic line, and then Manolo countered with one of his own. Their timing was so exquisitely perfect. I have never seen the Froilans act on stage before, so I was really pleasantly surprised at their acting performances. I even caught director Raffy Tejada wiping his eyes in this scene, and he must have seen and heard this scene countless times already.
In last year's VLF X, there was another play entitled "Betang" (written by J-mee Katanyag) which was also about senior citizens waiting to be called to heaven, and pining for their one great love. I also loved that play. In that play, the nostalgic "I Wanna Be Loved by You" sung by Marilyn Monroe had a major role. In "Hintayan", there was also a song that played an important part -- "Am I That Easy to Forget" by Engelbert Humperdinck. The two stories may share similarities, but the execution is very different, both very special in their own ways.
"Hintayan sa Langit" is the definitely among the Top 3 best plays in this year's Virgin Labfest.
There are two more schedules of Set C left: July 11 at 8 pm and July 12 at 3 pm.