July 9, 2015
Every year, the Virgin Labfest names three of the best plays to be restaged in the Revisited set the next year. It is interesting to note that #2 and #3 were both in the same set, Set C, last year in Virgin Labfest X. #1 is from Set B.
1. ANG NAGHIHINGALO
Playwright: Raymund P. Reyes
Director: Dennis N. Marasigan
Intoy suddenly suffers a stroke and needs P300,000 for brain surgery to drain the hemorrhage. Being an ice cream seller who was just recently laid off from work, they do not have the money for this. Intoy's wife Felisa seeks the help of Intoy's three elder siblings, Guido, Doreen and Ate Linda. As Intoy lies critically in the ICU, his three siblings end up squabbling over past family issues instead of coming up with the cash.
Of these three Set E plays, this is the only one I actually caught. I loved it. One of my favorite plays last year because it was so funny. Because of my background, I enjoyed the medical aspects of the play and how lay people misinterpret what the doctors tell them, and the common beliefs about strokes and aneurysms. Those absurd medical hypotheses on how the stroke probably happened certainly kept me in stitches. Reyes also found a trove of rib-tickling comedy from the many sub-issues this play tackles, like public school teachers, drinking sessions of men, the nouveau riche, marrying older foreigners, among others.
Dolly de Leon is still so potent as the flamboyant well-to-do eldest sister Linda, who recognizes no one when it comes to her loan sharking business. While he was generally OK, I thought that Russell Legaspi did not completely come up to par when it comes to the hilariously over-the-top performance of Bong Cabrera last year as the second eldest sibling Guido. No matter though, this little observation does not significantly detract in my overall enjoyment of this play a second time around . I laughed just as much as I did last year.
2. MAPAGBIRONG HAPLOS
Playwright: Kevin Tabora
Director: Melvin Lee
Jimmy Pineda was a movie stuntman who spent several years in jail for murdering his starlet girlfriend. After his release from prison, he takes up a vocational course in butchering with the hope of getting a job in such capacity in Canada. Needing help with his overseas job application papers which included a personal statement, Jimmy seeks the help of his estranged eldest daughter Jeanette, a PhD candidate, creative writing professor and film/TV scriptwriter. Their awkward meeting opens up old wounds and reveals previously unexpressed frustrations and pent-up emotions.
Of the three plays in Set E, this was the heavy drama. There were only two characters -- a father and his daughter. He is humble, contrite and repentant. She is bitter, angry and defiant. Both have unresolved issues in their past they need to get off their chests. A harrowing script like this definitely demands the best and most talented actors to bring it to life.
The elegant Dido dela Paz was not the original Jimmy when the play was first staged in last year's VLF. Physically, he may not really look like an illiterate ex-con tricycle driver who gets into brawls with beer bottles. But with his masterful acting and delivery of lines, we are convinced he is one. He even manages to gain our sympathy despite the despicableness of his damaged character.
I knew Meann Espinosa more as a marketing manager of PETA than as an actress. I have only seen her act once, and that is the innovative school teacher in PETA's original musical entitled "William", a role which won her an award citation. This role in "Haplos" was such a most intense and serious role and Meann completely nailed it. Her final scene was devastating drama that it would be impossible to hold back tears. (Too bad I missed Ms. Espinosa's new play "Dalawang Gabi" in Set A.)
3. ANG GOLDFISH NI PROF. DIMAANDAL
Playwright: Eljay Castro Deldoc
In Paciano Rizal Agricultural High School, three freshmen students were under investigation for allegedly killing the goldfish (lovingly named Dedels) owned by their terror science teacher, Ms. Dimaandal. The parents of two of the kids, Vannie (mother of Jarrod) and Renz (father of Madjam), were alumni of the school, and apparently had an unresolved romantic past behind them. They meet in principal Ms. Caracol's office to discuss the issue together with the class adviser of the boys, the young Mr Tugbo. This meeting with the incensed Ms. Dimaandal escalates into a full-scale madcap scientific method type investigation.
This is a very popular play because we totally remember our own high school days and our favorite teachers when we watch this play. Don't we all have our own brushes with pranks-gone-wrong and discipline issues in school? Don't we all have that unreasonable terror teacher? Don't we all have that teacher who constantly pronounces her words with the p-f syndrome and other odd accents? Audiences identify with these crazy characters and find the humor very entertaining and nostalgic at the same time.
The cast does excellent ensemble work. The mother and son team of Peewee and Paolo O'Hara play Prof. Dimaandal and Renz respectively. The O'Haras were also in two other plays in Set B, Ms. Peewee in "Huling Huli" and Paolo in "Macho Dancer." I just saw Ms. Wenah Nagales as ditzy and dowdy Doreen in the first play of this set, and here she was again in the third pay, but this time totally transformed into a glamorous and fine Vannie -- so versatile. And talking about versatility, I was also impressed with Ms. Sherry Lara when I realized that last year, she was playing the hilarious Ms. Caracol in this play, at the same time she was playing the lead in a very dramatic play "Betang" in another set.
Playwright Eljay Castro Deldoc is on a roll. "Goldfish" made it to the Revisited list this year. Most likely his present entry "Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala" will also make the Revisited list next year.