Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review of PETA's NOLI AT FILI DEKADA DOS MIL: Romance and Retribution

September 19, 2015

Because the "Noli Me Tangere" and the "El Filibusterismo" are the best-known books written by a Filipino author, many theater plays have been written and staged to bring these historically significant novels to life. For this particular version, playwright Nicanor Tiongson ingeniously interwove the characters and plotlines of both Noli and Fili into a modern tale of the deeply-ingrained faults of Filipino politics set in the aftermath of a deadline flood and landslide incident in the Southern Tagalog region. 

Upon his election as mayor of Maypajo, Ibarra Marasigan wanted to immediately impose a total log ban in the Sierra Madre mountains. This act ruffled the feathers of the old guard in the community who had long earned money from the logging industry. The list included Bishop Damaso Villarreal, Colonel Salvador Salvatierra and the Governor himself, Don Santiago Santos (who was also the father of Ibarra's fiancee, Clarissa). When the lecherous Col. Salvi blackmails Clarissa into marrying him, this sends the idealism of Ibarra into such a tailspin that pushed him to join the rebels in the mountains as Ka Simon in order to plot his revenge against the men who wronged him.

Lucho Ayala (Ibarra) and Kris Bernal (Clarissa)

A lot of the success of this play depended on the lead star who would play the central role as idealistic Ibarra in Act 1 and vengeful Simon in Act 2. For this run, Ibarra was played by Lucho Ayala. Handsome and charismatic, Ayala had all the females in the audience audibly giddy with excitement whenever he was onstage. His romantic scenes with Clarissa were met with screams of delight, especially their big kissing scene. He has a distinct authoritative way of delivering his very long lines, very aristocratic as his character is expected to be. He had a good command of both English and Filipino. It was an impressive performance overall.

Ayala and Bernal share a tender moment

The role of Ibarra's love Clarissa was played by Kris Bernal. Her Clarissa is had a mind of her own and knew how to fight back. She matched Ayala with her strong and natural stage presence. She attracted attention whenever she was on stage with her pretty face and svelte figure. It was a very auspicious stage debut for this actress more known for her work on TV. (Liza Dino-Seguerra alternates in this role.)

Jack Yabut was a sinister presence as Col. Salvatierra. This character is this play's equivalent of the creepy Padre Salvi of the novel. I would say Yabut was the most realistic actor in the cast. It was as if you are watching a real corrupt military officer in all his disgusting foulness right there on the stage, not an actor. His mere presence sends a chill up and down the collective spine of the audience.

Jack Yabut (Salvi) and Richard Manabat (Damaso)

Neomi Gonzales was so strong as Ka Sally in Act 2, a rebel who did not see eye to eye with Ka Simon. Her big scene where she revealed to Simon (and to all of us) her real identity was a most passionate moment. It was the single most memorable scene for me in the whole play. As proof of her acting versatility, Gonzales was a totally different personality in Act 1 as the flamboyant Tita Victorina, with her kitschy designer clothes and those garishly tattooed eyebrows. 

Gie Onida (Tiago) and Neomi Gonzales (Victorina)

It was very fascinating to see the familiar characters of Noli and Fili come alive in different incarnations in this play. Kapitan Tiago (Gie Onida) is now the corrupt Governor of the province, owing favors to logging companies who donated big to his campaign. Damaso (Richard Manabat) was now the Bishop, a man forced into priesthood because his love Pia was forced to marry a rich man. Elias (Marco Viana) was Ibarra's childhood friend who was forced to become a rebel by dire circumstances. Basilio (Ian Segarra) and Juli (Jo-Ann Pamintuan) ran a barrio cooperative. Isagani (Gio Gahol) was a journalist who published his community newspaper, unlucky with his love for Paulita Gomez (Nicole Manlulo). I liked the way the character of Padre Florentino (Renante Bustamante) was woven in as a pro-active priest Fr. Ino.

Nicole Manlulo (Paulita) and Gio Gahol (Isagani)

Veteran director Soxie Topacio staged a very smooth show. The dramatic sequences were touching. The action sequences were thrilling. The stage was designed by Gino Gonzales to be surrounded by the trees that Ibarra wanted to protect. The lighting design by Jonjon Villareal and the musical design by Dodjie Fernandez were both effective in adding to the dramatic moments. The thunder and strong rain outside that afternoon could be heard inside the auditorium, but the sound system inside was very good as every word uttered was still very clearly heard. The finale song composed by Noel Cabangon was fitting and moving. The young students in the audience were all engaged in the play based on their reactions.

The Curtain Call and a glimpse of the Stage Design

First staged to critical and commercial acclaim in 2008, PETA resurrects this timely gem now when corruption in the government are hot issues in the news. The script had been updated to include more current issues and topics and language. The play is directed by veteran Soxie Topacio to appeal to the youth of today. Young upcoming TV actors have been cast in major roles to add further commercial appeal. Timing the release during months preceding a national presidential election is perfect. As Rizal's novels sparked a revolution in the late 19th century, this hard hitting play should also spark its own awakening among the young people of today to strive for revolutionary changes in the society now. 

Exterior of the Springs Productions Studios

"Noli at Fili Dekada Dos Mil" will run for one more week, Sept. 20, then daily 22-27, 2015 (10 am and 3 pm, at the Springs Productions Studios (51 10th St. Rollings Hills Village, New Manila, Quezon City). Visit or call 891 9999 for tickets. Bulk buyers may contact PETA at 725 6244 or 0905 353 6602. 

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