Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XII - SET B: Unsettling Uncertainties

June 30, 2016

This is the third year in a row that I am catching some of the fresh one-act plays chosen for this year's 12th edition of the Virgin Labfest at the CCP. This year, 197 scripts were submitted and the top 12 were chosen to be staged. Because of my work schedule, I could only watch two sets for now. I hope time clears up for me to be able to watch more. VLF XII opened yesterday. Today, on the day of the Presidential Inauguration, I was able to catch the premiere showing of Set B.


Written by: Herlyn Alegre
Directed by: Ricardo Magno

There was a civil war of sorts which displaced a significant number of residents from a place called Puting Bato to seek refuge in a tent city across the sea. A well-to-do oil executive Eben loses his whole family when their boat capsized while crossing the border. When he reaches the tent city, he encounters a former teacher Fatima, her son Sami and another young man Dan, who had all been there for over a year now. Eben learns that they were actually trying to move out of this dire camp to try their luck to live somewhere else.

During the post-show interaction, playwright Herlyn Alegre revealed that she was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis when writing this play. The story was very interesting and vital, but as it was staged this afternoon, it felt long and oddly monotonous, hardly lifting off. I did not feel the action rising, nor a satisfying climax. The slow pace and long silences did not help. The reliable Doray Dayao was gritty as ever portraying the jaded Fatima. Sky Abundo (Dan) and Rence Aviles (Sami) play the young men as desperate yet idealistic. As Eben, Chrome Cosio projected the confusion of a new refugee well, but I was expecting more emotion from his character because he did just lose everything he had. 


Written by: Dominique La Victoria
Directed by: Dudz Terana

A young girl has a conversation with her younger brother Ruru who, at that time, had been punished by their drunk abusive father by incarcerating him inside a large empty water drum. The script could feel repetitive as kids talk would usually be, talking about school, their chickens, their parents. In addition, majority of the script was in lilting Cebuano language. However, the deep emotional message was not completely lost despite me not fully understanding all the words. 

We never see Ron Alos, the actor playing Ruru, until he came out for the final bows. We knew him only by his plaintive voice from inside the drum. On the other hand, Raven Relavo had to act by herself onstage in a virtual one-woman show. By the end of the play, Relavo was in real tears, even during the curtain call. We in the audience felt our hearts melting as the siblings realize the hopelessness of their condition. This was a one-act play of poignant simplicity. That final scene before lights out was truly haunting.


Written by: Kanakan-Balintagos
Directed by: Law Fajardo

This one-act play is set in 1992, the year when Imelda Marcos came from from her exile. It is a spirited conversation between an activist-artist college boy from UP and his mother, who was staunchly loyal fan of the Marcoses. The setting was a chicly-decorated living room where the son caused a big mess with his stuff. The mother practically spent the whole time cleaning and straightening up the place while talking with her slacker of a son. 

The fact that none other than Ms. Irma Adlawan was playing the mother is already enough reason for you to watch this play. She of course lives up to her reputation, in a complex role that required her to be so lively and passionate. I have also seen several plays with Abner Delina Jr. before in PETA and here in VLF and he is also consistently on point with his performances. He certainly holds his own against the formidable talents of Ms. Adlawan. In the Q&A after the plays, playwright Kanakan-Balintagos confessed that this, like his recent full-length play "Mga Buhay na Apoy," was also a script he wrote twenty years ago. His professor did not like it then. Amazing how the passage of time had made this material entertainingly nostalgic and fun to watch, especially for us who actually lived through that moment in history.

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