Friday, July 8, 2016

Review of VLF XII - CHANGING PARTNERS: A Scintillating Staged Reading

July 9, 2016

As introduced by VLF Festival Director Tuxqs Rutaquio, staged readings are a special venue given for some submitted plays which did not make it into the Magic 12 but are also outstanding on their own merits. One of the recent examples of a play that started as a VLF staged reading and eventually successfully produced as a full play was Kanakan Balintagos' "Mga Buhay na Apoy." These staged readings are open to the public free of charge. They were held at the Tanghalang Amado Hernandez, a big conference room somewhere deep in the belly of the CCP. 

This is the first time that I watched a VLF staged reading. "Changing Partners" was remarkable in that it was the first musical one-act play to be a staged reading. The people behind it are big names in Philippine theater. The book, music and lyrics are written by Vincent de Jesus of PETA. The director is Rem Zamora of Repertory Philippines and Red Turnip Theater. As further proof of the pedigree that precedes this staged reading, a who's who of Philippine theater was there in the audience watching. I saw Ms. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Michael Williams, Jef Flores, among many others. 

I cannot write a summary myself without spoiling the ingenious web of personalities tackled in this very well-conceived genius of a story about Cris and Alex and Cris and Alex. I better stick to its publicized synopsis to play it safe, short and symbolic: "A musical exploration of the alchemy of relationships. "Changing Partners" questions the nature of fidelity and the complex issues partners face regardless of gender. When feelings are neither right nor wrong, all you can do is sing." How the story actually unfolded on that stage was so much more magical than these words can convey.

The cast of talented actors exceeded all my expectations. Their delivery of all those angst-filled lines and singing those painfully sad songs were sounded so perfect, I could not imagine them done any better. Sandino Martin may have had the shortest time on stage but he makes the most of it with a deeply emotional performance that left him in tears after the final song. Giannina Ocampo, with that disaffected look on her face, was a big puzzle for her onstage partner (and us) to figure out. Patricia Ismael came on very strong in her dominating and controlling character, yet you can feel the palpable bitterness in her words.  Ricky Ibe impressively worked magic with his subtle change of vocal inflections totally and convincingly changing his character as the script required.

Vincent de Jesus has truly produced a masterpiece here. He was right there playing the accompanying music live for us as he was hearing his amazing script come to life. I am sure he was very proud of how this staged reading turned out. The way Rem Zamora staged this reading today was practically as good as it gets already. Those blocking switches during the rendition of the final quartet was just so good. If not for those scripts held in the hands of the actors (which I honestly did not think they really needed anyway), this felt like the actual full production already.  Geraldine Young, the girl narrating the stage directions, had such a beautifully modulated voice, contributing so much to the effective dramatic staging of this reading.

I honestly cannot believe this very ingenious script did not make it into the Magic 12 of this year's VLF. For a script in progress, it looked and sounded complete already even within its compact one hour running time. In that case, I cannot wait for this to metamorphose into its full form in the future, as de Jesus himself teasingly promised us at the end of this scintillating show. 

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