The Japanese occupation during World War II was a most traumatic part of our country's history. Several movies and plays had been set during this era because of the intense human drama our countrymen went through in that dark and tumultuous time. Continuing their tradition of staging challenging one-act theater pieces, the creative minds behind Artists Playground have decided to mine one such local play tackling sensitive and heavy wartime issues.
First staged about 10 years ago, "LAGABLAB" is a theatrical adaptation in Filipino written by the multifaceted theater artist Don Hollanda from a 1943 short story by British author W. Somerset Maugham. Entitled "The Unconquered," the plot of that story was set in World War II when the Germans occupied France. Hollanda had so ingeniously taken the gist of the story and created a script so Filipino in heart and spirit.
Ceasico and Solis
Chayong is a pretty young schoolteacher from rural Bulacan. She is the pride of her illiterate farmer parents Andong and Pilang and younger brother Carding. She is all set to marry her beloved Unyo. Her world shattered into pieces when a Japanese soldier Hirohito entered their home and wreaked unspeakable horror on their family. After that day, repentant Hirohito tried to make amends by giving gifts to the family. However, Chayong vowed to make Hirohito suffer the same pain and torture that she and her family experienced under his brutality.
At one hour, this is already the longest play ever staged by Artists Playground. Artistic director Roeder Camanag says if they ran a longer play it might make the audience feel claustrophobic. It is amazing how their set designer can convert the very small and narrow space of their Little Room Upstairs into so many different permutations of stage and audience space. This time the main set was the living and dining area of Chayong's house. You can peek into the bedroom through the bamboo slats making up the wall.
Ruzz and San Pedro
Ira Ruzz constantly improves with every play I see her in. As Chayong, she effectively embodied the strong Filipina, fearlessly confronting enemy threat. Her intense face is especially expressive even without words being said. (Four other actresses -- Mariella Munji Laurel, Jhaeka Madrinio, Jacelle Escanan and Farlin Flores -- all alternate as Chayong. I thought this is a very interesting casting decision, promising varied interpretations of this central role.)
Manu San Pedro was consistent as Hirohito with his monotone deadpan delivery of Japanese-accented Filipino. His gentle-looking facial features were so right for his insidious character. Every time we see him on that stage reeked with tension. (Anjo Resurrecion alternates as Hirohito.)
Ceasico and Bacolod
The crowd favorites were Sheryll Villamor Ceasico and Gilbert Bacolod who played Chayong's parents. They provided much of the dark humor as Pilang and Andong sought Hirohito's favor, despite the nasty rumors of collaboration that swirled around them in their neighborhood. Caesico, in particular, was so natural and delightful in her practical character. We like her despite her unlikable behavior. How her face lit up at the mention of the word "tractor" was precious. (Lodie Atis and Greg Abelardo de Leon alternate in these roles).
Coco Mark Mamuad was very soft-spoken, sounding very shy as Chayong's beau Unyo. At first it was difficult to hear what he was saying. However, the volume of his voice turned out to be quite haunting in his role as a victim of cruel circumstance, especially in his second scene, his main highlight. (Christian James Tiongson alternates as Unyo.)
Mamuad and Ruzz
Sheneill Solis played Carding as the typical lazy and happy-go-lucky teenager forced to grow up faster because of war. The stark contrast of his scenes before and after Hirohito entered the scene clearly showed the effect of Japanese invasion on the youth. (Aaron Dioquino and John Racho alternate in this role.)
Given the limitations of space, director Paul Jake Paule was still able to stage the most difficult scenes to most disturbing effect. That scene when we first see Hirohito enter the house was so tense, we can really feel the fear the characters were feeling. The terror of the first attack was realistic and palpable. The scene of Unyo's second conversation with Chayong was staged with ethereal sensitivity. We will feel their pain. That critical final scene was effectively delivered with solid suspense and shock.
"Lagablab" runs from September 23 to October 30, 2016, with 7 pm shows on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays and 3 pm matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Venue is at the Little Room Upstairs, Rm. 1701 Landsdale Tower, Mother Ignacia Avenue, Quezon City. For ticket inquiries, contact Kim at 0926-9323179. If you liked this play, you can also choose to be an Angel and sponsor tickets for groups of less fortunate students to "bring the illuminating experience of theatre" to them.