Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review of PETA's ANG BUHAY NI GALILEO (2017): Suppressing Science and Society

November 29, 2017

The Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago was especially designed by founder Ms. Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez herself to be the venue for the plays of PETA since its birth in 1967 to the 1990s. This year, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, PETA returns to this outdoor theater to restage one of its most acclaimed plays -- Alan Glinoga's Filipino translation of  Bertolt Brecht’s "Ang Buhay ni Galileo," directed by Rody Vera.

Galileo Galilei was a noted astronomer in the 17th century who was able to develop a powerful telescope to discover truths about the universe around our planet, which unfortunately ran against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

As you can expect, this was as much about Galileo's discoveries and travails as it was about the Church's antagonistic resistance to scientific progress, which it felt displaced God (and his clergy) from its exalted central position. It talked about how the Church wanted the people to remain ignorant in order to keep them under their thumb. It showed that despite unlocking the mysteries of the skies, but the mysteries of human society remain unsolved. The science which was supposed to liberate man, the Church adamantly suppressed.

The Backdrop

Joel Lamangan returns to the lead role he originated during the first staging of this play in 1981. Lamangan looked much older than the age of 46 Galileo was supposed to be. He captured the eccentricity and stubbornness of the man, with some moments of odd belly laughter. The occasional lapses in line delivery was excusable since he was onstage practically the whole running time of the play. You can already hear the strain on his voice which is bad since this is only the first night.

Bodjie Pascua was also a member of the cast then as  again now. Here, he plays a number of  varied characters. Despite having different costumes, it could still be confusing to tell them apart with the different opinions of each character he played, be it a skeptical Aristotlean philosopher, a subversive balladeer or his Holiness the Pope himself.

The three close apprentices of Galileo were played by Gie Onida (as the illiterate Federzoni), John Moran (as the monk Fulganceo) and Ian Segarra (as his principled young ward Andrea). Andrea as a young boy was played by child wonder Noel Comia, Jr., who was the plays narrator as well. Each of these actors had their big moments in the play in which they shone.

Veteran PETA actors filled in the other roles. Gold Villar- Lim played his loyal daughter Virginia, as Randy Villarama played her aristocratic Beau Ludovico. Upeng Fernandez played Galileo's conservative housekeeper. Raffy Tejada played a very old Cardinal who thought Galileo's discoveries were the devil's work. Jack Yabut, Manny Pambid, Roi Calilong, Norbs Portales, Neomi Gonzales and more play smaller roles.

The Cast at the Curtain Call

The costumes of Brenda Fajardo consisted of pieces of cloth color-coded to define the social standing of the character who wore it. The spare set was also designed by Ms  Fajardo under the philosophy of Aesthetic of Poverty, but this was enhanced by the lighting design of Roman Cruz. The music by Dodgie Fernandez was played by a three-man band and a live choir. I could not see where these singers were, so their disembodied voices sounded ethereal.

Be ready for a long but picturesque walk from the front gate of Fort Santiago to Rajah Sulayman Theater proper. Last night, the very long first act started at 6:30pm and ran up to almost 8:30pm, which had many of the high school kids in the audience rather restless.

After a 10-minute break, the start of Act 2 was interrupted by strong rain showers which led to the show being stopped for about 30 minutes. After all the monobloc chairs were wiped dry, Act 2 began and would run at a more compact 40 minutes. Aside from rain, a spectacular fireworks show in the sky above Rizal Park (?) went on for a few minutes during Act 2. The actors had to play on and project their voices louder to be heard above the noise. During the play, there was a bat that flitted in and out of view. Now that's a live outdoor play experience for you!


"Ang Buhay ni Galileo" will only have three shows from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2017 at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago. Show starts promptly at 6:30pm. Tickets sold at P600 only.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review of Rep Phils' HAIR: Hallucinating Hippies

November 17, 2017

For their final show on their 50th anniversary, Repertory Philippines chose to stage a Broadway play that was also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year -- "Hair". This musical had music by Galt MacDermot, with book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. It began  off-Broadway in 1967, and eventually went on Broadway the following year. Its original soundtrack generated a couple of popular hit singles. Because of these songs, I knew this musical was about hippie culture, but this is the first I was going to see the songs in the context of the show from which they came.

It was the late 1960s in New York City, a tribe of hippies, led by their charismatic main man George Berger, welcomed a naive farm boy Claude Bukowski into their fold. Claude was initiated into their world of drug use and free love. During one of their anti-Vietnam War protests, the other hippies burned their draft cards. Claude initially also threw his card into the fire, but decided pick it back out, thinking of accepting the draft and going to serve his country as a soldier. 

The stage was bare except for layers of see-through curtains of hanging rope as the backdrop. The cast would later bring in blankets and pillows for them to lounge around in as the scene required. The magic of the minimalist stage design by Joey Gonz├ílez-Mendoza was completed by the remarkably dynamic lighting design by John Batalla, one of the best lighting work I've seen this year. Musical director Ejay Yatco himself was also dressed in hippie duds as he was conducting the live band in the pit. The hippies in their colorful costumes and wild wigs entered to dance and move on the stage, moaning and writhing a lot in some sort of hypnotic initiation rite. Then Moira Lozada stepped out to lead the tribe to sing the show's most famous song "Aquarius" in all its psychedelic glory to begin the show on a high note. 

After that rousing start, I sort of got lost with most of Act 1 with its various episodes of hippies singing their commentary on drugs, sex and race, dated by the use of some unfamiliar slang lingo and liberal doses of profanity. The singing prowess of the Filipino actors, however, was undeniable in solos like Crissy's "Frank Mills" (by Cara Barredo), Sheila's "Easy to be Hard" (by Caisa Borromeo) and Claude's "Where Do I Go".(by Topper Fabegas), and group songs like "Ain't Got No" and "Hair". Act 1 ended with the same bold ending which made the original show very controversial back in 1967 -- an ending which still made some audience members last night gasp in audible surprise. 

In Act 2, the trippy song "Walking in Space" led us into Claude's bizarre red-lit hallucinations about the terrors of war. PJ Rebullida's amazing choreographic execution of that recurring sequence of various wars and deaths made me feel like I was on that same vivid LSD trip as Claude. Songs like "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" and "What a Piece of Work is Man" give a haunting impact. The simple folksy "Good Morning Starshine" then segued to a powerful and catchy finale number "Let the Sun Shine In" which will stick with you long after you've left the theater.

Topper Fabregas successfully projected Claude's naivete and idealism (Markki Stroem alternates in this role). You can easily pick out Caisa Borromeo (as Sheila) from the rest of the female cast because of her radiant stage presence and soaring voice. I had never seen George Schultz as manic on stage before as he was last night, riding completely on Berger's outrageous groove. Cara Barredo was innocently sweet as Crissy as Maronne Cruz was wacky weird as Jeanie. Big guy Alfritz Blanche stood out from the ensemble as Hud, with his big afro and big voice in short featured solos in the group songs. Franco Ramos (as Woof) and Jay Barrameda (as Margaret Mead) also give notable solos. 

It was a tough challenge for director Chris Millado to make this 50-year old play current again for the new generation. I found it difficult to connect with Act 1 as it set the flower-power mood of the late 1960s in episodic introductory sketches with some now-obscure dated references. Fortunately, Act 2 completely turned things around for me. Act 2 gives "Hair" its timeless appeal and makes this show absolutely worth watching. Everything came together solidly and strongly in terms of its still potent anti-war message and the incredible ensemble performance by the whole cast. 


HAIR runs at the Onstage Greenbelt 1 with the following schedule: Fri - Nov. 17 (8pm), Sat - Nov. 18 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Nov. 19 (4:30pm), Sat - Nov. 25 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Nov. 26 (4:30pm), Sat - Dec. 2 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Dec. 3 (4:30pm), Sat - Dec. 9 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Dec. 10 (3:30pm), Sat - Dec. 16 (3:30pm & 8pm) and Sun - Dec. 17 (4:30pm). Tickets are available on at the following prices: ₱1,567.50 Orchestra Center, ₱1,254 for Orchestra Sides and ₱836 for the Balcony. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review of Dulaang UP's BAGONG CRISTO: Welfare for the Workers!

November 12, 2017

The theme of this 42nd Theater Season of Dulaang UP is "Honoring Defiance." With this 1907 play by the controversial writer Aurelio Tolentino, things simply do not get any more defiant. We just learned from the recent play by Tanghalang Pilipino how defiant Tolentino could be, hence his rather unflattering nickname "Aurelio Sedisyoso"given American authorities of his time. Dulaang UP chose a Tolentino play also to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary this year of this steadfastly patriotic man. 

Like his namesake Jesus Christ, the charismatic Jesus Gatbiaya goes around the countryside boldly and eloquently preaching his message of worker emancipation from the oppression of the opportunistic capitalists. Of course, the "Bagong Cristo" (New Christ) earned the enmity of rich businessmen, like Magdangal and Capitang Berto. They hated Jesus to the point of having him abducted and tortured, not even sparing the women who followed to help him -- Magdangal's ex love Neneng (Rachel Jacob), her friend Biheng (Elaiza Toledo), even his old mother Dolores. 

I salute Boo Gabunada for his mesmerizingly intense delivery of Jesus Gatbiaya's lengthy declamatory speeches. There was even a scene in Act II where Jesus had a 15-20 minute-long monologue all by himself on an empty stage. It was only Gabunada's impassioned voice that kept viewers at constant attention. This actor was able to capture the fascinating personality of his character that drew him his loyal followers. 

Rica Nepomuceno played Jesus' long-suffering mother Dolores. While her portrayal of this tragic maternal figure (Mater Dolorosa) was generally effective, the over-all impact was diminished by the weakness of her voice whenever she would start to sing. I frankly did not hear nor understand anything she was singing. This problem ruined the moment for her symbolically-loaded "Pieta" and "Crucifixion" scenes, which was truly unfortunate. I do not know if it was her microphone which was not working well, or was her soprano voice not in top condition. 

In plays like this, the more hateful the antagonists, the more heroic our hero. The coolly sinister performance of Nino Mendoza as cruel industrialist Magdangal was really seething with pure malice. On the other hand, Vincent Macapobre's haciendero Capitang Berto and Joseph Nabong's kidnapper Limbas were both played with hammy exaggeration, with loud voices and even fits of evil laughter. These over-the-top moments do serve well to distract us momentarily from the very serious tone of the play, and these were not completely unwelcome for me.

On the technical front, the rustic set design by Io Balanon, rich turn of the century period costume design by Mitoy Sta. Ana, and original music by Krina Cayabyab were the most remarkable. These elements brought us back to those seemingly idyllic times at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, yet there were also heinous elements that lurk insidiously.

Director Alexander Cortez was also able to give us some visually dramatic executions of certain key scenes, like the murder of Neneng's father Cabesang Andoy (Greg de Leon) or those powerful flag waving scenes at the end in response to the ardent exhortations of wealthy Jesus supporter Dona Salud (Gel Basa). His decision to use masks (Moriones and Venetian) to keep Jesus' many tormentors anonymous was wise because these bad guys could literally be anyone or even everyone. 

The events of this play may have happened more than a century ago. However, poor workers continue to be oppressed under the thumb of rich capitalists. As their plight continues to exist, the message of this play remains essential and current. When Jesus Gatbiaya speaks, it was as if he was talking in the here and now. 


"Bagong Cristo" runs from November 8 to December 3, 2017 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2nd Floor Palma Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Show times are Fridays at 7PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 10AM and 3PM.

For ticket, show-buying, and sponsorship inquiries, you may contact Camille Guevara (0917 823 9531), the Dulaang UP Office (Tel. No. : 926-1349 / 981-8500 local / ), or you may drop by the Dulaang UP Office at Palma Hall Room 136, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Review of Atlantis' MATILDA the MUSICAL: Extraordinary Endearing Esang

November 12, 2017

I first heard of "Matilda" as a 1996 film based on a 1988 Roald Dahl book. This starred Mara Wilson in the title role and Danny de Vito (who also directed) as her father, Harry Wormwood. In 2011, the musical version of "Matilda" (music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly) debuted on the West End in London. This production won a record-setting seven Olivier Awards, including Best Musical. Its Broadway was in 2013, for which it won five Tony Awards. This year, Atlantis brings the acclaimed hit show to Manila.

A precocious little girl named Matilda was born to the Wormwoods, a slimy car conman and his bimbo dancer wife. Feeling unloved by her family, Matilda immersed herself in a lot of books, something for which her parents despised her more. When she entered school, her genius for reading and math caught the attention of her kind teacher Miss Honey. This same ability earned the ire of ogre-like headmistress Mrs. Agatha Trunchbull, a former Olympic gold medalist in the hammer throw event, who thought children are like maggots who needed to be broken. Time came however when Matilda just could not take Trunchbull's cruel bullying anymore. 

The heart and soul of the whole show was Telesa Marie "Esang" De Torres who played Matilda. I first saw her as a Mini-me Lea Salonga on "Showtime" and later as a contestant under Team Lea on "The Voice Kids." So impressive was her snappy Hermione-Granger sounding British accent with which she flawlessly delivered the longest lines while narrating four parts of her story about an escapologist and his acrobat wife. When we hear her sing her solo songs "Naughty" or "Quiet", it was transcendent of any initial expectations for a child performer her age in her first lead role in a major production. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that "Matilda" is for Esang what "Annie" was for Lea Salonga. (Uma Naomi Martin and Felicity Kyle Napuli alternate in this role.)

The goody-goody adult characters on Matilda's side were her dedicated teacher Miss Honey and the friendly librarian Mrs. Phelps. Cris Villonco's kind face and crystal voice were perfect for the sweet but determined Miss Honey. "Pathetic" shows off her skill with tongue-twisting lyrics and "My House" provides the more sentimental moment of the show. Emeline Celis-Guinid had to be wacky and flighty to keep her character from being stuffy. 

The cute child actors who played Matilda's "revolting" classmates were bursting at the seams with their quirky personality. Standing out in their more prominent roles were Josh Nubla (as the chocolate cake glutton Bruce) and Gabrielle Aerin Ong (as Matilda's best friend Lavender). Likewise drawing attention on that crowded stage were Alba Berenguer-Testa (as Hortensia) with her patrician looks and Nicole Chien (as Alice) for being Lea Salonga's daughter. The other kids last night were: Pablo Palacpac as the bespectacled Nigel, Chi Chi Tan as the pigtailed Amanda, Ian Albert Magallona as Eric, Teddy Velasco as Tommy. My favorite songs by the children were "The School Song" with its innovative A-B-C lesson and their rabble-rousing number "Revolting Children." (Miguel Suarez, Maria Ericka Peralejo, Chantel Marie Guinid, Ella Gonzalez, Gabo Tiongson, Denise Arteta, Rhythm Alexander and John Joseph Miraflores alternate respectively.)

But of course, as with all other plays and musicals based on children's literature, those bizarre kooky villains were a lot more fun to watch. Jamie Wilson was hilarious in his gender-bending role as the terrifying and hateful Miss Agatha Trunchbull with her twisted philosophy for teaching children.  Wilson had this funny perpetual scowl on his face as he marched around the stage in his fat suit, skirts and bloomers. Her song number "The Smell of Rebellion" was a such an outlandish riot and showstopping highlight. 

Joaquin Valdes and Carla Guevara-Laforteza stretched their skills for slapstick comedy to play the crazy Wormwoods with their bizarre makeup and cartoonish costumes. They have outdone their own off-kilter characters earlier this year, as Spike for Valdes in Rep's "Masha, Vanya, Sonia and Spike" and as Lady of the Lake in Upstart's "Spamalot" for Laforteza. Valdes and Laforteza frequently do amazingly quick changes to play their dramatic alter egos, the Escapologist and the Acrobat.

Nel Gomez was hardly recognizable as the spaced-out elder brother Michael. Bibo Reyes steals his scenes with his stupid pseudo-Italian dance instructor character Rudolpho. Tim Pavino had a very short featured role as Mrs. Wormwood's cool doctor in the beginning of the show, as Steven Conde did as the Russian mob boss Sergei towards the end. Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Teetin Villanueva, Gerhard Krystoffer, Alex Reyes, Jim Andrew Ferrer, Gabby Padilla and Mica Fajardo complete the rest of the ensemble. 

The beautiful stage design depicting Matilda's favorite library is immediately arresting in its size and play with colors, as designed by Faust Peneyra, and enhanced by Driscoll Otto's lights. The magnificent carousel opening the second act is a most impressive set piece. Other remarkable aspects of the show were Raven Ong's costumes and Cecile Martinez's choreography. Director Bobby Garcia, as always, never fails to wow the audience with how he staged the shadow play story-tellling and the telekinetic special effects. This technical finesse, coupled with the on-point performances, make this one another triumph in the already extensive Atlantis catalog of Broadway hit show productions. Kudos!


“Matilda” opened last November 10, 2017 and will run at the Meralco Theater on weekends until December 10, with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket available at Prices range from ₱4,000 (Orchestra Center), ₱3,500 (Orchestra Sides and Loge Center), ₱2,500 (Loge Sides) and ₱1,500 (Balcony). 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review of Full House/RWM's CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG: Musical Mechanical Magic

October 30, 2017

Aside from "The Sound of Music," another movie that was constantly played and replayed in our house during my childhood was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968) We also had the original soundtrack LP record which we also had on repeat on our turntable, so I knew all those classic songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman by heart. I would find out later that the movie (directed by Ken Hughes and co-written by Roald Dahl) was not exactly critically acclaimed or that well-known by many, but nevertheless this movie had a nostalgic hold on me.

When I heard that Full House was going to mount the Jeremy Sams stage adaptation of  "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in Resorts World Manila, I was both excited and apprehensive because I knew the movie and songs inside and out and I cannot wait to see it come to life, but at the same time I had high expectations which may not be met. I knew that this was going to be a technological challenge how they were going to make Chitty float or fly.

Caractacus Potts was an eccentric British inventor, a widower with two sweet children, Jeremy and Jemima. The playful children wanted their father to buy the remains of a classic race car so Potts needed to raise 30 shillings whatever it took. When he did, he transformed the car into one with special abilities, as only Ian Fleming can endow it. The covetous Baron of Vulgaria (a country which outlawed children) ordered his minions to steal the fantastic car because he wanted it for his own.

While it was hard to get Dick Van Dyke out of Caractacus Potts, Gian Magdangal was able to give him a charming personality of his own. As he reminded us in 9Works/Globe Live production of "Disney's Newsies" earlier this year, Magdangal possesses a strong singing voice perfect for musical theater. Whether the song is whimsical (like "You Two") or sad (like "Hushabye Mountain"), Magdangal sang them so well. He can also deliver in the dance department, as he showed in the dynamic "Me Ol' Bamboo" number. (Lorenz Martinez understudies this role.)

With her short hairdo and masculine costume, Yanah Laurel looked nothing like the immaculately ultra-feminine Truly Scrumptious of Sally Anne Howes. While it took a while for me to get used to it, Laurel's beautiful voice in her self-titled song "Truly Scrumptious"  eventually won me over, and cemented later in "Lovely Lonely Man" and "Doll on a Music Box" . Her Truly was spunky and feisty, a thoroughly modern woman of that era. (Arya Herrera understudies this role.)

The sugary Toot Sweets confection 
(publicity photo)

Albert Silos and Isabeli Araneta Elizalde were an energetic and chirpy Jeremy and Jemima Potts. (Noel Comia Jr. and Zoey Alvarado alternate in these roles.) I just saw Silos as lead in PETA's children's show "Tagu-taguan" last August. This is the first time I had seen Elizalde in action, since I caught her alternate in "Annie." I was happy to see James Paoelli, a delightful FDR in "Annie," back in a longer, but similarly lovable role as Grandpa Potts. He even had his own solo song "Posh" and comedy number with the old rickety inventors in "Roses of Success." (Michael Williams understudies this role.)

The colorful characters of the Vulgarian Baron and Baroness were played by Raymund Concepcion and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo with naughty pizzazz, especially in their featured song "Chu-Chi Face." Yulo had her own "Bombie Samba" dance routine which was a rather oddly-placed, off-tangent Brazilian-flavored number. (Juliene Mendoza and Christine Flores understudy these roles.) Mako Alonzo and Reb Atadero played bumbling spies Boris and Goran, who livened things up with their ad-libs and slapstick comedy sideshows as the show momentum would occasionally sag. (Chino Veguillas and Raul Montesa understudy these role.)

There was one seriously evil villain in the show and that was the scary Childcatcher as played by Lorenz Martinez. His make-up and costume looked like it was inspired by Danny DeVito's look as the Penguin in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" (1992). This character gave me the creeps as a child as he was played in the old film by Robert Helpmann. Martinez's characterization was similarly sinister and dark. (Stephen Vinas understudies this role.)

Colorful Cast at Curtain Call

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang itself is the central prop of the show everyone is waiting for. It does not actually move, so the production makes things move around it to give the car a sense of motion. These "tricks" may or may not work, depending on from where you are looking at it. The much-awaited flying scene was a cleverly executed illusion against a dark starry sky to end the first half. The lighting was not too good from my viewpoint when the floater or the wings came out from the car's underchassis so the sense of wonder in those scenes was rather muted. 

Mio Infante's sets were wonderful when they are expansive and used up the whole stage, like the Pott's residence with its imposing windmill, the Scrumptious Candy Factory, or the Fun Fair. That beautifully hypnotic White Cliffs of Dover backdrop which turned from idyllic to menacing was executed perfectly. Aside from Chitty, they also had to come up with convincing machines for making breakfast, sweets and cutting hair.

Director Jaime del Mundo came up with another cheerful and fun show, featuring some imaginative ways to circumvent the technical limitations. As usual, the amazing talent of Filipino artists both on stage and off stage (particularly musical director Maestro Rodel Colmenar, choreographer Nancy Crowe, costume designer Bonsai Cielo) carried and lifted this production creditably. As an old fan of the movie, I could not say I was completely satisfied with all the scenes, but hearing the songs again and singing along to them made me very happy. 


“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” opened last October 21, 2017 and will run until November 12 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila. Tickets available at the RWM Box Office and on at the following prices: ₱4,087.28 (SVIP), P3,334.36 (VIP), P2,581.44 (GOLD), P1,828.52 (SILVER) and P1,075.60 (BRONZE).  Shows run on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm.

The show is best seen in the center sections of the theater. The visual illusions on the stage do not work consistently when you are seated in the peripheral sections, and you will tend to look at the giant video screens placed on either side of the stage. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Review of Theater Titas' WHAT'S IN THE DARK?: Trials of Trust

October 28, 2017

I was looking for a show to watch on the evening of Saturday October 28. I chanced upon an advertisement on FB about this Halloween-themed play by a new theater production company whimsically known as Theatre Titas. I had been trying to see a play in the horror genre in the past few Octobers but so far, this is the first time I actually had the best chance to go see one.

The Entrance to the Axon

The venue is called The Axon, a spacious ballroom in the lobby of the Green Sun Hotel along Don Chino Roces Extension in Makati. There were five groups of chairs arranged in a semi-circle around the performance space. Before the show, the two Theatre Titas themselves, Chesie Carino and Cheese Mendez, personally introduced themselves and their maiden production. 

The Theatre Titas!



Claire is a 10-year old girl who could not find her beloved Mama nor her way back home. Saul is a mysterious man lurking in the dark -- not only because of his ugly face, but also because of his ugly sins. This play is a conversation when these two contrasting characters meet in the darkness one night. In all her blind innocence, Claire chose to trust the kindness of the voice she can only hear, oblivious that that voice belonged to a dangerous man who could cost her her very life. 

Claire (Katie Bradshaw) consoles Saul (Epy Quizon)

In a simple two-hander play like this, the script and the acting need be able to grab the audience attention for the whole running time.  With her masterful choice of words, writer Nicole Fuentes took a tense encounter between a serial child killer and his potential next victim and turned it into an intimate, moving study of loneliness and trust. Director Carl Carino effectively used his lights and the darkness to bring out and build the drama.

Young Katie Bradshaw was riveting as fearless Claire, very confident in her performance, yet never losing the vulnerability required of her character. (Natalia Abad alternates in this role.) Epy Quizon is well-known actor of film and TV and this is the first time I am seeing him perform live, and in English. His Saul is a psychotic killer, but here Quizon sensitively played him as a psychologically damaged man we could pity instead of hate.


Newton was a man teetering on the edge of insanity because of the shocking death of his 9 year old daughter Carol on what should have been a fun vacation at the beach.  The day after Carol's burial, Newton forces his angry and horrified wife Jill to sit and witness him conjure up diabolical reanimation rites prescribed in an ancient book of black magic in a desperate effort to bring Carol back to life. 

The tragic family of Ethan (Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap), 
Jill (Sari Estrada) and Carol (Liv Gonzales)

The script alone of Juan Diego Gil was already very disturbing in itself. His words effectively depicted extreme despair and guilt pushing a man down a spiraling descent into madness. The loud verbal tussle between husband and wife further amped up the tension. Director Tinette Villanueva Miciano really played up the whole horror atmosphere with her ritual props and her lighting effects. Things do get over-the-top, but it worked!

You can clearly see the progression of raving insanity in the eyes of Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap as he portrayed the physically and psychologically exhausting role of the father Newton. (Javi Coromina alternates in this role.)  Sari Estrada was hysterical (who wouldn't be?) as the mother Jill who had to sit captive to the whole crazy show. Young Liv Gonzales had a disturbing role as the living-dead girl Carol, a role she clearly relished to play. 


With this auspicious debut of the Theater Titas, I'm looking forward to their next projects. 

WHAT'S IN THE DARK runs from October 27 - 29 at The Axon at Green Sun Hotel. There are two more shows today October 29 at 3 pm and 8 pm. Each one act play runs for about 40 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission in between. 

For tickets (@ P500 each walk-in, P450 if pre-ordered), contact Diandra at 0917 656 7293 for inquiries or reserve your tickets thru this LINK.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Recap of PETA's FESTIVAL OF WINDOWS: HALF OF THE SKY: Working for Women's Welfare

October 26, 2017

One of the centerpiece activities for its 50th foundation anniversary this year is this five-day international celebration of People's Theater for Development dubbed "FESTIVAL OF WINDOWS". The objectives of this grand event is two-fold: 1) To present an exhibition of how theater can be used for communication and advocacy through performances, lectures, workshops and discussions; and 2) to use arts-based means of bringing together artists, practitioners and audiences to share insights and experiences, identify historical and emerging trends and share best practices for arts as advocacy.

Each day form October 24-29, 2017 is full-packed with various activities the whole day. In the mornings from 10 am to 12 nn, there are lecture performances called "Dungaw" (or Peep-Out). In the afternoons from 1-5 pm, there are workshops, called "Tamwa" (or Look), or small group huddles called "Silip" (or Peek). In the evenings at 7 pm, there are performances called "Tan-aw" (or View) featuring not only PETA, but also other regional and international theater groups. While waiting for the house to open, the lobby was full of excited participants, several of them from different countries, like China and Thailand.


Too bad for me that despite all these exciting offerings, my hectic calendar this week could only allow me to check out a lecture-performance this Thursday morning October 26, 2017 called "Half of the Sky." The longer subtitle is "The Evolving Practice of Women's Rights and Gender-Equality Advocacy in PETA Workshops and Performances." This particular session was directed by Maribel Legarda, written by Liza Magtoto and presented by CB Garrucho, Lea Espallardo and She Maala -- all women. The program was delayed more than 30 minutes due to technical difficulties, which Ms. Magtoto joked was funny for a lecture about women by women, being late and "ngarag" (or haggard from lack of sleep).

PETA began paying due attention to women's issues by the 1980s, thanks to a woman named Remy Rikken, whom they interviewed on video. She was eventually appointed by Pres. Corazon Aquino to lead a commission dealing with women's rights. Rikken harnessed PETA to help her with this thrust and this eventually brought about the birth of the Women's Theater Program. We were told about landmark community theater projects (Advocacy Theater) with women lead characters like "Iteng" and "Libby Manaoag" who were meant to encourage the women in the cast and the audience to reevaluate their own feelings about these issues.

"Di Pa Makintab ang Sahig!"

The passion of PETA's women artists on that stage about this topic was very palpable, especially that of Lea Espallardo, who had been one of the facilitators from the get-go. Espallardo engaged the audience in a participative type of interaction for their short excerpt from "Iteng," about a battered wife. Anytime anyone from the audience wanted to stop and change how the story of the play was running can shout "Stop!" and express her desired change. That morning, a bold audience member named Wilma stopped the play when Iteng's husband was about to hit Iteng. She turned the play around and instead chased the husband around the stage with a metal ladle! 

Vincent de Jesus was there as musical director, playing the piano and leading the band for the live musical numbers of this presentation. So that was why it was called a "lecture performance." We heard songs like "Patriarchy" (by Lucien Letaba and Liza Magtoto), "Di Pa Makintab ang Sahig" and "Napasakamay" (by Vincent de Jesus and Liza Magtoto), with those incisively witty lyrics interpreted in energetic acting and dance by the funny and engaging ensemble. 

J-Mee Katanyag and her doll

Things turned serious with a provocative poetic dance from "La Vie en Rose," directed by Melvin Lee, with poetry by Lea Espallardo and Ces Millado, interpreted in dance by Delphine Buencamino, Stephanie Ocampo and Kit Trofeo. There was an excerpt from PETA's Creative Pedagogy for Feminist Education modules where J-mee Katanyag and Stephanie Ocampo meditated about their body images with the help of life-size dolls. She Maala also stepped out of her hosting duties to give a stunningly dramatic solo song number about a woman named "Magda," who was a "dove" (the Tagalog lyric "kalapati" described her better) who flew at different heights during her life. 

The event concluded with all the presentors and the ensemble on stage talking about the state of women's rights at the present. It was noted that with all the progress that have already been made in the areas of gender sensitivity, body politics, reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, there are still forces that threaten to pull the movement back into the Middle Ages in the form of sexist remarks and rape jokes.  Thus, there is still very much a role for a Theater of Resistance, to lead the fight against this potential backward slide. It is in projects like this that one can clearly see why PETA deserves its Ramon Magsaysay Award.

The Presentors and Ensemble at the Finale

Here is a video clip of the rousing finale song number:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review of Red Lantern's SOLO PARA ADULTOS: Daring, Diverting (but Drawn-Out)

October 21, 2017

While I had watched a number of theater productions with sensitive themes, even plays with nudity, I had actually never seen an original local play that billed itself as a sex comedy. I had no idea how this play was going to go down, but knowing how Filipinos enjoy their green jokes, I thought this show, to be shown for one-night only at the Music Museum, should be a lot of fun to watch. 

Jonamae San Andres (April Gustilo) was a Filipina who found success in the US as a porn star with the screen name of Veronica Fox. In her desire to open doors for Filipinos to wanted to follow in her footsteps, she accepted an offer to make a local porn film. She was proud of her job and saw porn as an expression of female empowerment, not victim-hood. 

The director of Veronica's new project was Dino, an award-winning director whose career had been on the skid. He still wanted to make this film artistic and relevant, but his lecherous Chinese producer Mr. Lee simply wanted to make plain pointless profitable porn. The two supporting porn actors in the film were Georgina (Tori Garcia) and Nicolas (Andres Vasquez), both of whom had been forced by poverty into the skin trade. 

JV San Miguel (John Raspado), a very popular mainstream actor, solicited the services of a home service masseur named Alfred (Vivo Ouano). The two tell each other their respective life stories and discussed the conflict of love and ambition. Alfred shared that his ultimate dream was to be an actor. JV, who had fallen in love with the hunk, promised to help him fulfill that dream.

These two separate threads merged into one cohesive narrative by Act 2. Then it gave the audience six different options for how this play could end based on which character gets accidentally shot and killed in a moment of deadly passion. The play concludes with an epilogue set during a showbiz awards night which told about the fate the film they were making (also entitled "Solo Para Adultos"), as well as the fates of each of the characters. 

The stage before the show

All the main actors, all unknown to me prior to this show, were very game in their daring and naughty roles. April Gustilo, who gained fame before as Wowowee's "Congratulations" girl, exuded confidence and bravado as her character required. The very fit and charismatic Vivo Ouano and much heftier and brooding John Raspado played their parts seriously, despite being mostly with their shirts off and only a towel around their waists. Cutie Tori Garcia and boyish Andres Vasquez were mainly there for comic relief, despite some sad details in their stories.

It was actually the supporting actors who really made the show come to life with their over-the-top comedy antics. Dodie Dizon, who played Mr. Lee, was constantly on a high level of energy. Ex-That's Entertainment member Brylle Mondejar, who played Direk Dino, was very convincing in delivering his artsy-fartsy convictions so sincerely, meriting awards consideration. Mosang, who played both the brash producer Mrs. Lee and the butch manager Tito, was very versatile. Genesis Gallios (who played the predator gay director giving JV a "workshop"), Tads Obach (who played TV hosts Mike Enriquez, Gus Abelgas and Boy Abunda), and Racing Chat (who played Jonamae's mother) all made a strong humorous impact. 

The play was quite entertaining, especially those who are interested in the sleazy goings-on behind the glitter and glamour of legitimate show business. It was fun to pick out all the local showbiz references squeezed into the script, like how Raspado looked like Jay Manalo and Ouano looked like Orestes Ojeda. It was also timely because it tackled the controversial casting couch, a staple of Hollywood news these days with the Harvey Weinstein scandal. At first, the dirty jokes and frank language may give an initial jolt, but being played for laughs and the wordplay so witty, you get used to them in no time. It was the more serious touchy-feely intimate scenes which could be uncomfortable to watch depending on your own orientation and sensitivities. 

The attractive cast during their curtain call

If there was a drawback of the show, it would have to be was length, almost three hours with two 10-minute intermissions. Some people sitting beside me were already dubbing it a "Lav Diaz" of plays. In Act 1 alone, we see the life stories of all six main characters played out in individual flashback vignettes. In Act 2, there were six different endings played out, each one was narrated by six known TV emcees. Act 3 opened with an unnecessary full dance number by a group of boy dancers. Then ironically, it seems NONE of those ending options we spent a significant time on in Act 2 ever happened at all! 

I guess that is what you get when you have three writers (Bong Ramos, AJ Rollon, and James Golla) contributing material with so much to say. The emotions of the various acts were going up and down like a roller coaster shifting between heavy drama and slapstick comedy. The material in each act may sound good separately; but when put together as a whole, it felt unwieldy in its own complexity. Some judicious streamlining needs to be done by director Alejandro "Bong" Ramos to trim the material down to a more manageable length when it gets re-staged February next year. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review of Art Theater Manila's SAKUNTALA: Fierce, Flashy and Fervent

October 13, 2017

I did not hear anything about this new theater company nor their maiden production at all, by any media. Then suddenly last week, there came the rave reviews from those who saw the play in its first week which were posted on social media with some very attractive photos from the production. Lucky for me, they had afternoon shows so I could go see it for myself. 

The story is based on a Sanskrit legend as written by Kalidasa in his epic masterpiece, the Mahabharata. However, in this Filipino translation by Allan Palileo, the setting was shifted to a futuristic dystopic society in the year 2080. King Dusyanta was hunting in the forest one day when he stumbled into a peaceful community of hermits. There he was smitten by the beauty of the hermit's adopted daughter, Sakuntala. When the two lovers decide to get married though, the demon Durvasas casts a curse which tore them apart.

The Main Stage

The technical aspects of this production were impeccable. The vibrant lighting design of Meliton Roxas added so much to the drama and dimension of the basic scenography by Ohm David. There was an interesting scene featuring puppetry of an illuminated fish set to swim in the green-lit abyss. The costumes and make-up by Raqs Regalado and Jody Carig were imaginatively dystopian yet distinctly Asian.  

As the play began, the exotic tribal music by Gian Gianan filled the room. The acoustics were perfect in the warehouse-like venue, making the music heady and even intoxicating to the senses. When the lovers were dancing together to the sensual choreography of JM Cabling, the music took on a life of its own creating a raw erotic wall of sound all around the audience. The final group dance for joy had such an ebullience and infectious energy.

Sakuntala and Dushyanta share an intimate moment, 
with Bharata looking on.

The title character may have been Sakuntala, but the more challenging role was that of the king Dushyanta. Vincent Kevin Pajara was magnetic in his portrayal of this regal character with his strong stage presence and smart carriage. No matter how cheesy his pickup lines were in the name of love-at-first-sight, Pajara pulled them off with charm and charisma. His delivery of his kilometric lines was solid. His dancing skills also did the choreography good. His character also had to sing, and this triple threat delivered well on that as well. (Paul Cedrick Juan alternates in this role.)

As the titular fair maiden Sakuntala, Ms. Chase Salazar could have played her to be the weak pathetic victim Kalidasa may have written her to be. Instead, the confidently modern Salazar gives her unfortunate character spunk and spirit. She was the first to declare her feelings for the man she admired. She did not shirk to express her anger and indignation when she was denied her rights. Salazar dramatic singing voice was showcased when she sang her Dushyanta a robust love ballad. Her chemistry with Pajara was so rich and palpable in those intimately choreographed pas de deux their characters shared. They definitely made a beautiful pair together. (Matel Patayon alternates in this role.)

Vincent Pajara, Chase Salazar and Paul Santiago
at their curtain call

Sakuntala's two loyal but naughty ladies-in-waiting Anusuya and Priyamvada were delightfully played by Lei Ann Quinquileria and Sarina Sasaki respectively. Dushyanta's best friend Madhavya was played by Al Angcoy, who also had to deliver lengthy complex lines as the play's narrator. The main antagonist Durvasas was played with flashy  fuchsia flamboyance by Paul Santiago

The most elaborate costume of the show, a truly cyberpunk outfit with a metallic stylized helmet, rose cape, chains and tubes, was worn by Jacques Borlaza as Sakuntala's adoptive father, the hermit Canwa. Ronnie Martinez played the serious Lead Hermit with the long white hair. Diane Formoso showed fortitude of will as Sakuntala's mother Gautami. Fritz Esase portrayed Bharata with youthful playfulness

Ronnie Martinez and Jacques Borlaza at the curtain call.

Congratulations to director Joey Ting for his grand vision had been fulfilled so cleanly with admirable polish. Despite being a new company in a new venue, there was nary any technical glitch noticeable as everything went on without a hitch. The sound quality, a problematic matter even the most experienced theater groups have issues with, was so remarkably crisp and clear despite all the movements the actors were doing. 

There may have been only a handful of people watching when I went to watch a Thursday matinee show. However, the level of energy in the actors' performances remained at full blast! With such an auspicious and audacious maiden production, we wish for nothing but the best, artistically and financially, for this fledgling theater company, Art Theater Manila. 


"Sakuntala" runs from September 27 to October 21, 2017. They have two shows, 3 pm and 8 pm, per day, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The venue is at Studio 72 Black Box Theater, #72 Kalayaan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, a white building right beside Verjandel Hotel. Tickets are available at the gate, at the following prices: P 1,000 for VIP A (150 seats), P 800 for VIP B (150 seats) and P 500 for Regular (300 seats).