Thursday, June 29, 2017

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIII - SET B: Abuse, Adolescence and Aging

June 30, 2017



This is the fourth year in a row that I am catching some of the fresh one-act plays chosen for this year's 13th edition of the Virgin Labfest at the CCP. This year, 192 scripts were submitted and the top 12 were chosen to be staged. Because of my work schedule, I had never been able to catch all 12, but I am hoping I could finally do so this year. VLF XIII opened yesterday with Set A. Today, I attended the premiere staging of the Set B plays. This year, the plays are being shown in the stage area of the CCP Little Theater Aurelio Tolentino, converted into an intimate venue. The previous venue in Huseng Batute was reserved for the Revisited Set E performances.



1. BOSES NG MASA
Written by: Joshua Lim So
Directed by: Guelan Luarca

It is 2004. Ricardo Corrado (Jonel Mojica, on video) is running for Senate against his long time rival, Mayor Pugon, and is losing ground. Chris (Jerome Dawis), a junior member of RC's publicity team, gets his hands on a CD of a video showing Pugon's son and his friends sexually assaulting a poor girl. His senior partner Hector (Renan Bustamante) sees no problem with leaking the sex video on the internet for the benefit of their candidate. However, Chris, who had taken time to find out more about the victim, argues against it.

The sticky ethical dilemma is thoroughly discussed in and out. With a lengthy exchange about taxi drivers, they tell us that the first impression makes the most lasting impression. With a video about the Kennedy vs. Nixon TV debate, they tell us the image can make you win elections. But should a desperate election campaign employ tactics that would further ruin the already damaged life of an innocent victim and her family?

Renan Bustamante, whom I had seen last year in Guelan Luarca's "Bait," is really one intimidating actor with his narrow piercing look and authoritative delivery of lines. Jerome Dawis shone in that part where he pleaded the case against the release of the video by talking about his meeting with the victim's family, his internal struggle clearly evident. Seeing video monitors around the room, one question hung from the beginning, will they show ever us the contentious video, or not? You will have to stick to the end of the play to find out.



2. ANG MGA PUYONG
Written by: Ryan Machado
Directed by: Ricardo Magno

Setting is a remote town in Romblon, where two boys in their early teens were guarding rice grains being dried under the sun from being eaten up by birds. Andoy is an effeminate boy who loved listening to romantic radio dramas and writing down stories in a notebook. His best friend Pido is a more regular guy-next-door type of teenager. One day, Pido was trying to convince his cowardly friend to go with him so they could both get circumcised already. In the course of their conversation though, they reopen festering issues that had put a deep-seated strain in their friendship. 

This started as a very charming slice of rural life, with the two boys talking exhaustively about all the folk beliefs about circumcision with frank anatomic terminology. "Puyong" in the title meant "uncircumcised" as far as I can surmise. Like Dominique La Victoria's "Ang Bata sa Drum" last year (Set E Revisited this year), the language used here was Visayan, but there was enough Tagalog in there for us to fully get into the drift. The conversations later unexpectedly turn into topics of a much darker nature about sexual predators preying on the innocence of children. 

The playwright Machado skillfully revealed the delicate sickening topics in a subtle roundabout way. We were kept wondering what really happened as the conversations tended to shift focus from one subject to another, as we can note in real life banter of normal kids. All the various threads do fall into place by the play's end. 

I was surprised to learn after the show that Reynald Santos, the baby-faced actor playing Andoy is already 19-year old. He certainly convinced me that he was only 14! Ahmed Maulana, who played the more mature Pido, was in reality even younger, at only 17 years old. Despite their young ages and probably limited theater experience, the two boys were impressively able to carry this heavy play, with all its complexities that run the whole range of emotions from glee to rage, on their young shoulders. 




3. HINDI AKO SI DARNA
Written by: U.Z. Eliserio and Maynard Manansala
Directed by: Andoy Ranay

The iconic Pinay superheroine Darna is now in her sixties and past her prime physically. One day, while she was in a restaurant, she had various encounters with various people. The perky waitress was a huge fan and wanted to be her apprentice. A grey-haired but buff 60-year old Kapitan Barbell comes to propose marriage. An drug pusher, shot by a couple of vigilantes riding motorcycle, asks for her help. Darna's old nemesis, Valentina, drops by for a nostalgic chat and of course, a fight.

It had a rough start for me, with seemingly pointless conversations between the old Darna (Tetchie Agbayani) and her waitress (Kim Molina) about her missing "bato". Things picked up slightly when the narcissistic Kapitan Barbell (Jay Gonzaga) showed off his abs and quoted a senator's "na-ano" line. 

However the true big laughs only came when Ricci Chan came in playing the petulant younger brother, Ding. Ekis Jimenez, really looking like a drug addict here, was able to keep up the momentum of laughs despite the seemingly off-tangent nature of his segment. Count on John Lapus to really bring the house down with his flamboyance as Valentina. In fact, it was only in this very well-written part, that Ms. Agbayani really got to show off her comic chops, even putting in a reference to her 1982 Playboy centerfold.

This play had the most visible and audible audience impact because of its loud, colorful, and well-loved cast of characters. The smooth flow of this play is limited by its episodic nature, with new characters coming in and out randomly, with tenuous transitions. Being the very first public performance of this play, Ms. Agbayani looked very nervous and tentative, especially with that white nightgown she was made to wear even when the scene was in a restaurant! With all the audience love she got after this show, I am very sure Ms. Agbayani will give more confident performances in the next two weeks of this run. 



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The other performances of SET B are on July 2, 8 and 13 at 3 pm, and on July 7, 12 and 16 at 8 pm. Tickets to the Virgin Labfest are at P400 each.


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