Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review of Rep Phils' A COMEDY OF TENORS: Doppelganger Distress

January 28, 2018

In recent years, Rep had staged a number of Ken wacky comedies written by playwright Ken Ludwig. They did "Shakespeare in Hollywood" in 2011, "Leading Ladies" in 2012, and "The Game's Afoot" (MY REVIEW) in 2016.  This year, as the opening salvo for their 81st season, Rep decides to stage yet another Ken Ludwig play. This time, it is the sequel of the first play by Ludwig that Rep did a little ways back 15 years ago. 

In 2003, Repertory Philippines opened their 66th season with Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor". Directed by Zenaida Amador, that production starred Miguel Faustmann as famed Italian tenor Tito Merelli and Joy Virata as his wife Maria. Arnel Carrion played the harassed show producer Henry Saunders and Michael Williams played his mousy assistant Max, who turned out  to have a hidden talent. Liesl Batucan played Saunder's daughter Maggie, on whom Max had a crush. Rem Zamora played a funny fanboying hotel bellhop.

In its sequel, "A Comedy of Tenors," all those crazy characters are back in a madcap mistaken-identity comedy, as its Shakespeare-inspired title suggests. Henry Saunders had now leveled up to be producing a major opera concert in Paris, France.  Max had also leveled up, from being Saunder's assistant, then son-in-law (as Max married Maggie), and now, also a bonafide opera performer in this concert, sharing the spotlight with no less than "Il Stupendo" Tito Merelli himself.

Tito Merelli is going through some midlife crisis drama -- marital insecurity regarding his wife Maria's fidelity, parental insecurity regarding his daughter Mimi's purity, and career insecurity regarding up and coming young tenor Carlo Nucci. All these problems troubling Tito blow up in a major hullabaloo just two hours before the show was about to begin and all the well-laid plans about the concert began to unravel in a wild pace. As 
Henry and Max scrambled to find a replacement for Tito, they suddenly heard Beppo the bellhop belt out an aria!

I knew that Lorenz Martinez can hit those high notes from the first time I saw him as lead performer in "Lorenzo" (2013) (MY REVIEW).  However, this is the first time I heard him actually sing operatic arias, and with conviction at that. Since he played both Tito (the temperamental star) and Beppo (the loquacious bellhop) who were both opera-singing Italians with heavy accents, Martinez had to comically convince us that they were two different people, giving each character his own subtle quirks. I was amazed at how he can emerge from doors on opposite sides of the stage as different guys one scene right after the other. I can just imagine all the running he had to do backstage.

Arman Ferrer makes his debut in a comedy, and in Repertory Philippines, with this play. He is clearly the most comfortable when it comes to opera singing among the actors. You can clearly hear his classical training when he sings his arias. His comedy timing may still need a little honing compared to his co-stars, but this guy can act as well as he can sing.

Noel Rayos is really very versatile and dependable when it comes to singing, as well as outrageous comedy, as we remember him in his most memorable roles in "Walang Sugat" (MY REVIEW) and "The Producers" (MY REVIEW). Roles like Harry Saunders come so naturally for Jeremy Domingo. He could do roles like this blindfolded already. The more problems his concert had, the more stressed out Henry got, the funnier Domingo became. 

Issa Litton impressed me with her performance in "Mga Ama, Mga Anak" (MY REVIEW) last year, and she was again a sexy comic standout in this one as Tito's elegant fiery wife Maria. Mica Pineda had a very daring opening scene with a mere throw pillow covering her torso. She did her loud and lively best to beef up her role as Tito's daughter, Mimi.  Shiela Valderama-Martinez played Racon, a Russian soprano diva and Tito's former one-night stand who wanted to rekindle their romance. I do hope they change the gown she was wearing because those extra folds of fabric in the front do not look flattering on her at all. 

Domingo, Valderrama, Martinez, Litton and Ferrer at their curtain call

The pace of the play was snappy especially in the Act 1 which was fun and delightful. Act 2 was initially bogged down with those stretched-out Beppo soliloquies with the tongue dish. But it picks up its pace after those were over and done with, leading to a hilariously energetic climax with the two Titos and their ladies. On a side note, I hope they reconsider deleting that scene where Beppo groped Mimi's tush. The audience who was laughing out loud just earlier suddenly fell silent at that awkward scene.

Anyhow, the best thing about this play was that we treated to lead actors who were able to actually sing their operatic arias live! That rehearsal scene of the three tenors singing an aria from La Traviata (I think) was really so good. 

With Miguel Faustmann in the director's chair, we get another slickly-staged over-the-top farcical comic treat that Rep does so well. The comic situations came at us fast and furiously, as well as those silly one-liners with various opera references true fans will lap up with glee. Frankly, I thought having an uncanny doppelganger was a corny plot device, but it was able to effectively bring about a merry-mix up of events as could be for the audience to be thoroughly entertained.


A COMEDY OF TENORS runs from January 26 to February 18, 2018 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Show schedule is at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3:30 pm matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost ₱1,500 for Orchestra Center (Reserved Seating) and ₱1,200  for Orchestra Sides (Free Seating).

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review of PETA's 'NIGHT, MOTHER: Devastating Depression

January 24, 2018

The 50th year anniversary celebration of PETA began with a blast in March 2017 with the restaging of their massive 2012 box-office hit "Care Divas". In August, PETA had a colorful and delightful new original show for children entitled "Tagu-taguan, Nasaan ang Buwan?" Just last November, PETA returned to its original stage at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago to stage "Ang Buhay ni Galileo." After those three bombastic shows with big all-star casts, PETA chose to close its golden season very quietly with this intense serious drama starring only two actresses.

A middle-aged epileptic woman Jessie, estranged from her building contractor husband and drug addict son, lived with her elderly widowed mother Thelma. One seemingly normal Saturday night, Jessie was preparing to give her mother her regular manicure. Without any apparent warning, Jessie calmly announced to her mother that she will be committing suicide later that night. Shocked and distraught, Thelma desperately tried everything she could as a mother to stop her daughter's fixed decision. 

The original material was written by American playwright Marsha Norman. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was first staged on Broadway in 1983 with Annie Pitoniak as Thelma and Kathy Bates as Jessie. It was nominated for a Tony for Best Play. It has a revival in 2004 with Brenda Blethyn as Thelma and Edie Falco as Jessie. In 1986, there was a film version starring Anne Bancroft as Thelma and Sissy Spacek as Jessie. As skillfully adapted into Filipino by Ian Lomongo, the play transformed into something so authentically Pinoy, you'd think it was originally written that way. 

For an intimate two-hander play, the set by production designer Ben Padero was huge. It was a detailed interior of a bungalows with a typical design for the 1950s.  The living room had a sala set and television, with shelves full of books. Behind, there was a small flight of stairs up to go to their bedrooms. The kitchen had full cupboards, a working refrigerator and running water form the sink. Above we see some obvious wear and tear on the wooden parts of their house, betraying its age and lack of maintenance. It was a regular middle class Filipino household, could be ours or could be our neighbor's.

I had seen Sherry Lara before in plays like "Walang Kukurap" (MY REVIEW) and "Betang" (MY REVIEW), so I am fully aware of her acting talents. But her performance as Thelma is on a much higher level because she felt so real. We identify with her desperation and exasperation all the way from Jessie's startling declaration all the way up to that hair-raising ending. We hope we never have to hear that kind of statement ever in our lives and then live that devastating night down for the remainder of our lives. Yet Ms. Lara had to go through this emotional roller coaster with every performance. 

We know Eugene Domingo more as a movie ("Kimmy Dora" immediately comes to mind) and TV comedienne. I had seen her act on stage before, also in PETA, five years ago in the stage version of "Bona" (MY REVIEW). She did not star in a play since then until now. Like Ms. Lara, Domingo played it so naturally. We know Jessie is a majorly depressed person, but for that evening, she was unusually chatty and lucid. Her plan was all laid out so neatly, so organized and thorough.  Domingo kept our attention riveted on her through all those mundane things she did all night. The whole performance is spine-tingling, knowing what it would be all leading up to.

I had previously seen Director Melvin Lee sing and act as Chelsea in "Care Divas" (MY REVIEW), dance as Sabel in "Sayaw Sabel" (MY REVIEW) and direct in "Mapagbirong Haplos" (MY REVIEW).  For this new play, Lee made this heart-wrenching heavy drama also as much a heart-pounding suspense thriller. The lighting design by Jonjon Villareal and music by Vincent de Jesus all worked to hold us at the edge of our seats throughout its approximately 90 minute running time. Watching that real-time clock on stage was like watching a ticking time bomb about to explode.  

After the play, the stage was set up for a debriefing Q and A session led with psychiatrists experienced with suicides. The intensity and sensitivity of the play's topic, coupled with the very realistic presentation seen onstage, demands such a session for the audience to discuss and ventilate about the traumatic event they just saw transpire in front of their eyes. May this play help us in recognizing suicidal depression and hopefully make positive action to avert any tragic consequences of such distressing mood disorders. 

Post-Show photo of cast with director Melvin Lee, 
writer Ian Lomongo and crew


PETA's 'NIGHT MOTHER runs at the PETA Phinma Theater Fridays to Sundays (3 pm and 8 pm shows) from February 2 to March 18, 2018. Tickets are available at Prices: ₱1,800 for VIP, ₱1,500 for Orchestra Center, ₱1,200 for Orchestra Side, ₱1,500 for Balcony Center and ₱800 for Balcony Side.

FLASHBACK Recap and Videos: PETA's SAYAW SABEL (2010)

June 26, 2010

This is the 3rd and final event of PETA's East West Danse event which spanned the whole month of June.  Of the three shows, it is "Sayaw, Sabel" which had generated the most hype and excitement.  Many big names in various fields of Filipino arts are involved. The huge turnout tonight proved its popularity.  Tonight was a full house.

This dance showcase is a product of director and choreographer Ms. Agnes Locsin.  She was once artistic director and chief choreographer of Ballet Philippines in the 90s, now based in Davao City.  She is known for merging Western classical dance technique with Philippine neo-ethnic movements.  I beleive she does a lot of this in "Sayaw, Sabel".

The inspiration behind "Sayaw, Sabel" is the painting called "Sabel" by National Artist Mr. Benedicto Cabrera.  This painting "Sabel" was described by its creator Bencab to be "a melancholic symbol of dislocation, despair and isolation--the personification of human dignity threatened by life's vicissitudes, and the vast inequities of Philippine society."  "Sayaw Sabel" on the otherhand, is described in its synopsis as "a collection of dances depicting how Filipinos go through life in the midst of all their troubles and tribulations with shining resilience."

The unique feature of "Sayaw Sabel" is that the lead role of Sabel will be performed by a different featured theater actor each night, making each show different from the others.  Also, Each show will have seven dance artists and a featured theater artist portraying the title role. In an article in Malaya, Locsin said that the seven dancers of each show will also depend on who is available at the time.

In 2 pm show today, Sabel was played by PETA Artistic Director Ms. Maribel Legarda.  For the show I watched tonight, Sabel was played by a theater actor and director named Melvin Lee.  I honestly have not heard of him before, but he seemed to have a lot of fans in the audience, as he was always very warmly applauded.  Other actors set to play Sabel in future stagings are Nonie Buencamino and his wife Shamaine Centenera.

The music of "Sayaw, Sabel" comes from Louie Ocampo and Joey Ayala.  Additional sound design and music was by Jakob Rodriguez with selected OPM songs of Celeste Legazpi, Basil Valdez, Parokya ni Edgar, Noel Cabangon, and Aegis. Poetry by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera was also used.  Mr. Lumbera was in the audience last night.

The seven dances performed in "Sayaw Sabel" last night were (there would be several other dancers with other dance pieces on other nights):

1.  "Kayod" by Judell de Guzman-Sicam.  Ms. Sicam was dancing with an office chair with wheels.  Based on the title, I take it this represents people so tied up with their respective jobs in order to make ends meet.

2.  "Batak" by Dwight Rodrigazo.  Mr. Rodrigazo was dancing with a piece of cloth, like a security blanket.  I honestly cannot guess what this dance was about.  Not even the title gives me a clue.  It could be about drugs.  But despite this, I found this performance to be strong, riveting and interesting. (VIDEO)

3.  "Abandonada" by Christine Crame.  Ms. Crame was dancing with what looked like a very big piece of white paper.  I do not know what the paper was about, but the title suggests she had been abandoned by her husband.  The first part of her dance was to the Visayan song "Usahay", while the second part was to the Aegis song "Halik."  Very innovative.  (VIDEO)

4.  "Sugat" by Annette Cruz-Mariano.  Ms. Mariano was dancing with a huge black fishing net.  Based on the title, and the voiceover, this dance represented being trapped by scars inflicted by abuses in the past.  The net provided Ms. Mariano the means to deliver a haunting and meaningful dance performance.  This was truly memorable.

5.  "Bagong Bayani" by Monique Uy.  Ms. Uy was dancing with a Balikbayan Box.  But actually she gets help from three other girls in this number.  Ms. Uy does not really get a substantial solo. Based on the title, this dance was obviously about Overseas Filipino Workers.  The number was rather straightforward with familiar and easier to access modern dance steps.  (VIDEO)

6.  "Sino Ka?" by Perry Sevidal.  Ms. Sevidal started by dancing with a piece of newspaper, but danced the rest of it by herself.  Again this is a number which I do not really know what it means, by the dance nor by the title. In fact I do not really remember much about it now.  She did dance to "HIndi Kita Malimot" as sung live by Sabel.  Maybe that is why I remember the song more than the dance.

7.  "Ako Una" by Camille Ordinante-Joson. Ms. Joson started by dancing solo, but the more remarkable part of her dance involved her interaction with other dancers.  We see her getting in conflict with other people.  There was literal pushing onstage!  This was the one moment in the show that was actually funny.  From the title, I take this dance to represent either pushy people in society or crab mentality.

And of course, there is the character of Sabel.  Sabel is dressed in layers of rags.  Her face had thick ghostly make-up.  Her head was covered by a stocking with pieces of hair sticking out.  The seven solo dances of this whole piece was held together and transitioned by this Sabel character.  After each dance, Sabel would come out and interact a bit with each of the other dancers.  (VIDEO)

In this show tonight, Sabel is a he.  Melvin Lee with his bulk and height certainly gave a this Sabel a very different look and presence, compared to what would be expected from a woman.  His solo dance steps during Sabel's highlight which came midway (after the 4th number "Sugat") were a bit shaky, but he was very good in conveying sadness, desolation and confusion in his solo.  His acapella rendition of "Hindi Kita Malimot" for Dance #6 was actually very moving.

Overall, this modern dance piece was thought-provoking and dramatic.  Though it could also easily be interpreted as indulgent and pointless.  I think the whole show could be polarizing, people will either like it or they won't.  The dancing here isn't exactly ballet, nor jazz, nor ballroom, nor hiphop, nor any of the more recongizable dance forms.  I liked certain numbers more than others.  I also liked that it was short (only one hour) with no intermission. 

Based on the audience reaction, last night's staging of "Sayaw, Sabel" was a big success.  And with other theater actors lined up to play Sabel, next stagings promise to be similarly well-received.  Congratulations to the cast and crew of "Sayaw, Sabel" and PETA!