Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review of DUP's ANG DALAGITA'Y 'SANG BAGAY NA DI-BUO: Suffocating Shame

February 26, 2018

(From the Dulaang UP FB page)

The original source of this play is a 2013 debut novel by Irish writer Eimear McBride entitled "A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing." In 2014, it was adapted into a play by Annie Ryan for one woman to perform. Ms. Ryan wrote the script under strict terms to not change a single word from the book, only managing its length to fit a reasonable time limit for a stage play. Dulaang UP had been granted the rights to translate and adapt this intense play for the Filipino audience by the pen of Rody Vera and direction of Ms. José Estrella.

The life of a young woman is traced from her time in the womb to her birth, through her childhood under the thumb of her abusive mother, her early teens when she first encountered her slimy uncle, then her days in the university when she apparently freed herself from her past. When her elder brother fell seriously ill though, she was forced to return home to be with him. It was then that she had to relive her old nightmares all over again, and then some. 

I read that it took Eimear McBride only six months to write her novel, but she had to wait 10 years before she found a publisher who had the guts to set it to print. The text of the novel was in no way conventional. It was not easy to read not only because of the distressing topic, but also because it was boldly experimental, written in a sort of stream of consciousness style, with no quotation marks to set off dialogues. 

(From the Dulaang UP FB page)

The script of Annie Ryan was likewise just a continuing monologue with no indication of which character was saying what. The translator, director, dramaturgist and the actresses had to figure out the various personalities the solo performer would have to embody in the entire length of this almost two-hour play all on her own. 

Aside from the girl, there was also the mother (very religious yet unsympathetic, always stern and angry with the girl), the brother (seriously ill since childhood, the "you" the girl addresses for the whole play), the uncle (a creep with a nebulous personality -- as if the girl was uncertain about what to think about him until too late). There were also a myriad of more minor characters: the strict grandfather, the patronizing aunt, the best friend, the doctor, the religious fanatics, those multiple sex partners in school and the sick sex pervert in the woods. 

Any actress who was willing to take up the challenge to perform this play is a very brave soul. Not only is she going to have to portray several characters, these are characters who were literally at each others throats in many cases. She would be practically be memorizing all the lines of all the characters, from the lead down to the extras. She needed to give each role a distinct face, voice and personality, and not mix them up as she went from one to another. She would have to bare her soul on that stage as the protagonist goes into various stages of her physical and emotional breakdown.

The Four Dalagitas: Labastilla, Maramara, Santos and Damole
(From Missy Maramara's FB page)

I have seen this play two times already before writing out this review in full. On my first day, I caught Missy Maramara as the girl. I was seated at the very back row of the theater towards the left side. On my second day, I caught Skyzx Labastilla as the girl, I was seated much closer to the stage on the fifth row center. The viewing experience was very heavy both times given the bleak nature of the play (but of course I was able to pay more attention to the details of the script better the second time around). 

The acting instructions of director Ms. Estrella appeared to be specific for each particular scene, since both actresses basically did the same general motions. The director set the boundaries of the roles, but allowed each actress to explore and come up with subtle individual detail changes to set their Girl apart from the other Girls. Opaline Santos and Harriet Damole also alternate to tackle the role on certain show times. Maramara and Labastilla seem to be the more senior actresses of the four. I wonder how it would be to have one of the younger actresses perform, especially since the Girl should only be age 20 by the final scene. The effect could probably be more hair-raising.

Talkback Session with Ina Bolivar and Missy Maramara (02-24-18)

There were constants that the actresses have onstage to work with: like the chair (the girl's only crutch onstage; specially designed for stability and abuse), the video projections to depict outdoor scenes, and those perfectly  timed disturbing sound effects by Jon Lazam that heighten the tension, emotion and pain of the scenes where they were used. They had some water waiting at both sides of the stage to keep their throats hydrated at very brief breaks. 

At the end, a square hall of mirrors opened up in the middle of the stark black backdrop to frame the haunting final scene. The lighting was so vital in the whole play, especially that final scene with the mirrors. The effect of the playing lights during that final scene with the mirrors looked different depending on where I sat, each with their own dramatic impact. Kudos to the mirrors designer Mark Justiniani and light designer Barbie Tan Tiongco for the mesmerizing illusion of depth, buoyancy and calm during this key moment of the play.

This was the first time I have seen Ms. Maramara perform. I only knew her by reputation as an experienced practitioner of solo theater. She had taken on the one-woman show "Clytemnestra" (as adapted from various sources by Kiara Pipino) and performed it both abroad and locally (which I unfortunately missed). She had also written, directed and performed her very own one-woman work entitled "Love, Liz" which she debuted in the United Solo Festival in New York back in 2013. 

Talkback Session with Ina Bolivar and Skyzx Labastilla (02-25-18)

As for Ms. Labastilla, I have seen her act in a couple of two-hander short plays back in 2016. One was the perplexing "Daddy's Girl" (MY REVIEWat the Virgin Labfest XII, and later that year, it was the traumatizing "Indigo Child" (MY REVIEW) as part of the "Never Again" festival of Martial Law plays. In both plays, she delivered lengthy emotionally-draining monologues about a girl who was recounting her experiences of abuse (sexual and more). These two prior one-act plays more than prepared her for this much longer and more devastating full length project.  

Because the play dealt with a very disturbing subject matter, a talk back/debriefing session was held after each show where members of the audience can ask questions from the actress and the dramaturg Ms. Ina Azarcon-Bolivar, or vent their feelings about the play they just saw. 

This harrowing play confronts the audience with the fact that sexual abuse happens in real life and it is uglier than they can ever imagine. The victims' lives are destroyed, and many times, they have no family, no friends, no religion to turn to because of the shame that pervades their lives after suffering the abuse. This play aims to give all those girls who suffer in silence a loud enough voice so people can finally listen to their desperate calls. Do watch and echo their cries for help. 


"Ang Dalagita’y ‘sang Bagay na Di-buo" is staged in partnership with the UP Diliman College of Social Work and Community Development, the UPD Gender Office, and the UPD Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment. The play is also part of Kat(h)awan: Bodies, Society, Culture, the UP Diliman Festival Culture and the Arts 2018.

The play runs from February 21 - March 11 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2/F Palma Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City.

For all inquiries, contact Camille Guevara (0917 823 9531) or the Dulaang UP Office (Tel. No.: 926-1349 / 981-8500 local 2449 /

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review of TP's NANG DALAWIN NG PAG-IBIG SI JUAN TAMAD: Laziness, Love and Laughs

February 17, 2018

Before this play began, the audience was addressed by Ms. Cecille Joaquin Yasay, a niece of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin. She welcomed the audience to this play which was adapted from one of her uncle's children's stories entitled "How Love Came to Juan Tamad" from his "Pop Stories for Groovy Kids" series (1979). I only knew Nick Joaquin for his serious works, like "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino," "May Day Eve" and "The Woman with Two Navels." I did not expect him to have written anything for children at all, so this was a pleasant surprise for me. 

The ever-angry god of war Monte Banahaw is smitten with the ever-alluring goddess of love Mariang Makiling. After his advances were rejected, Monte wanted to punish Maria. So he asked his alchemist brother Ba'i, the fairy of Laguna Lake, to whip up a love potion so that Maria would fall hopelessly in love with the ugliest, stupidest and laziest boy in town. Who else would that poor lout be, but Juan Tamad?

Juan Tamad makes his grand entrance sleeping on a bed
with Marco Viana's beautiful set design in the background

The prolific Rody Vera came up with a very engaging Filipino adaptation for theater of Joaquin's short story originally written in English. It was full of current local pop culture references so the lines never sounded old or stuffy at all. As delivered by the in-house TP actors with their usual verve and energy, with funky choreography by Ronelson Yadao and direction by Jonathan Tadioan, Vera's lines had audiences in stitches with all the ridiculous situations in this farce.

Technically, the stage design by Marco Viana was very memorable. That huge multi-tiered sunburst of wooden planks made for a riveting stage centerpiece that really commanded attention. The lights of John Batalla enhanced the dramatic look of this beautiful main set piece. Even though singing is not exactly the forte of most of these actors, the songs by TJ Ramos were a delight to hear

Aldo Vencilao was a perfect fit as Monte Banahaw. You know how it is about short guys and their tendency to overcompensate. Monique "Manok" Nellas played an earthy and sexy Mariang Makiling, very proud of her long legs and feminine wiles. Lhorvie Nuevo was very cute as the Kerubing Ulap, a friendly cloud who could break the fourth wall and be our narrator. Antonette Go was on point with her Kris Aquino impersonation as Maria's sarcastic lawyer. JV Ibesate effectively mined the absent-mindedness of his character Ba'i for laughs. 

Aldo Vencilao and Manok Nellas take their bows.

I am not so sure that Ybes Bagadiong was the best choice to be Juan Tamad. I am not referring to his acting talent, but his particular look. I felt it was an unfortunate decision that the only dark-skinned actor in the cast was made to play the "ugliest, stupidest and laziest boy in town." There was even a line that taunted him how Juan looked like a monkey ("Mukha siyang matsing!"), which called to mind that ill-conceived H&M "coolest monkey in the jungle" ad photo. I am worried how this may feed children's ideas about stereotypes against their dark-skinned schoolmates. 

There were overtly sexual double entendre in so many of the lines exchanged between Mariang Makiling and the men who fall for her charms.  These naughty lines were very hilarious for sure, but at the same time, I could not help but worry about the children in the audience. I was seated beside a child less than five years old, and there were plenty more kids in the audience last night. I just hope these lines just sail above their innocent heads. 

The lesson of the play at the end was not clear. We see Juan Tamad get to become very rich, however we do not see him change his lazy ways at all.  Juan Tamad never got his comeuppance for being lazy. The twist at the end about the love potion sort of sent a confusing message, as if it was saying that Juan's laziness was somehow an aphrodisiac in itself.  For me, the end the play came rather too abruptly, without exactly making very clear its message against this capital sin of sloth. 

The Cast at the Curtain Call

I do not want to be a wet blanket about this because overall I found this colorful show to be quite entertaining for all ages. There were scenes which were really laugh out loud funny. However, because of the reasons for concern I cited above, I would advise strict Parental Guidance for young kids who will be watching this play. Do take your kids to watch this light-hearted fun show, but do discuss and clarify its lessons with them afterwards. 


"Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad" runs from February 16 to March 11, 2018 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, CCP Little Theater. Showtimes are: 8 pm Fridays, 3 pm and 8 pm on Saturdays and 3 pm on Sundays. Ticket prices are at P 1,030 and P 824 each, depending on the price zone, free seating basis. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review of Sandbox/9 Works HIMALA, ISANG MUSIKAL: Phenomenal Production and Performances!

February 10. 2018

I first heard about "Himala" the musical play in 2013, when a 10th anniversary concert (MY REVIEW) of the 2003 Tanghalang Pilipino production was staged at the PETA Theater. Before then, I only knew "Himala" to be the iconic 1982 film, directed by Ishmael Bernal, written by Ricky Lee and starring Ms. Nora Aunor, which told the story of a simple girl named Elsa who developed the ability to heal diseases after having apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a nearby hill in Barrio Cupang. 

Composer Vincent de Jesus had crafted deeply dramatic songs with some pretty punishing high notes, which only the best singers can sing. The original cast included such vocal powerhouses like May Bayot (as Elsa),Cynthia Culig-Guico (as Chayong), Isay Alvarez (as NImia) and Dulce (as Nanay Saling). Ricky Lee himself adapted his screenplay for the book of the play and co-wrote the lyrics. 

The story of the musical follows the story of the film faithfully. Elsa has visions of the Virgin Mary on the hill, after which she can cure the sick of body and of spirit. This ability made Elsa a local celebrity. She seemed to enjoy the attention given by her coterie of pious friends and devotees. One day, an unspeakable crime happened on the miraculous hill that drove that led to escalating torment and tragedy. 

Aicelle Santos as Elsa 

This year, on the occasion of its 15th anniversary, the Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatricals, decide to restage this play in full as part of its thrust to include Filipino works in its repertoire. An all-new generation of powerful singer-actors had been assembled to sing those same emotional songs for us once again. 

Aicelle Santos was really pushed to go beyond all limits in the lead role of Elsa, and she positively nailed that challenging role down, both acting-wise and singing-wise.  Her two big highlight numbers came one after the other: one questioning the heavens for her misfortune and the final one addressing the crowd with a shocking confession. I've seen Santos before in "Rak of Aegis" and "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag" and she had been excellent in both, but this Elsa of hers was in a class all its own.

Bituin Escalante as Nanay Saling 

Portraying Elsa's childhood friends were Neomi Gonzales as the fragile and religious Chayong, and Kakki Teodoro as the bold and worldly Nimia. Both of them shone in their featured songs -- Gonzales in Chayong's duets with Elsa and suitor Pilo, and Teodoro in her raunchy cabaret scene and her duet with Elsa. Bituin Escalante was a notable vocal standout in her searing renditions of Nanay Saling's painful lamentations. There was a scene where was singing in one far corner, but the strength of her voice effortlessly filled up the entire room. Jenny Villegas dela Cruz played Mrs. Alba, who organized Elsa's "Seven Apostles." Her clear soprano voice floated sweetly out of the chorus as she sang harmony in that final group song. 

David Ezra, looking very different from how I remembered him as "Aurelio Sedisyoso," played Orly, a dogged documentary film maker from Manila, whose humanity was also put to the test in Cupang. Sandino Martin, fresh from his two acclaimed musical films "Changing Partners" and "Ang Larawan" played Chayong's suitor, Pilo, whose pent-up frustrations were just waiting to explode. Floyd Tena, whom I only first knew from "Maynila" last year, played the cynical (and smoking!) parish priest

Neomi Gonzales and Sandino Martin as Chayong and Pilo

Under the visionary direction of Ed Lacson Jr., this present staging made those emotions as raw as possible. There was no orchestra, just a piano. There were no microphones used, just pure voice. There was not a single dance number, as may be expected from musicals. The whole room at PowerMac Center Spotlight was used as the performing area, with sections of the audience area also covered with thatch roofs to make us feel like we are curious onlooking residents of Cupang as well. Ads promised this show will be an immersive experience, and I completely see and felt what they mean. We felt the fanaticism. We felt the greed. We felt the tragic irony of it all. 

The standing ovation that ensued after the haunting final scene was long and thunderous. The whole cast took their slow bows, many of them were wiping tears off their faces, fully taking in the moment and the appreciation of the crowd. It is just February, but as early as now, I think I had just watched a prime contender for Best Musical Production of 2018!


"HIMALA" runs from February 10- March 4, 2018 at the PowerMac Spotlight, Level 2, Circuit Lane, Circuit Makati.  Show dates are: Sat Feb 10 2018 - 8:00 PM, Sun Feb 11 2018 - 2:00 PM, Sat Feb 17 2018 - 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM, Sun Feb 18 2018 - 2:00 PM, Sat Feb 24 2018 - 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM, Sun Feb 25 2018 - 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM, Fri Mar 2 2018 - 8:30 PM, Sat Mar 3 2018 - 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sun Mar 4 2018 - 2:00 PM. Tickets at P2,500 (Blue Patron), P1, 700 (Gold),  P1,300 (Red) and P1,000 (Black, with restricted views). Rated R-13.


PS: Watching the press preview last night had the incomparable bonus treat of seeing the original Elsa herself, Ms. Nora Aunor. At the end of the show, after director Lacson gave his thank you speech, Ms. Aunor was called down to join the cast for photos. I felt the star-struck exhilaration of the cast as they were individually acknowledged by the Superstar. Later the original cast of the musical (Bayot, Alvarez and Dulce) all joined in to take photos with the new cast. These were really gratifying scenes to witness and remember.