Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIV - SET D: Of Disputes, Decisions and Debauchery

July 1, 2017


Written by: Tyron Casumpang
Directed by: Ariel Yonzon

The play was set in a feeding center where a group of Christian and Muslim volunteers prepare food for the evacuees, especially the children. It had been four months since Maute-ISIS had laid siege on Marawi City, and the bombs are still falling around them. They sing to release their pent-up fear and pain.

Writer Tyron Casumpang had actually gone to Marawi with fellow Ateneo teachers and got inspired to write this play about the food volunteers he met there. While the intentions are sincere, one cannot help but feel that the story felt incomplete, that this play was just scratching the surface with familiar conflicts. It could still be expanded into a full-length play to better cover all relevant issues. The side issue between the music therapy volunteers from Manila (played by Lhorlie Ann Nuevo and Nazer Salcedo) felt forced and unclear.

Jonathan Tadioan was right at home playing Kuya Jhong, the gentle and optimistic team leader who was also worried about his sick son back home. The most memorable song in the musical was a plaintive prayer to Allah sung by Muslim characters Salanka (Junelie Barrios Villegas -- more popularly known as Bayang Barrios) and Khalid (Poppert Bernadas) as they plead for the safety of Abdul, Salanka's husband and Khalid's brother. That one song lifted the whole play up to an ethereal level with their beautifully emotional singing. The three kids Marlowe Concepcion (Yusof), James Ramil Garlando (Asis) and Tyrone de la Cruz (Moner) all sing very well.


Written by: Lino Balmes
Direted by: Tess Jamias

Chona and Ramil were informal settlers who lived under a railroad bridge with their young son Igit. Day in and day out, the couple argued loudly about their wretched living conditions where every train that passes would shower a coat of dust over everything they owned. A recurrent point of contention were the decisions Ramil made a few months ago when he had the chance to win a million pesos as a contestant on TV's "Pera o Bayong."

Writer Lino Balmes caught an episode of real "Pera o Bayong" on TV and got curious to explore about the aftermath of those situations when the contestant did not win. The way director Tess Jamias staged those flashback scenes with every train that passed was so effective, with the shower of dust from above, the loud engine noise and the mesmerizing strobe lights. Kudos go to production designer John Carlo Pagunaling and Lights desinger Barbie Tan-Tiongco for coming up with these realistic technical details.

I had seen Bong Cabrera before as a loud-mouth brother in "Ang Naghihingalo" (VLF X). He plays another loud-mouth character here, and again he was so effective. He may have had a fumble with the lines (or the timing) at the end which affected the dramatic twist at the end a bit. Marjorie Lorico had once won Female Lead Performance in a Play for “Nobyembre, Noong Akala Ko Mahal Kita” back in 2012, and you can see why with her loud, passionate and committed performance here. The stage time of John Paulo Rodriguez (as Igit) was very short, but it was a painful scene which will haunt you for a long time.


Written by: Allan Lopez
Direted by: Chris Martinez

Abe and Mara  met while undergoing chemotherapy of their respective cancers. Despite their health conditons, the two got along well and had an affair. Abe was still married to a very busy wife, but he did not want to bother her with his needs, medical and otherwise. Mara was a spinster who was just liberated from her responsibilities and was now free to explore life on her own. 

Writer Allan Lopez had a solid idea -- ruminations about the temporariness of human pleasures vis a vis the permanence of death, while checked into a sleazy motel for some short-time sex. The title alone, alluding to the river in Greek myth where people bathe to forget, tesitified to the depth of the writer's intention. Director Chris Martinez decided to insert interludes of  "cleaners" dancing salaciously around the room before and between the more serious scenes between Abe and Mara. While definitely attention-grabbing, liking them or not is a matter of personal taste. I do not really see why these cleaners were there (aside for shock factor) or what they symbolize (if any).

Veteran VLF actors Paolo O'Hara and Dolly de Leon play Abe and Mara so naturally and so fearlessly, such that it gave the feeling that everybody in the audience were voyeurs invading their intimate time. I'd seen O'Hara go sleazy before when he did "Macho Dancer the Musical" back in VLF XI. I had been a fan of Dolly de Leon since "Ang Naghihingalo" (VLF X). As Mara, she gave a stirring performance of such deep sensitivity that went well beyond the dirty talk and sexual acrobatics her role required.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIV - SET B: Of Flowers, Fantasy and Fiction

June 28, 2018

I have been watching the Virgin Labfest at the CCP for five years in a row now. The fresh one-act plays chosen for this festival had been exceptional theater pieces, and this year is already its 14th year, with the provocative theme of "Silip". This year, 150 scripts had been submitted and the top 12 were chosen to be staged. 

Last year I had been able to catch all 12 plays, the first time I has been able to do so. This year, with all the road works causing more traffic in the Metro, I am not sure yet if I can do it again.  The venue this year was still the CCP Little Theater Aurelio Tolentino, same as last year. VLF XIV opened yesterday with Set A. Today, I attended the premiere staging of the Set B plays, which were the following:


Written by: J. Dennis Teodisio
Directed by: Charles Yee

Ex pro photographer Anding is now old and blinded by his diabetes. One day, he came back to the reunite with his best friend Merto in his former nursing home. Anding thought Merto would never forgive his sudden leaving the home a few years back. As they sat on the swing set in the rose garden, they talk about the old times, and their future together.

Playwright J. Dennis Teodisio wrote this play after visiting a nursing home for aging gay people. It was not glaringly obvious from the script, but upon listening to the conversations  between Anding and Merto, you do get that subtext about them. 

This was a very very slow and quiet play about two old men talking about memories and other mundane things. It was not exactly the best play to watch at siesta time in the afternoon, if you get my drift. Not even the sincere performances of veteran actors Crispin Pineda (as Anding) and Bembol Roco (as Merto) could give it more life. As this was only the first show, tweaks can still be made to liven this up some more.


Written by: Sari Saysay
Directed by: Carlos Siguion Reyna

Three scavenger kids were taking their trolley of trash to the junk shop. They were playing a game of pretend based on the junk they picked up. Pia used a discarded video camera and a damaged keyboard to be a reporter. Roel found an old scrub suit and stethoscope to be a doctor. Lauro used a stick as a gun to be a policeman, like he always did.

Mr. Sari Saysay was able to incorporate so many witty bits of social commentary from several current topics. Through Pia (probably inspired by a controversial Rappler reporter), Saysay discussed freedom of the press, persecution of journalists and the PCOO. Through Lauro, he tackled the issue of EJK and police brutality. Roel's doctor character served as the balancing factor between the two. There were times though when the words used by the kids did not seem consistent with their life condition.

This play joins "Ang Bata sa Drum" and "Ang Mga Puyong" as outstanding VLF plays with kids as main characters. But here, Krystle Campos (Pia), Arthur Castro (Roel) and Jian Markus Tayco (Lauro) are real kids, all not older than 15 years of age, which was impressive. Director Carlos Siguion-Reyna managed to strike the balance between innocent childhood fantasy and harsh violent reality as the script blurred the line between the two.


Written by: Carlo Vergara
Directed by: George de Jesus III

Computer programmer Levi Llorca topped the New York Times Bestseller's List with his debut novel "Revisita," which critics hailed as a perfect mix of the diverse writing styles of Jane Austen and Alex Garland. His loyal partner Barns Noble doubles as his efficient manager to handle his busy schedules and finances. Back in Manila for a series of media activities, Levi made time to meet with old college friend George, now a copywriter and a frustrated novelist.

The name of writer Carlo Vergara is a brand of theatrical excellence. His previous VLF plays, "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," "The Missing Peace" and "Mula sa Kulimliman" all had innovative plots with very entertaining elements. This play was no different, the writing is so logical, witty and smart. This show needs a spoiler warning. One should see it without knowing what it is all about for it to work best.

Ricci Chan was a riot as usual as Barns. In past plays I've seen Ricci in, including VLF plays, he is consistently the life of the show, really so funny. Guelan Luarca, I know as an excellent playwright and translator, but this is the first time I am seeing him as an actor on stage. His portrayal of George is quite delightful in his frustration and desperation. Rafa Siguion Reyna mainly played the straight man of the play, and he held his own ground firmly.