Sunday, July 8, 2018

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIV - SET C: The Shrill. The Shocking. The Sweet.

July 8, 2018

Set C of VLF XIV is composed of three strong, well-written one-act plays. Any one or more of them can be in the running for the Revisited Set for next year.


Written by: Ma. Cecilia "Maki" dela Rosa
Directed by: Jose Estrella and Issa Manalo Lopez

The setting was a busy labor room of a public hospital. Veh was a nervous 22-year old who was about to deliver her first baby. Two ladies were there awaiting curettage for a miscarriage: Nay already had many children in a row before, Ate never carried a pregnancy to term. While Dr. Jean and her Nurse were attending to them, two more pregnant women both already about to give birth any moment come in to join in the fracas. 

This play brought me back to the OB admitting section of the UP-PGH where I had spent a number of memorably chaotic and dramatic 24-hour duties, with scenes exactly like the ones depicted or even worse. Writer Maki dela Rosa must have consulted and observed with an OB who trained in a public hospital to come up with such authentic script which was so funny, so witty, yet so heartwarming and affecting.

All the actresses playing the patients tended to be over-the-top noisy, but that was how these scenes unfold for real. Hariette Damole's expressive eyes betrayed Veh's fears. Sheryll Ceasico played that loud busybody character Nay delightfully. Skyzx Labastilla's Ate had a more serious tone because of her inability to bear children. Opaline Santos (finally I get to see her in action) was the typical whiny attention-hound. Ina Azarcon-Bolivar let her inability to pay get in the way of better judgement.

J-mee Katanyag perfectly captured the authority Dr. Jean needed to project to keep everything under her control. Kiki Baento reminded us of our dear nurses who maintain order and carry out orders in the labor room. Sherry Lara played a small but marked role as the janitress who waxed nostalgic about gossip she overheard while working. These are the characters which make the OB labor room run efficiently despite the stressful flurry of activities a steady stream of screaming moms-to-be brings up.


Written by: JV Ibesate
Directed by: Olive Nieto

Neil came back to their family home after 20 years of incarceration for a crime he committed against a student when he worked as a teacher before. Meeting him at home was his younger brother Norman who had been leading a tough life on his own, bearing on his shoulders the bitter stigma of his brother's crime all these years.

This is another one of those plays that need a SPOILER ALERT. It is preferable that you should not know the ending when you go watch it, so you can be properly shocked as the author intended it. JV Ibesate, who just won a Best Actor award at the Gawad Buhay last year, now adds VLF playwright to his credentials. That twisted twist of an ending came from completely out of left field to stun all unsuspecting audiences.

Arnold Reyes is a movie actor, but I had seen him act on stage before (in VLF XII, as MLQ, and as Valmont). Reyes is back in VLF XIV in another controlled and daring performance here as ex-con Neil. Acey Aguilar, whom I've seen twice before (in VLF XI and as a bad cop), looks more mature now than I remembered him. He matched Reyes' daring in his portrayal, but his character had a more damaged, vulnerable persona. Together they wrapped the stage with uncomfortable vibes the whole time, until that startling jaw-dropping surprise that would jar your sensibilities.


Written by: Juan Ekis
Directed by: Eric Villanueva dela Cruz

Peds and Tisha are senior citizens who joined a stage acting workshop. The scene assigned to them involves a kissing scene. Tisha cannot seem to accept that a scene like needed to be done. However, when Peds teased her about her chickening out, Tisha was challenged to prove she is a professional. Can she?

The situation in this comedy is very simple, and can be conveyed in a single sentence. However, writer Juan Ekis was able to stretch this stark plot into a rich and charming character study of two elderly people who are exploring new things and expanding their experiences in their old age. 

This worked mainly because of the sharp comic timing of the two veteran actors, namely Bembol Roco as Pebs and Sherry Lara as Tisha. For this VLF XIV, both are doing double duties. Roco is actually acting in another two-hander "Rosas" in Set B aside from this one. Lara was just seen earlier this same set as one of the ensemble of actresses in "Labor Room." Roco was more upbeat and on point in his portrayal as Pebs here than he was in "Rosas." His Pebs is a old gentleman, but still had that naughty rascal in him. Lara is really a delight playing the sweet and demure Tisha, donning that hilarious Oriental head-dress of hers. Their zippy repartee had the audience in stitches as we waited whether that elusive kiss will ever happen or not.


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