Saturday, February 23, 2019

Review of TP's CORIOLANO: Perplexing Pride and Personality

February 24, 2019



Watching a new unfamiliar Shakespeare play is not exactly easy to understand right away. I had no idea what "Coriolanus" was about before I went to watch it, nor do I know the names of any character from it.  If Shakespeare is adapted in Filipino, it may either be easier or harder depending on how the adaptation was done. If it is done by the award-winning Guelan Varela-Luarca, it should be good (and in this case, it was). 

Cayo Marcio was a proud Patrician soldier who did not shy from expressing his contempt against the Plebians who worked under him. After he successfully led a campaign against the Volscian city of Corioli (under the leadership of Gen. Tulo Aufidio), Marcio was given the honorary title of Coriolano. When he was nominated by the Senate to become consul, Marcio faced stiff opposition from the two Plebian tribunes, Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto, who rallied the common people against the Coriolano.


The Tribunes rally the crowd vs. the Coriolano
(photo from TP FB page)

As the play went on, there were so many characters with names which were not exactly easy to hear, to learn or to remember. There were also actors in the ensemble who were playing multiple roles, further adding to the confusion. It took some time for me to figure out that Cayo Marcio was the lead character's name. The play's title "Coriolano" was just an honorific Cayo Marcio earned after he won the battle against the Volscians (an Italic tribe I also never heard before, so it took some time for me to figure this out as well). Up to the very end, I never figured out why the chaste lady Valeria was there at all. 

However, despite the difficulty of the first scenes, the flow of the play was engaging enough for you to eventually get the drift of where the story was going by the time the Tribunes were convincing the people to rise against the arrogant abuse of the Coriolano. Actually, the rise in action was remarkable from this point on, until it reaches a climax when the Coriolano was sentenced for exile. It actually felt like a good conclusion right there after an hour and a half, but then you realize it was just the end of Act 1.

Act 2 presented a uniquely ironic situation about the Coriolano and his mortal enemy Tulo Aufidio. This act was easier to get into than it was at the beginning of Act 1, but there were still a lot of talky scenes which can feel too long and meandering to sit through. It would take approximately another hour and fifteen minutes or so before the final curtain. Despite the efforts of the director Carlos Siguion-Reyna and cast to keep the play interesting, I felt that the play's epic length was the major impediment in fully enjoying this play. You should not watch this when tired or sleepy.


The Coriolano with his frenemy Tulo Aufidio
(photo from TP FB page)

Marco Viana owned the title role of Coriolano with his magnetic stage presence. The Coriolano is a puzzling character with his arrogant elitist outbursts contrasting starkly with his seeming humility when being praised for his exploits. Jonathan Tadioan was a calming presence as Menenio Agrippa, as the voice of reason within the Senate. Frances Makil-Ignacio camped it up with her satin pants in her showy role as Volumnia, the Coriolano's influential mother. (Sherry Lara alternates as Volumnia.) JV Ibesate and Doray Dayao were effectively conniving as the Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto respectively. Brian Sy relished his intimate "bromance" scenes in Act 2 as Tulo Aufidio.

Ohm David built "stone" steps to occupy the entire breadth of the stage with huge "stone" pillars positioned all around to frame the action within. The costumes of Bonsai Cielo were modern renditions of the tunic and the toga, with Volumnia's satin pants the most memorable anachronistic item up there. Dennis Marasigan's use of red lights heightened the drama of the key scenes. Brian Sy and Remus Villanueva were responsible for the dance-like fight choreography. You will dig that climactic final sword fight with apparently real metal blades!
  
The Curtain Call
 Jonathan Tadioan, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Marco Viana and Brian Sy in the foreground
Antoniette Go, Doray Dayao, Aldo Vencilao, JV Ibesate in the background

The political implications of this tragic Shakespearean play to the Philippine situation will certainly not be lost on the audience. The whole Act 1 basically predicted the whole scenario of our EDSA Revolution, predating the dictator's caustic pride, snap election, popular uprising and ignominous exile by centuries. It is up to the audience's appreciation how the whole "sleeping with the enemy" scenario of Act 2 applies to our present situation. The political metaphors we pick up from this play can be chilling. This mentally-stimulating exercise is the best reason to go watch this play. 


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CORIOLANO runs at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. February 22-March 17, 2019, with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at  1,030 and ₱ 824.

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POSTSCRIPT: On the afternoon I watched, the Little Theater of the CCP was fully occupied by high school students who were clearly quite restless throughout the play's length. They were amused by the few risque comic relief scenes (usually by the servants) and were thrilled by the kissing scenes between the Coriolano and his wife Virgilia, as well as Tulo Aufidio. The noise level in the theater during the intermission was so loud that one of their teachers actually stood up and called them to attention, which they thankfully heeded, for a while at least. I hope they learned something from this theater experience. Maybe a lecture about theater etiquette before the play would help. 

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UPDATE: March 10, 2019


Miss Sherry Lara as Volumnia

I watched "Coriolano" the second time today to see Miss Sherry Lara portray the role of Coriolano's mother Volumnia. Ms. Lara had an older, more grandmotherly mien that her Volumnia seemed to have delivered more emotional weight during her final confrontation with her son Cayo Marcio. 

Watching this play for the second time, I already knew all the names so the flow of the story was much clearer. This second viewing made me appreciate the wordplay of Guelan Luarca's Filipino text more -- so much wit and double entendres (which Brian Sy clearly relished). There were no noisy high school students when I watched this time, so I also appreciated the musical score and lighting effects more. One thing though, Brian's sword did not stick its landing this time though during that last fight.


Friday, February 22, 2019

Recap and Videos of JOSH GROBAN BRIDGES TOUR IN MANILA 2019: Warm, Willful and Winsome

February 23, 2019



Twelve years ago, Josh Groban held his first concert in Manila. If I recall correctly, it was a exclusive event by one local telco giant for its customers, so it was not easy to purchase tickets. He was on his third album "Awake" by that time, and already had several adult contemporary hits to his name. To be completely honest, most of the Groban songs we love had been his early hits released before this fist Manila concert, and thus were the same songs we looked forward to the most in this long-overdue return engagement. 

By 8 pm there was a local front act who warmed up the crowd in the person of balladeer Christian Bautista. With his light soaring tenor, Bautista rendered his signature international hit "Something in the Way You Look at Me" and his own slowed-down version of the Eraserheads' "Ligaya." His final number was a medley of his favorite OPM songs originally by Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Ogie Alcasid, APO Hiking Society, Raymond Lauchengco and Rico J. Puno, among several others.

To the relief of the mostly middle age or senior citizen audience, the concert proper began at around 8:45 pm. Josh Groban, sporting his beard and rich high baritone, came out to sing "Bigger Than Us," a track from his latest 2018 album "Bridges." He immediately followed this up with his first release from the "Awake" album, the elegant anthem "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)." Aside from his band, he had the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra behind him to accompany him.


Groban was quite informal, joking and chatty in his spiels as he told stories behind his songs. Even if I had not heard his new songs before from "Bridges" before, they all carry the familiar Groban warmth. When he introduced "Granted," he shared his experience when he was 13 when a teacher pushed him to perform publicly for the first time. For "River," he talked about reaching out to help people suffering from depression. "Musica del Corazon" was an upbeat Latin-infused guitar and percussion number which brought out a new facet in Groban's performance. 

He shared how his career went into new dimensions after the release of his 2015 album of Broadway show covers -- "Stages." It led to his cherished dream of headlining a show on Broadway in 2016,  when he played Pierre Bezukhov in Dave Malloy's "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812," a performance which earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Musical in the 2017 Tony Award. He sang two songs from "Stages," "Pure Imagination" (which was from the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," not a musical) and "Bring Him Home" (from "Les Miserables").



Groban sat the piano himself at one point and began an impassioned solo at the keys, which later segued into the familiar strains of Michael Jackson's "She's Out of My Life." After singing this beautiful song, he shared that this song was an exclusive for his Manila stop since it was only popular in the Philippines, to the delight of the audience. He said that it was just an ignored B-side in the US, so he never really sang it in concerts. 

The unique highlight of this Manila concert were the guest appearances of Filipino singers to sing duets with Groban. The first one was unexpected. Front act artist Christian Bautista was called back on stage to sing Andrea Bocelli's parts in "We Will Meet Once Again," also from "Bridges." Bautista confessed that he was a big fan and was singing all of Groban's hits during his singing contest days. Both 37 this year, Groban and Bautista acted like long-time buddies onstage. 


The second featured guest is none other than Lea Salonga. The concert date February 22 is Salonga's birthday and of course, Groban sang the birthday song for her. She suffered a leg fracture from a skiing accident in Japan earlier this year, so she came out on stage on a wheelchair. Groban sat down beside her when they sang their two duet numbers "All I Ask of You" (from "Phantom of the Opera," which he sang with Kelly Clarkson in the "Stages" album) (MY VIDEO), and "The Prayer" (the song he sang with Celine Dion as a stand-in for Andrea Bocelli in the 1998 Grammy Awards rehearsal, that launched his career). Groban spoke as a fan of Salonga, and rued that he could not reach the notes of "Ms. Saigon" leading man Chris, joking that the word "saxophone" was banned in his contract. 

In the homestretch of the concert, he went back to sing his early hits, beginning with "Alla Luce Del Sole" from "Josh Groban" (2001). Then he introduced the next song as a song he randomly heard in a taxi in Ireland, which turned out to be "You Raise Me Up." (MY VIDEO) He sang this beloved  inspirational anthem accompanied by the Ateneo Chamber Singers. This was the final song of regular set before he bade the audience goodbye, for the first time. Of course, the audience clamored for more. 



When he came back out on stage for his encore, he talked about his TV debut on "Ally Mc Beal" as troubled teenager Malcolm Wyatt. He then sang "To Where You Are," his first big hit song (MY VIDEO). (I was hoping he'd segue right into first first Ally McBeal song, "You're Still You," but he sadly, he did not.) His final song of the show was "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which he said was a most appropriate song to sing during these complicated times, when we only have music as a common refuge amidst conflicts in beliefs and politics. 

With that song, the concert had ended, he still had so many other popular songs which I'm sure many fans missed, like "Broken Vow" or "Evermore" or "You're Still You", but nevertheless, this concert was going to linger long in fans memories long after this night. He promised that it would not take another 12 years for him to come back. 


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review of Rep's MIONG (2019): Advocating for Aguinaldo

February 16, 2019




In 1998, during their 56th season, in a major departure from their usual offerings of Broadway and West End plays and musicals, Repertory Philippines staged an original musical in English entitled "Miong" about the life of President Emilio Aguinaldo, with book and lyrics by Joy Virata and music by Ian Monsod. The late Zeneida Amador directed the show, with Rem Zamora and Robert Sena alternating to play the title role. It was received with general acclaim. 

However, the public's present appreciation of Emilio Aguinaldo is not the same as it was in 1998. If you had watched the recent high-profile local historical films "Heneral Luna" and "Goyo," you now have a certain impression about President Emilio Aguinaldo in your head already, and most probably it won't be a good one. This bad impression will be even worse when you've seen other movies and plays about contemporary revolutionary heroes Bonifacio or Mabini, where Aguinaldo is invariably the main antagonist of the story. 

After all these negative stories about Aguinaldo, it should be interesting to hear the history of the Philippine Revolution told from his point of view. He is after all the first President of the Philippine Republic, known to be the first Constitutional Republic in Asia. (Playwright Ms. Virata based her script and lyrics on basically four books, namely: "The Young Aguinaldo" by Carlos Quirino, "Saga" and "Triumph and Roots of the Filipino Nation" both by Onofre Corpus, and "Emilio Aguinaldo" by Alfredo B. Saulo, as well as pamphlets and articles written by various historians.)

This year, 20 years later, on its 82nd season, and Aguinaldo's 150th birth anniversary, Rep brings "Miong" back on stage again, this time with Tim Pavino in the title role. Director Joy Virata revealed that for this restaging, she had streamlined the previous 3-hour long running time to a more compact 1 hour and 50 minutes, as well as trimmed the cast from 50 to 30. Ian Monsod's musical score is largely intact, with fresh interpretations by new musical director Ejay Yatco


Lani Ligot, Sean Kevin Inocencio and Elver Esquivel
as Kapitana Teneng, Young Miong and Don Carlos

The musical followed Miong's life from his birth in 1869 ("Under the Bells") to the declaration of Philippine independence in Kawit in 1898 ("How Beautiful is Our Flag"). We will see scenes depicting his father's death at age 8 ("An Educated Gentleman"), his education in Manila from age 12 ("Someone Else's Dream"), his initiation into public service at age 17 ("Cabeza de Barangay"), his induction into the Katipunan at age 26 ("One Step at a Time"), and his marriage to Hilaria "Yayang" del Rosario at age 27 ("Rigodon de Amor").  

The story then went into the more contentious chapters of revolution history following the rift between the Magdalo (pro-Aguinaldo) and Magdiwang (pro-Bonifacio) groups of the Katipunan. ("Magdiwang-Magdalo," "Where is the Battle"Miong was shown trying repeatedly to unite these two groups but was unsuccessful. 

Aguinaldo was shown fighting in Pasong Santol, so he was absent at the Tejeros Convention where Bonifacio was shamed. (This disputed episode in history was told by way of gossiping womenfolk.) Bonfacio's death was shown to be against Aguinaldo's orders ("They Say," "Who Said"). Aguinaldo sang a song of tribute to Bonifacio's role in the revolution ("This Man").


Cara Barredo, Tim Pavino and Noel Rayos
as Yayang, Miong and Berong

Tim Pavino provides Miong with a soaring tenor which got challenged for range with his every song, all of which he hit perfectly every time. Pavino looked very young and boyish with his physique. So while he fit the bill to a T in the introductory parts of Act I, he seemed not convincing enough as a victorious soldier and leader during the battle scenes of Act II. His mild manner and kind face made his Miong a sympathetic figure who just got caught up in the intensely cruel web of political intrigues of his time.

Cara Barredo was a beautiful vivacious Yayang. Her Disney-esque singing voice fit perfectly with Pavino's tenor in their sweet romantic duets like " Is He Looking at Me?" sung when they first met, and "Suddenly Love" sung on their wedding night. She also had an upbeat song of support for her husband's revolutionary activities "Side by Side." (In 1998, Cara's older sister Maya played Yayang, alternating with Liesl Batucan.)

Lani Ligot gave Aguinaldo's mother Kapitana Teneng a very strong character with her stern face and demeanor. Her rich full-bodied soprano was highlighted in her solo spot number "Never Enough," which tells of her concern for her son joining the fight for freedom. This portrayal gives a different impression of her compared to how slyly manipulative she was portrayed in "Heneral Luna" or in Nick Joaquin's "El Camino Royal." (In 1998, Joy Glorioso played the Kapitana.)

Elver Esquivel played Miong's father Don Carlos, the same role he originated in 1998. The cute Sean Kevin Inocencio played the Young Miong at age 8, and he also gets to wow us with his crystal clear singing voice. Noel Rayos (who played Bonifacio in 1998) played Miong's cousin Berong, who also served as our narrator. While he sang in a lot of songs, his strongest song was "Ninety Days" about the successful campaign of Cavite against the Spaniards with "bolo, knife and sword". (JM Rodriguez played Berong in the 1998 show.)

The towering Meynard Penalosa gave his Spanish friar Father Blas a most imposing presence, especially in his sinister song "Divide et Impera." In the latter parts, Penalosa would also play a comical Uncle Sam character. Kuya Manzano was again cast as a slimy Spanish oppressor here, as he was in "Guadalupe." Arion Sanchez painted a different, potentially controversial, picture of the Supremo, Andres Bonifacio. 


The Whole Ensemble at the Curtain Call

Dennis Marasigan designed a simple set, basically enclosing the empty stage with a white geometric frame, with the scenes were happening within that area, with movable stages and set pieces to establish the setting, enhanced by video projections at the back wall. Bonsai Cielo designed some elegant Filipiniana ensembles for the Aguinaldos and the illustrados. Dexter M. Santos and Stephen Vinas (choreography), John Batalla (lights), Winter David (video), Adul Lassin (scenic art) and Arvy Dimaculangan (sound) complete the production and artistic team under director Joy Virata

We realize now, more than ever, that history is based on who was writing it, and who the target audience it was written for. We are aware that playwright Joy Virata is the wife of former Prime Minister Cesar Enrique Aguinaldo Virata, who is a grandnephew of Miong himself. Given that there may have been familial loyalty in this version, and that it was written in English, there was no doubting the patriotic fervor in Ms. Virata's book and lyrics. This was particularly true in her flag-waving finale, which emphasized how Aguinaldo chose to "declare this land as our own."

Beside bloodier or grittier musicals sung in Filipino (like "Supremo Redux" by the Philippine Stagers) which had such strong impact with its powerful arguments against Aguinaldo, "Miong" came across as more refined, less provocative and conciliatory in approach. Polished and genteel as it may be, "Miong" reminds us that Emilio Aguinaldo's role in our history should not be dismissed. He always had the unity and independence of our country in mind, and he proudly declared it on the historic date of June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite for the whole world to see and for our country to celebrate to this day.


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MIONG runs from February 15 to March 10, 2019 at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati. Showtimes are at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices: ₱1,500 Orchestra Center (Reserved Seating), ₱1,200 Orchestra Sides (Free Seating).

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review of PETA's CHAROT!: Charter Change Catch-22

February 10, 2019




One of the very first PETA musicals I had ever seen was Vincent de Jesus's "Si Juan Tamad, Ang Diyablo at Ang Limang Milyong Boto" (MY REVIEW) back in February 2010. Nine years later, almost exactly to the day, I was back at the PETA Theater again to watch another play about Philippine politics and elections. This new musical is by J-mee Katanyag and Michelle Ngu, entitled "Charot!" with music by Vince Lim.

It was already Election Day in May 2020. The proposed "Charter of Togetherness" endorsed by President Papsy (Jack Yabut) was up for a referendum to determine if the Filipino people will ratify it or not. The word "Charot" (gayspeak for "just kidding") was being sardonically used as a derogatory nickname for this charter by those against it. The main story of the play follows eight individuals who were on their way to their polling precinct to vote.


Gardo Vicente and CJ Navato
as Millennial Girl and Boy

There was a hyper-excited vlogger Millennial Girl (Gardo Vicente) who wanted to document her election devirginization together with her cynical boyfriend Millennial Boy (CJ Navato). There was a pregnant Nanay (Kitsi Pagaspas) whose store's very existence relied on her casting a vote. There was a street vendor (Norbs Portales), a gay ex-OFW carpool driver (Lemuel Silvestre), a SuperMall salesgirl (Rhapsody Li), a very busty nurse Grethel Tuba (Gold Villar-Lim) and a traffic enforcer they called Boss (Jason Barcial). 

Act 1 was about their plight while stranded on top of their vehicles in a traffic standstill on a flyover on a very flooded EDSA. This part was a largely a descriptive comparison between the behavior between the upper and lower socioeconomic classes when it came to their various reasons for voting, as well as their behavior during a stressful crisis. Stranded with them in this part was Mary Grace (Meann Espinosa), a self-important, self-absorbed rich girl whose peg everyone will recognize. 

Act 2 was the real meat of the story, with the original group was divided into two subgroups. Five of them hitched a ride on a helicopter with a Pro-Charter pilot (Jack Yabut again). Five of them hitched a ride on a speedboat with an Anti-Charot activist nun Sister Joy (Meann Espinosa again). En route to the polling center, the two groups would learn more vital pros and cons about Federalism and the important choice that they were going to make in that referendum. The answer was just a simple Yes or No, but the irreversible result will significantly alter the country's way of life.


Discussing Anti-Charot Issues

I enjoyed the very catchy songs with music written and arranged by Vince Lim with pithy witty lyrics by Michelle Ngu. The script of Katanyag and Ngu stuffed in all sorts of pop culture references, current or past, political or otherwise, from a controversial Presidential kiss to Catriona Gray's lava walk. It was a lot of fun catching all these little details which got squeezed in the mix. It was an interactive show, with the audience encouraged to join in online polls on their gadgets. Conducted in real time, there is free inhouse wifi provided for this purpose.

The wacky cast went all out with their slapstick comedy, but remained real convincing during their serious moments. Everybody will get his and her own spot number to showcase their inidividual talents. 

Gardo (yes she's female) Vicente and "Goin Bulilit" original CJ Navato played Millenial Girl and Boy whose relationship will also go through the wringer on that fateful day. (Teetin Villanueva and Bene Manaois alternate in these roles.) Kitsi Pagaspas was so delightfully over-the-top as the desperate Nanay. Gold Villar-Lim slayed her big silicone implants and the high notes as Grethel Tuba. (Jimma Nariz alternates as Grethel.)

Rhapsody Li was very impressive in her Supermall Lady rap and dance number. (Icee Po alternates as Supermall Lady.) Jason Barcial seemed to be channeling Gen. Bato de la Rosa in his performance as Boss. (Roi Calilong alternates as Boss.) Norbs Portales was cheerfully shameless as the "jologs" street vendor. Lemuel Silvestre's "beki" character was untypically subdued as gay characters in PETA go. (Gio Gahol alternates as Beki.)


Gathering at the Ballot Box

After an acclaimed restrained performance in "Manila Notes" last December, Meann Espinosa showed off her more rambunctious side in her three distinct characters here. In Act 1, her impersonations of Kris Aquino and Karen Davila were especially spot on and hilarious. In Act 2, her Sister Joy was an authoritative and credible subject matter expert, to get the important message of the play through to the audience. 

Jack Yabut also played three distinct characters. His appearances as President Papsy and a construction worker in Act 1 were short but funny. But in Act 2, as the helicopter pilot, we hear him present all the pro-charter change and pro- federalism arguments. Towards the end of this segment of the show, he revealed a startling detail regarding the federalism agenda I myself was not aware about. 


Rhapsody Li, Lemuel Silvestre, Jason Barcial, Norbs Portales in foreground
CJ Navato and Gold Villar-Lim in background

The comparative discussion about Federalism and Charter Change was eye-opening and sobering. They even distributed FAQ leaflets for the audience to reflect on some more after the show. An open forum was held after the show to allow audiences to vent their sentiments about the show they just watched with the writers and some cast members.

The writers try to be fair in presenting the pros and cons, although their real stand and sentiments seemed quite apparent. I feel that the people who will be watching this play will probably be those who think like the writers. However, in the true spirit of PETA, this play really needs to go out into the communities and reach the grassroots in order to spread their cautionary message. 

The creative team of Charot! is led by director Maribel Legarda with her assistant director Ian Segarra, who was also the choreographer. Boni Juan designed the simple yet imaginative sets with the props made of recycled materials. Gio Gahol (costume stylist), Jonjon Villareal (lights designer) and Ellen Ramos (video and animation) were the other talents working behind the scenes. 

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CHAROT! runs at the PETA Phinma Theater (No.5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City) from February 8 to March 17, 2019 with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and matinees at 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets selling at ₱1,500 for VIP, ₱1,200 for ORCHESTRA CENTER, ₱1,000 for ORCHESTRA SIDE, ₱1,200 for BALCONY CENTER and ₱600 for BALCONY SIDE. 

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UPDATE: MARCH 8, 2019

Teetin Villanueva and Bene Manaois 
as Millennial Girl and Millennial Boy

I watched "Charot" for a second time to catch the performances of Teetin Villanueva and Bene Manaois as Millennial Girl and Millennial Boy respectively. I've see Teetin in some Dulaang UP shows, and knew very well how well she can sing and perform. Since the last show I saw her in was "Kundiman Party," it was just quite jarring that she played a PPS (President Papsi Supporter) here, a role which did not seem to fit her. 

The revelation of the show was Bene, whom I had never seen before. He had quite a strong stage presence, as evidenced by the shrieks of the Miriam girls in the audience for him. The other alternate cast member I saw in this show was the pretty Jimma Nariz as the boobsy Grethel Tuba. I had not seen her in previous shows, but she also possessed strong belting pipes and comic chops necessary for this role

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review of Sandbox' EVERY BRILLIANT THING: Surprising Sponteneity

February 2, 2019




When Angela was seven years old, her mother attempted to kill herself (but survived). To cope with the devastating psychological torture of this unforunate event, she decided to list down every little thing that made life worth living for. She would regularly let her mom read her list of her favorite things to distract her (both of them actually) out from her depression. 

Her list began simply at number 1 with ice cream, written in a sparkly pink notebook. But with time, as Angela grew up, went to college, met her boyfriend Sam and got married, the list grew and grew in number, from 200, to 1000, later well into six digits, with the items becoming increasingly specific and abstract. 


Angela writes in her List notebook. 

There had been a number of plays recently about the very serious topic of suicide. In 2016, Twin Bill came out with Andrew Hindraker's "Suicide Incorporated" (MY REVIEW). Last year, PETA staged Ian Lomongo's Filipino adaptation of Marsha Norman's "'Night, Mother" (MY REVIEW). Both plays were deadly serious, with humor just sprinkled in occasionally to break the intense tension of the scenes. 

This newest production of the Sandbox Collective (on its fifth anniversary) in cooperation with 9 Works Theatrical (on its 10th anniversary) takes on the topic of suicide again, but this time  in a particularly unique style. "Every Brilliant Thing" was written by playwright Duncan McMillan (who also wrote "Lungs") and comedian Jonny Donohoe as a monologue for one actor (either male or female), and involved the audience seated around the stage to engage in various interactions with the actor. The surprise sponteneity of this set-up assured that every single show will have a different charm and humor from the last.


Angela tries to catch 
Sam's attention at the library

For this show, the producers of Sandbox Collective had chosen to feature a female central character. I thought this was a wise decision because a female lead can connect better with a Filipino audience given the emotional nature of the script. 

Angela was played by film and stage actress, TV host, and fashion model Teresa Herrera. The last time Ms. Herrera acted on the local stage had been way back 2011, and I had not seen any of ther past performances until this, her comeback project. Wow, she was so natural and carefree in her performance, as if she were not acting at all. The international dimension of her career (in New York, Hollywood, UK, South Africa, aside from Southeast Asia) reflected in the well-enunciated delivery of her lines. 


 Angela calls Mrs. Patterson 
late at night

Ms. Herrera had to be a good judge of who among those seated around him would be able to deliver extemporaneous lines effectively. It is certainly not easy to tell a person's personality or the quality of his voice merely by looking at his or her face, so this choice was really just a matter of luck. Her audience picks for these supporting characters greatly influence the fun and flavor of the rest of the show.

On the show I watched, Herrera's choices for her favorite school teacher, her favorite college lecturer, her boyfriend Sam and her father all seemed so calm when they were called, and some were even able to come up with zingers or pithy lines off the cuff, which I  thought was truly amazing. (I imagine that I would have been shaking like crazy and stammering on every word if ever I was the one were called!) 


Sam proposes to Angela! 

Before the show, almost everyone else in the audience was given a sheet of paper where an item on Angela's list was written. Throughout the play, Angela would call out different numbers, and that member of the audience should read his or her card out loud. Some cards contained a single word, while some were entire sentences. 

Now this was a hit or miss part of the play because not everyone can read clearly or project their voices well without a microphone. There were several instances when I could not understand what was said, which was a real pity because I feel that I was missing out on some of McMillan's witty thoughts. Since I entered the theater late, I did not have a card to read so I missed out on this interaction.


Herrera takes a bow with her co-players from the audience. 


Kakki Teodoro will get to play Angela in at least two Saturday matinee performances (Feb. 9 and 23). She will reportedly use Filipino pop culture references in her version of this show, which makes it very interesting to catch. Ms. Teodoro is also an associate producer of this show.

Leading the creative team is director Jenny Jamora who had also lent a lot of her personality on how this play was presented. John Batalla designed the lighting effects. Arvy Dimaculangan's sound design included a lot of eclectic music choices, from Ray Charles to Chicago to Gustav Mahler, on vinyl. Marta Lovina's production design borrowed from the Sandbox production of "Himala the Musical" last year where props (this time Angela's numerous books and boxes) were scattered even in the audience areas in the round, so further draw the audience in the action. 

Suicide had and will always be a touchy and morbid subject matter. "Every Brilliant Thing" manages to present it to in a lighter manner to engage the audience more. However, there were serious reminders about how to deal with the tragedy, particularly directed to practioners of mass and social media about how to cover suicide cases. There was also a talkback session after the show to discuss concerns about suicide with guest psychiatrists and mental health specialists. Suicide is certainly a negative event, but a play about it need not be without positivity.


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Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical's production of "Every Brillant Thing" runs from February 2 to 24, 2019, with shows at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Venue is at the Zobel De Ayala Recital Hall , second floor Maybank Theater, BGC Arts Center, 26th St. cor. 9th Ave., Bonifacio Global City. Ticket prices at P1200 and P1000.


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UPDATE: MARCH 3, 2019




The original run of this interactive one-woman show was supposed to have been last week. It was certainly good news that they extended one more weekend because of enthusiastic audience response. I purposely chose to watch the 3 pm show today March 3, 2019 in order to catch only the third and last performance of Kakki Teodoro as the central character (I did not hear Teodoro refer to herself by a first name). 

In contrast to Herrera's very all-American perspective, Teodoro decided to attack the role as a Filipino. She had her childhood in Manila, vacationed in Baguio, had her honeymoon in Pangasinan. Hence, there were a number of Filipino expressions and side-comments which caused us to identify with her more, sympathize with her more. She made us feel like she was our very own chubby little sister. Her 7-year old girl felt more childlike. Her happy moments felt more effusively joyful, delightfully mirthful. Her mood-swings felt more radical and drastic, which made you worry for her more. 

Since this was supposed to have been Teodoro's final performance, she had a quite a number of theater friends in the audience for that show. Phi Palmos was called to volunteer as the veterinarian. Dennis Marasigan was called to volunteer as the father. Cathy Azanza-Dy was delightful as Ms. Patterson, with her sock dog puppet Daphne. Cris Villonco was funny as the strict College Lecturer who was stymied when asked to summarize the book she was holding. Elsewhere in the audience were Jon Santos (and his ready pencil), Robbie Guevara, Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino, Jennifer dela Cruz and Sen. Risa Hontiveros (who was part of the mental health panel during the talkback session after the show). 


Kakki Teodoro engages her audience to participate in the action.

This is the second time I watched this show. Unfortunately (or not), I still I was not given a slip of paper with one of the "brilliant things" to be read during the show when the main character called out the number. Unlike the first show, they now gave patrons a microphone when it was their turn to talk so it would be more clearly heard all around the venue. One of my observations in my first review was that there were certain "brilliant things" that I could not understand because they were not read or projected clearly by some readers.

Since this is theater in the round, it really matters where you were seated during the show. From where I was sitting yesterday, I had obstructed views which sort of hampered my enjoyment of the whole experience. I could not see "Ms. Patterson's" face clearly because I was seated in the same section two rows behind her.  I could not see very well those scenes between the girl and her boyfriend Sam in the library because the guy who played "Sam" was on the same side of the round as me on the other end of the row. These were my favorite parts the first time I watched when my seat had a better view of these scenes.  

So overall, both alternate actors Teresa Herrera and Kakki Teodoro gave heartfelt and affective performances as the central character. They were both very good actresses, but they managed to generate different feelings from me as a member of the audience, even if they were mouthing basically the same lines. That was how deeply and intensely they had both submerged themselves into this fragile character, each in her own unique way. Fascinating stuff.


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Because of the positive response and demand, "Every Brilliant Thing" will have another extension for another weekend soon. Watch out for updates!