Saturday, March 30, 2019


March 30, 2019

I remember that I had watched "Angels in America" when it was first staged in Music Museum back in 1995. I recall Michael Williams starred as Prior Walters, Joshua Spafford was Joe Pitt, with Monique Wilson as Harper Pitt. That monumental production by New Voice Company, staging both Part 1 and Part 2 in 7 marathon hours, was directed by a 25 year-old Bobby Garcia. 

Bobby Garcia, now pushing 50 years old, more mature and definitely more experienced in all things theater, had decided to restage and direct "Angels" again as the opening salvo for the 20th anniversary celebration of his own Atlantis theater company. This time, he wisely chose to present the show the way it was originally staged, Parts 1 and 2 as two separate productions, to be presented one year apart.

It was late 1985 in New York City. Prior Walter shows his boyfriend Louis Ironson the Kaposi Sarcoma lesion in his arm, and confessed that he had AIDS. A macho, brash and influential lawyer Roy Cohn does not accept he had AIDS, a disease associated with homosexuals, instead calling his disease liver cancer. A mild-mannered Mormon clerk of court Joe Pitt struggles with his delusional pill-popping wife Harper and his closeted homosexual urges. 

Topper Fabregas brought us along Prior Walter's painful journey from the fabulous queen to the frail shadow AIDS reduced him to, a level deeper than where he took us as Felix Turner dying of the same disease in "A Normal Heart" in 2015. Nelsito Gomez varied the Jewish New Yorker character he did in "My Name is Asher Lev" in 2017, and made his Louis here an insecure, nervous chatterbox. Art Acuna was an acting powerhouse as Roy Cohn, totally subsuming the fearsome arrogance of his character. Markki Stroem was perfectly cast as Joe Pitt, clean-cut boy-next-door, with a secret burning his soul. Andoy Ranay looked and felt miscast in his roles, notably lacking diva sass as Belize, Prior's ex-drag queen nurse.

Angeli Bayani can as delightful as she was disturbing in her portrayal of Harper Pitt and her various hallucinations, but you just need to get over the jarring initial physical mismatch between her and Stroem, who played her husband Joe. Cherie Gil was clearly enjoying her various roles, first as an old rabbi, then as a trusted male doctor, the ghost of Roy's former client, and her main role as Hannah Pitt, Joe's conservative mother. Pinky Amador shuttled around in more minor roles -- a dutiful Nurse Emily, a Mormon real estate agent Sister Ella, a psychotic streetperson, and the Angel, whom we only hear ominously during the show, but only see in her full glory during the finale (and more in Part 2).

Faust Peneyra had two sets of living rooms with multiple lamps onstage side by side, to enable the smooth transition of parallel scenes between the apartment of Prior and the apartment of the Pitts. Roy's office table and Prior's hospital bed were wheeled into center stage during scenes that focused on them. In the background, GA Fallarme's projections of long empty hallways, grim New York cityscapes, or idyllic Salt Lake City, transport the scene to various settings accordingly. Jonjon Villareal's imaginative play of lights defined the dramatic highlights perfectly. Glendfford Malimban's sound design was mostly subtle, occassionally coming to fore with the wintry winds announcing snowfall or the angel wings flapping in midair.

Tony Kushner's original material is very 1980s with its gay street lingo and repeated references to Ronald Reagan, some of which may fly over our heads. However, there is no denying how strongly it captured the prevalent fear about AIDS as the new plague and scourge among homosexual men of that time. This play was not a total downer though. There was welcome relief of humor here and there to temper the pervasively depressing mood. Despite the three hour running time, director Bobby Garcia kept the show going at a riveting pace, you won't feel its length, and you'll look forward to what will happen next in Part 2 (coming next year).


ANGELS IN AMERICA PART ONE: MILLENNIAL  APPROACHES runs from March 22 to April 7, 2019 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City. Showtimes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 pm. with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at ₱3,500, ₱2,500 and ₱1,500. Rated R-18 because of profanity and implied sexual situations

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review of Rep's FATHER'S DAY: Softening Up the Scrooge

March 25, 2019

When Sue Willows left her husband Henry for another man Terry several years back, she brought with her their three children. One day, their eldest son Matthew brought his 16 year-old goth girlfriend Christine home to pay his dad a surprise visit, one that his irascible old man did not exactly appreciate. When Sue found out where Matthew was, she drove over to pick him up. However, when her old car's engine broke down, Sue too was stuck in Henry's house for one topsy-turvy night.

With the bland generic title and unfamiliar playwright Eric Chappelle, at first I was not really too keen or excited to see this play. However, based on previous experience of watching them, I knew how Repertory Philippines can weave theatrical magic with even the most obscure British comedies, so of course, I still went to watch this. Well, what do you know, this one turned out to be one charming little gem, thanks in large part to the wonderful comic chemistry the Rep actors had on that stage.

The Set by Miguel Faustmann

Miguel Faustmann can do these cantankerous old geezer roles blindfolded already. After all, he had been cast as Ebenezer Scrooge for countless times. Faustmann was some sort of a Scrooge again here, while the unexpected visits of his son and wife parallel those of Scrooge's ghost of Christmas Past. (Playwright Chappelle actually acknowledged this inspiration in one of Henry's lines.) In Act 1, Faustmann's Henry was as dry as a typical Brit can come, while in Act 2, he unexpectedly shifted gears to become naughty and amorous, something you won't see old Scrooge do.

Having Liesl Batucan perform the role of Sue was a brilliant casting decision. Previously, this type of role would have probably gone to Ms. Joy Virata, and Batucan is clearly her heir apparent when it comes to comedies. Even if the character was not exactly painted as a model wife in Act 1, Batucan can still make Sue so cute and endearing during her cheeky arguments with Henry. And when the play shifted to sex comedy mode in Act 2, Batucan rode the wave effortlessly, becoming all giddy and kittenish. Batucan's sense of comic timing and physical comedy was really a pure delight to watch. 

I had seen Andres Borromeo's Rep debut last year when he played the Prince in the children's musical "Rapunzel, Rapunzel." He graduates to a main featured role in a straight play this time to play the Willow's eldest son Matthew. His facial features and line delivery sort of reminded me of former Rep actor Jaime Blanch. Anyhow, his Matthew was charming despite the fact that he was an out-of-school bum. It was not difficult to root for him as he tried to reconnect with his father in the most out-of-the-box way. Matthew was written with a lot of heart, and elder folks will think of their own children while watching him.

The role of the weird girlfriend Christine was played by Becca Coates in the show I caught. This role does not exactly give Coates the acting challenge that she faced when she played the title role in "Agnes of God" which won her a Gawad Buhay award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 2018. Christine's character was one of physical appearance only -- with her thick Goth makeup, tattoos and multiple piercings, meant to shock the parents. She merely whispered to Matthew the whole play, until that one scene when we finally hear her voice, a deux-ex-machina scene of sorts. (Her sister Rachel Coates, whom I last saw in "A Doll's House, Part 2," alternates in this role.)

The Cast at the Curtain Call

Rep co-founder Baby Barredo returns to the director's chair for this intimate little project. Aside from playing Sue, Liesl Batucan also takes on assistant director duties. The cozy living room of the Willow's home was designed by Henry himself, Miguel Faustmann. The technical crew is composed of the very hard-working John Batalla (for Lighting Design) and Arvy Dimaculangan (for Sound Design).


FATHER'S DAY began its run last March 22, and will go on weekends up to April 14, 2019 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati. Ticket prices: P1,500 - Orchestra Center and P1,200 - Orchestra Side

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's ALPHA KAPPA OMEGA: Baneful Brotherhood

March 24, 2019

In 1982, there was a bold groundbreaking film by director Mike de Leon entitled "Batch 81" which used the violence of college fraternies as social commentary against Martial Law. An award-winning classic as it was hailed, I had never seen the film. I did know about the late actor Mark Gil playing an frat neophyte named Sid Lucero (a character name which would later become the screen name of Gil's son Timothy when he became an actor). 

This year, with the tense political and social turmoil of Martial Law seemingly coming back, prolific playwright Guelan Luarca, son of Ward Luarca (who played Pacoy in the film) thought it was time to bring the story of "Batch 81" back as well. Luarca adapted the original screenplay written by Clodualdo del Mundo, Raquel Villavicencio and Mike de Leon into a script that brings Sid Lucero's story into the present time, this time on a theater stage. Luarca himself directed this new play, assisted by Tara Jamora Oppen

John Sanchez as Sid Lucero
(photo from TA by Aga Olympia)

There were six neophytes that year for the Alpha Kappa Omega fraternity. These were pre-med student Sid Lucero, scholar athlete Arni Enriquez, rich kid Ronnie Roxas Jr., provinci bumpkin Ding Magtibay, mama's boy Pacoy Ledesma and economics professor Santi Santillan. Their ruthless frat masters were led by Vince and Gonzales, who hazed the plebes in secret and made fools of them in public, all the in the name of losing their sense of ego for the sake of brotherhood.

Sid had to join the frat behind the back of his girlfriend Mariel, who hated frats because of a family tragedy. Arni's girlfriend Tina was a drug-addict, who just so happened to be the sister of Abet, the head master of a rival frat, the SOS. Ronnie was forced to live under the shadow of his father, who was an illustrious alumnus of the AKO. Pacoy wanted to prove his manhood after years of hiding under his mother's skirts. 45 year old Santi was bored with his life and wanted this thrill to quench his midlife crisis. 

Act 1 opened with a bang, showing us the known frat hazing practices, like the paddling, the bullying, the shaming and being made to run around campus in their underwear, all within the first 30 minutes. Later, more mind-boggling rites were shown. The neophytes would drink and spit beer into the the same cup being passed around, or be interrogated while a fellow neophyte was being electrocuted for wrong answers.

Cholo Ledesma and Chesca de la Cruz
as Pacoy Ledesma and Susan Estrada
(photo from TA, by Waldo Katigbak)

Act 2 would open happily with a comical drag show (rather protracted in my view) with the neophytes all dressed like beauty queens from gowns to bikinis, each one mouthing one classic Miss Universe question and answer after the other. However, the story would soon quickly take a most violent and tragic turn as the grim inevitability of gang wars entered the picture, and young lives were needlessly sacrificed. 

Biology major John Sanchez gave his seriouly intense Sid Lucero a scary vibe of fanaticism. Cholo Ledesma (who was impressive in TA's "Rites of Passage" in 2014) was shamelessly delightful as Pacoy, who boldly figured in the play's most embarrassng scenes. (Jose Primo Rafael Escurel alternates as Pacoy.) Veteran theater actor Ron Capinding was the most senior member of the cast and his portrayal of Santi Santillan was the most fleshed out. (Soc de los Reyes alternates as Santi.) The most memorable female performers were Chrisse Joy de los Santos (as the witty powertripping sorority girl Pearl) and Franchesca de la Cruz (as the hilarious prosititute Susan).

One of the best-written scenes in the play was the conversation between a remorseful Santi and their dean, the unfortunately named Miss Casuso, as played with jaded wisdom by Katski Flores. (Was Ms. Flores late for Act 1 today? The role of Ms. Casuso was played by an ensemble member who was reading and stumbling off the script on a clipboard.) Olive Nieto gave a marked performance in her single scene as Mrs. Enriquez, Arni's mother. (Meryll Soriano alternates as Mrs. Enriquez.) Jonel Mojica was imposing as Ronnie's father, based on his stage presence alone, with the minimum of lines. 

Katski Flores and Ron Capinding
as Ms. Casuso and Santi Santillan
(photo from TA, by Aga Olympia)

The youth and relative inexperience of the actors were evident, but it did not detract too much from their earnest performances.  Earvin Estioco (as Arni), Nico Nepomuceno (as Ronnie), Ram Catan (as Ding), Aric Mamonluk (as Vince), Renzo Guevara (as Gonzales), Kyle Woody Tan (as Abet), Jam Binay (as Mariel) and Dani Capinding (as Tina) all made their particular characters stand out. Alternates include Carlos Hombrebueno (as Gonzales), Kin Ivan Umpad (as Abet), Maxine de Jesus (as Pearl), Rose Clarence Co (as Mariel) and Renee Colleen (as Tina). 

The combined efforts of Nicolo Magno (choreography), D Cortezano (lighting design) and Xander Soriano (sound design) effectively created the frenetic illusion of the hazing and frat wars for the stage. Monica Sebial's stage design afforded the big cast enough space to move around, making use of every space available up front, even including the audience area in certain parts. 

Interestingly, the Ateneo does not have fraternities on campus. So Luarca and his dramaturg Brian Arda had to consult real frat members outside in order to recreate an authentic and realistic portrayal of the local frat subculture.  Aside from political commentary, Luarca also took shots against current sexist controversies within the Ateneo. It was not only a story about the young men, but also about the community around them who motivated and enabled them to behave the way they do. 

Writer-Director Guelan Luarca and the cast face the press after the show.


ALPHA KAPPA OMEGA opened last March 20 and will run up to April 13, 2019. Showtimes are as follows: March 20-23, 26-30, April 2-6, 9-13 | 7:30 pm, and matinees on March 23, 30, April 6, 13 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are sold at P400 (Regular), P350 (ADMU Student) and P300 (ADMU Scholar). Venue will be at the Rizal Mini Theater, Faber Hall, Ateneo de Manila University.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Review of UPPT's NANA ROSA: Comfortless Catharsis

March 9, 2019

Maria Rosa Henson became a household name back in the 1990s when she came forward to the press about her tortured experience as a comfort woman during the Japanese occupation of our country. She was the first Filipina brave enough to break her silence over woeful episode of her life, nine gruelling months of forced sex slavery. Now more than 25 years after her nationwide confession, the UP Playwrights Theatre brings back her story back to fore on stage (as written by Rody Vera and directed by Jose Estrella), before it gets swallowed up by time. 

Act I took us back to World War II when 14-year old Rosa was abducted by Japanese soldiers and corralled with five other young women in an old hospital to serve as "comfort women" -- a deceptive euphemism for a sex slave. Rape had always been a most difficult, most heinous crime to see on TV or in films, but performed live on stage, the effect was even more painful to witness. These lascivious rape scenes were graphically executed, a tad protracted maybe, but all done to make sure we also go through Rosa's pure hell.

Ingrid Villamarin takes her bow.

Act II brought us forward to 1995 when Rosa, now a 67-year old grandmother, agreed to make her story public. Instead of united outrage and sympathy, Rosa's action stirred up divisive controversy. Why did it take her almost fifty years before she came out with her story? Was she telling the truth or was she just after the money? Was it worth it for the Philippine government to take up the cudgels on Rosa's behalf, especially when it could throw a wrench in the good relations between the two countries at present? 

Young Rosa was played by Ingrid Villamarin. Seeing Villamarin, she of delicate beauty and frame, sustain the brunt of the brutal and beastial lust of innumerable Japanese soldiers can definitely cause the audience to be collectively revolted and incensed. Despite the dehumanizing atrocities committed against her, Rosa never lost her resolve and her defiance against her abusers. Villamarin had the fire in her eyes for that. (Krystle Valentino alternates in this role.)

Peewee O'Hara takes her bow.

Nana Rosa was played by Peewee O'Hara. Her Rosa was surprisingly calm and level-headed. There was no big dramatic emotional breakdown moment for her. Her anguish was more internal, and O'Hara's acting was restrained to match that approach. Nana Rosa was a character who faced several difficult decisions in her life, and she always made her own mind up by herself. O'Hara had the strength of character for that. (Upeng Galang Fernandez alternates in this role.

Lei Quinquilleria (as Indai Sajor), Sarina Sasaki (as Lidy Nacpil), Bea Racoma (as former beauty queen Nelia Sancho) and Karlo Erfe (as Jimi Castillano) played the four activists who spurred the search for comfort women when no one even believed that they existed. Their delivery of lines can somehow sound too earnest and occasionally even tactless, but you know their heart is in the right place. Jeremy Cabansag, Camille Abaya, double duty actress Iris Monstesclaros, assistant director Issa Manalo Lopez and lead dramaturg Ina Azarcon-Bolivar all figure in one surprise heart-rending scene which was the main dramatic highlight of Act 2. 

Jonathan Ivan Rivera and Victor Sy take their bow.

Jonathan Ivan Rivera played the Japanese officer Tanaka, who managed to project enough kindness to make Rose's Stockholm Syndrome convincing. Victor Sy first played Rose's absentee father Don Pepe Henson, who always had to hide their relationship from the prying eyes of the public. Later Sy also played a haughty Japanese colonel with a bold physical display of his rank. Iris Montesclaros played Rosa's prideful mother Julia, Sheryl Ceasico played Nana Rosa's supportive daughter Rosario, while Mikaella Coruna played her affected granddaughter Tina. 

The technical aspects of the play, especially the sound by Jon Lazam and Marie Angelica Dayaosuccessfully set us in the proper mood. The sets of Charles Yee had those movable screens that give a voyeuristic vibe and worked very well with the lights by Barbie Tan-Tiongco and the dramatic graphics and videos of Joyce Garcia. The costumes of the 1940s Pampanga folk and of the Japanese military (with those remarkable brown high boots for the officers) were designed by Carlo Pagunaling.  

Rivera, Villamarin, O'Hara and Sy during the curtain call.

The run of this play comes right at the heels of a resurgent feminist movement, with the viral #metoo, presidential misogyny, International Women's Day, and similar female-centered advocacies being hot topics of the day. As of now, despite the 25 years that passed after Nana Rosa's public disclosure, there had still been no formal acknowledgement nor apology. It is high time to revive interest in the case of the comfort women still alive today. Justice still deserves to be accorded to them while they are still living, even if Nana Rosa herself is already not. However, in a time when even a statue made in their honor was ordered to be removed, will they ever get their elusive, long-overdue retribution?


NANA ROSA opened last February 27, 2019 and will run up to March 17, 2019. There are 7 pm shows on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while there will be a 3 pm matinee aside from a 7 pm show on the final Sunday. No more Saturday shows next week. Venue of the play is at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater in the second floor of Palma Hall in UP Diliman. Tickets are at P500 each. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Review of NOLI ME TANGERE, THE OPERA (CCP, 2019): Romance and Revolution by Rizal

March 8, 2019

This is already the third time I am watching this, the Philippines' first full-length opera first produced on stage in 1957.  Jose Rizal's 1887 revolutionary classic novel “Noli Me Tangere” was transposed into opera form, with music by National Artist Felipe Padilla De Leon and libretto by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino.  The first time, I watched it in UP Diliman back in 2012 (MY REVIEW). Then, I was also able to watch a new production in Resorts World Manila in 2014 (MY REVIEW).

This year, after being performed in New York and Washington DC by J&S Productions Inc. (producers Edwin Josue and Jerry Sibal),  "Noli Me Tangere, the Opera" returns to the Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP)  at the main Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, from March 8-10, 2019, just in time for the CCP's 50th anniversary. 

All Filipinos should know the story by heart -- of Crisostomo Ibarra coming home after a 7-year sojourn in Europe to build a school in honor of his father and marry his beloved Maria Clara, only to clash with the vile machinations of Padre Damaso to thwart all his well-laid plans. Act 1 covered from the events from the arrival of Ibarra up to the part when Ibarra attacks Padre Damaso with a knife. After the 15 minute intermission, Act 2 covered the events following the excommunication of Ibarra to the deaths of Sisa and Elias. 

Ibarra and Maria Clara on the Staircase

The libretto was in grand poetic Filipino. Most of the dialog were sung-through opera style, with very occasional spoken lines. The lyrics (with English translations) were projected on supertitles above the proscenium to help us understand the words better. This device was of course limited when the songs were sung by duets or trios, when characters were singing different lines in simultaneous counterpoints. (But ironically, those are the times we need to see the lyrics more.) Since we can all see the lyrics, it was impressive that I did not notice anyone flub their lines throughout the show.

During the Preview night when we watched, the central couple of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara were played by Nomher U. Nival and Nerissa de Juan. From the excellent singing of the whole cast, Nival and de Juan really stood out with their very strong and solid operatic singing voices. Nival's tenor was full and soaring in his many powerful solos. De Juan's dramatic soprano was beautifully flawless in arias like "Kay Tamis ng Buhay." Ivan Nery (whom I saw as Ibarra the previous two times I had seen this show) and Bianca Lopez (coloratura soprano soloist from the Philippine Madrigal Singers) alternate in these roles.

Sisa Gets Apprehended

As with the previous times I seen this opera, the crowd favorites were the tragic characters of Sisa and her two children Basilio and Crispin. This night, Sisa was played by Bernadette Mamauag who had the physical fragility and the acrobatic vocal ability required by this role, especially with her featured aria "Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa." (Allison Cervantes and Kelly Peralejo" Basilio's plaintive solo "Gising Na, O Inang Ko" is always the most tear-jerking number as ever, as sung by Mari Yapjoco. (Award-winning stage and film actor Noel Comia, Jr. alternates as Basilio, so that should also be something to watch out for.) Cute little Santino Juan Santiago played the ill-fated younger brother Crispin.

Other vocal stand-outs in the cast were the powerful baritone Nils Emerson Flores as the sinister and depraved Padre Damaso, the smiling Miguel Espiritu as the affable Kapital Tiago, the classy Krissan Manikan-Tan as the delightfully old-fashioned Tiya Isabel and the lovely Rare Jireh Yzel Columna as Victoria, the subject of a happy battle of the sexes during the outdoor picnic. (Ronaldo Villaruel Abarquez alternates as both Padre Damaso or Kapitan Tiago in selected shows.)

Padre Damaso's Anguish

The other members of the cast were: Joseleo Logdat (Elias); Greg Abelardo de Leon (Pilosopo Tasyo); Mia Bolanos (Dona Victorina), Oliver Pineda (Tenyente Guevarra), Jose Mari Javato (Padre Salvi), Charina Althea Balmores (Sinang), Micah David J. Galang (Andeng), Tomas Virtucio (Albino),Timothy Racho (Alferez), Ruzzel Clemeno (Don Filipo),and Lorenz Edward Sarrondo (Linares). 

The ensemble includes Roxanne Abuel, Neomi Giron, Eden Lorrice Dumlao, Sheila Gamo, Mavel Bautista, Cris Go, Krystl Buesa, Katrine Jamar Sunga, Angeli Benipayo, Elle Tuason, Erielle Fornes, Via Villasin, Marifel Motilla, Airo Saret, Kevin Chen, Michael Del Rosario, Charlene Ramos, and Otepp Billeza.

This 2019 production is co-directed by Jerry Sibal and Jose Jeffrey Camanag. The live orchestra is led by Maestro Herminigildo Ranera.  Sibal himself did the set and costume designs. The those Filipiniana gowns worn by Maria Clara and Tia Isabel were magnficent, no expense was spared in their execution. Dennis Marasigan did the lighting design, while TJ Ramos did the sound engineering and the microphones were all working perfectly.

The Picnic on the Riverbank

Alan dela Rama was responsible for the graphic and video designs on the huge LED walls which serve as scenic backdrops for the play. We were brought inside the opulent living room of Kapitan Tiago's house with the grand chandelier and into the gardens outside bedecked with bright pink bougainvillea blooms. During the scenes of the picnic, the sky turned from the orange of sunrise to bright blue of midday. The struggle with the crocodile was depicted by video. The interior of Maria Clara's room was represented with capiz windows. We see Padre Damaso in anguish in darkened cloisters with a giant crucifix hanging behind him. The effect of the final conflagration was also achieved on these walls.

The rich music and libretto of this opera had already endured more than 60 years, and we can certainly hear why. Given the proper attitude and guidance, the younger generations can still very much connect with the story. Given the tweaks of modern technology, the show can still appeal to all ages with a current sense of cultural aesthetics. It was very heartening to see and hear a very deep pool of young talent when it comes to classical singing. Watching this show, I can foresee a very brilliant future for opera singing in our country.

Ibarra versus his Nemesis


NOLI ME TANGERE, THE OPERA will be running at the Tanghalang Nicolas Aberlardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines for only one weekend. Gala night is on March 8, at 8 pm. There will be two more matinee shows on March 9 and 10, at 2 pm. Tickets on Ticketworld, with prices ranging from ₱2,800, ₱2,300, ₱1,400, ₱1,200 and ₱900.