Saturday, June 22, 2019

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XV - SET D: Of Monsters, Mothers and Memories

June 22, 2019


Written by: Nicolas B. Pichay
Directed by: Jose Estrella

General Videla was a notorious soldier back in Martial Law, who changed loyalties and led the military coup during the EDSA Revolution. Since then, he had retired and kept by himself in his own private island. When he turned 82, he decided he wanted to have his memoirs written to bring himself back to public attention, in an ambition to run for the presidency. A young man Efren appeared at the mansion whom the General thought was the writer he hired. Apparently, Efren had other things on his mind.

The playwright Nicolas B. Pichay is also an attorney, as well as a Palanca Hall of Famer. Unlike the other plays I had seen so far in this festival, this play was dead serious, with a palpable sinister streak of danger and violence running through it. Well, it was a Martial Law-inspired play about torture and revenge, humor had no room. There had been plenty of plays about Martial Law before, but this one had a different attack on the subject matter -- a tense conversation between two characters with a dark philosophical debate about two opposing schools of thought on how to mount and win a revolution, with a game of chess as the apt analogy. 

Leo Rialp and Johnny Maglinao

General Videla was played by veteran actor Leo Rialp in a powerful, masterful portrayal of a Martial Law monster. Even at his age, Rialp had the handsome snappy bearing of a military man. His commanding voice and intimidating presence totally dominated the stage. He sounded frightening even when he was just announcing his chess moves. The role of Efren was played by neophyte actor Johnny Maglinao, who tried his best on that stage to project confidence and bravado. Facing off with Rialp in a showdown of wits was a tall order for any new actor, Maglinao survived a baptism of fire in his first VLF. 


Written by: Sari Saysay
Directed by: Tanya Lopez

Dolor Espina was packing the clothes of her daughter who had been arrested for stabbing a soldier. Talking to herself, Dolor related and relived the events that transpired in the past months that led to that day --  how her husband Emmanuel was recruited to be an NPA member surrenderee to earn money, and how she was forced to sell her body to keep her and her daughter alive after he never came back home..

Playwright Sari Saysay worked in community theater and Dolor's situation is an amalgam of realities he had learned while working among the poor fisherfolk. His last two VLF plays, "Bus Stop" (2017) and "Ang Mga Propesyunal" (2018) all had children as the main characters. For this year, there was still a child involved but she was not seen on stage, as the play concentrated on a mother who was about to lose her child.

Venise Buenaflor

This play was a one-woman affair, with young Venise Buenaflor boldly taking on the role of Dolor. She delivered one continuous hour-long monologue, recounting all those painful experiences she went through, at first with her husband, and later with her daughter. This was a monumental task for any actor to achieve. Buenaflor pulled it off creditably but she was somewhat lacking in stage presence. Because of its length and somber mood, I think the audience may likely have had a difficult time trying to pay full attention to her complex serious soliloquy the whole time, that is if they could keep awake. 


Written by: Rolin Migyuel Cadallo Obina
Directed by: Phil Noble

Olivia Mendoza was a 70-something old woman who had been living in a home for the aged with some other cranky old folk. However, Olivia was already suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, which was making her her drift in and out of her normal memory. One day, when Julia, a flashy old friend, suddenly paid her a visit, Olivia's painful past memories all came coming back.

Rolin Obina's script began as what seemed to be a quiet, even poignant little piece among senior citizens living together in a home. However, when the haughty and flamboyant Julia came into the scene, the whole play turned upside-down to high-stakes comedy. The title and poster made me expect a very serious play, so I was totally caught off-guard by Obina's big knockout LGBTQ plot twist, which was so insane that it was so good. The script though can feel to be too long and repetitive at times, but I believe it could still be streamlined further in future performances.

Pineda, Legaspi, the Froilans, Villalobos and playwright Obina

Edna Vida Froilan played Olivia Mendoza in a performance so physically and emotionally fragile, with her rich deep voice so vital in her character. Her true love Andres was played by her real-life husband Nonoy Froilan, which accounts for their romantic chemistry in their tender scenes (like how it was in "Hintayan ng Langit"). Indie film actors Erlinda Villalobos and Crispin Pineda add to the crazy mix as their cantankerous housemates, Lika and Cesar. However, they all took a back seat to Celeste Legaspi who was certainly the life of this party as Julia. Her dripping sarcasm and snooty nouveau-riche attitude was played to the hilt for maximal comic effect. This outrageous rollicking play was an easy audience favorite, its messy writing and direction notwithstanding. 

Friday, June 21, 2019


June 21, 2019


Writer: J. Dennis Teodosio
Director: Roobak Valle

I attended a meeting earlier so I reached the CCP about 4:30 pm already. I only caught the last play of Set C, mysteriously titled "Surrogare." I missed the first two plays of the day, Anthony Kim Vergara's "A Family Reunion" and Dingdong Novenario's "The Bride and Bachelor." I did stay after the show to listen to the open forum with the artists. All three playwrights spoke very well about their plays and how they came up with them.

40-something Adam and his 20-something partner Evangelio (Eve for short) are celebrating their 7th anniversary of living together. However, that night, Adam brought his former student, former stalker Ana home with him, much to the annoyance of Eve. Adam went down on one knee to propose marriage to Eve. After that, Eve came up with a proposal which caught Adam by surprise. Then, Ana revealed why she was there in the first place.

Playwright J. Dennis Teodosio (who had been based in Myanmar since 2011) had been part of VLF from the very start, with "Geegee at Waterina" (which returned as a musical last year) part of VLF1. Heshared that the central story of this play was based on him and his partner when they were trying to adopt a child after seven years of living together. Their research about adoption laws and options led to the birth of this new one-act play. 

Camanag, Romualdez and Paule

I had seen Paul Jake Paule perform in plays before (the most challenging one being Macbeth), but this turn of his as Eve was the most outrageous I've seen him in! He fluidly transitioned from flirty and flighty, to bitter and bitchy, from confidently flashy to emotional wreck. Veteran actor and singer Roeder Camanag played Adam in stark contrast to Paule's flamboyance, as a calm and mature partner. Karen Romualdez played Ana, whose character could have been fleshed out some more to explain better her offer to the couple.


Writer: Chris Martinez
Director: Kanakan Balintagos

Two college freshmen from UP were studying for a critical math final exam together one night. Bonn is a basketball jock who was having trouble with his grades. So, he was asking help from Ryan, a free-spirited gay guy who gets high grades with no effort. However, when a power outage interrupted their study session, their conversations move on from Statistics to more bizarre matters. 

One of the innovations in this year's VLF Staged Readings was "Once They Were Virgin" featuring the first one-act plays ever written by now well-established playwrights. "Freshmen" was the first play written by Chris Martinez, who had since gone on to great success as a writer and director in both theater and film. This was directed by no less than its original director way back in 1991, Kanakan Balintagos, who had also gained much acclaim as a director in both theater and film since then. 

Nepomuceno and Estioko

This was supposed to be a staged reading, but the two young actors actually had their lines down pat already and did not have scripts in their hands anymore. Nico Nepomuceno played straight conservative virgin Bonn, as Earvin Estioko played the liberated weirdo role of Ryan. As the play went on, I realized I had seen this one-act play staged in PETA before (MY REVIEW), directed by Chris Martinez himself. As it was before, the overall outlandish weirdness and situational illogicality of the this play still did not really sit too well with me. 


Writer: Jun Lana
Director: Dennis Marasigan

Two 70-something senior citizens were stuck in bad traffic jam. Since they did not have a driver that day, Elvira had to drive her husband of 45 years Manolo to the hospital because he seemed to be suffering a heart attack in progress. As they were waiting for the traffic to move, Elvira wistfully reminisced about their lustful younger days when sex was the best part of their marriage. 

Jun Lana is recognized as a genius writer, having won 11 Palanca Awards for Literature, the youngest man to enter the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2006. He is now better known as an acclaimed film director. 

Provocatively titled despite its senior cast, "Rated X" was the first one-act play ever written by Lana, but this was the first time it was ever performed in public on a stage. According to VLF festival director Tuxqz Rutaquio who introduced the play, this was supposedly banned the first time Lana tried to stage it, not really sure why.

The simple set consisted just two car seats, with a telephone (a typical landline-looking variety, haha!) in between them. The scripts were placed on stands in front of the seats, looking like the dashboard. The two actors who played Elvira and Manolo were seasoned veterans -- Sherry Lara and Lou Veloso

Veloso and Lara

Veloso's acting was very restrained, owing to the fact that he was playing a weak man slowly succumbing to a heart attack. This situation allowed the ever-luminous Ms. Lara to shine brilliantly for all she's worth. In spite of the fact that she was just sitting down on a chair for practically the whole play, Lara's Elvira was funny, naughty, raunchy, heartbreaking, poignant, beautiful -- one of the best one-act play performances I had ever witnessed. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XV - SET B: Of Students, Supports and Sexes

June 20, 2019

I have been watching the Virgin Labfest at the CCP for six 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 15th year, with the stimulating theme of "Titibok-tibok". This year, a record number of 207 scripts had been submitted and the top 12 were chosen to be staged. The festival started yesterday with the three plays of Set A.

The Staged Readings have also been grouped into sets of 2 or 3, and now costs P100 a ticket (formerly free). For Set A and B, there is a theme of "Once They Were Virgins" featuring the first VLF plays of veteran VLF playwrights, like Chris Martinez, Jun Lana, Liza Magtoto and Chris Millado. The other staged readings were plays submitted this year, but which did not make it into the top 12. 


Here are the three plays of Set B which premiered this afternoon:


Written by: Layeta Bucoy
Directed by: Mara Marasigan

The story is about a poor family who could barely get by with their financial situation, but they will do everything so that their youngest daughter Ali, who is a freshman in UP, can continue her studies and graduate. The father relies on the patronage of their barangay captain, occasionally becoming a petty crook. The mother is a blind fanatic of a patron saint she calls Nuestra. The gay elder brother does odd jobs including driving a tricycle to help.

Raffy Tejada and Tex Ordonez-de Leon (as Tatay and Nanay) had to amp up their performances to keep the energy up in this rather static play. Reynald Santos as Kuya goes over the top with his gay antics to spice things up some more. The suspense of play hung on a mystery being kept from Ali when she came home. However, I felt that this secret did not make such a strong impact as it should when it was revealed. 

Figueroa, de Leon, director Marasigan, Tejada and Santos

I felt this was because VLF virgin Lorrie Figueroa (as Ali) could not seem to keep up with her more experienced co-stars acting-wise. She seemed nervous and very tentative in her maiden effort. When Ali made her own surprise revelation towards the end, her announcement lacked a knockout punch. I trust that as the festival goes on, Figueroa should get her bearings and confidence up in her next performance dates.


Written by: U.Z.Eliserio
Directed by: Maynard Manansala

Pina's father passed away and her OFW mom Connie came back to bury him. While they were sorting out his things, Pina hotly confronted Connie for her absence in her life, while Connie defended herself by reminding her daughter of the material comforts her hard-earned money got for the family. Suddenly, Pina found the last lottery ticket which her father bought before he died, and saw that it had won them P10M.

These two characters were played by two actresses who had been acclaimed before for their performances in theater, and they were both solid here. Krystle Valentino (as Pina) made her VLF splash four years ago as the lead in the beautiful "Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala" (2015). Skyzx Labastilla was awarded for her riveting turns in "Indigo Child" (2016) and the one-woman show "Ang Dalagita'y Isang Bagay na 'di Buo" (2018). Rafa Tibayan (Valentino's leading man in "Maria Isabella") played a smaller yet marked role as Pina's activist boyfriend Niko.

Tibayan, Labastilla and Valentino

This play was a balanced mix of drama and comedy as it follows the confrontational conversation between a rebellious teenager Pina and her absentee OFW mother. It was shocking to hear a daughter speak so disrespectfully to her mother that way, but sharp witty humor effectively tempered the unsettling situations onstage. The simmering tension between the two women was paced and developed so well by the director until the whole thing just boiled over in the end. 


Written by: Rick Patriarca
Directed by: George de Jesus III

After a disagreement with his mother, Melody, a cross-dressing gay guy, moved into one of the room in a boarding house for boys, to the distress of current boarders: namely, the naive inexperienced Marco, the studious nerd Ian and the alpha male Andrew. With Ian always in his room studying and Andrew usually out with his girlfriends, Melody and Marco eventually develop a relationship beyond mere friendship. 

Melody was played by Lance Reblando, a triple threat who was last seen in "Ang Huling El Bimbo." He would incorporate his talents of flexible acrobatics and even singing into his bold role. Marco was played by Ross Pesigan, whose baby-face allows him to play youthful innocents, like he did in the recent gay drama "Laro." Andrew was played by Pesigan's scene partner in "Laro," Vincent Pajara with his swaggering macho accent. Ian was played by AJ Sison, who still needed to loosen up some more in his rather tentative performance when compared to the all-out, no-holds barred portrayals of his co-actors.

Sison, Pesigan, Reblando and Pajara

Of all the plays in this year's VLF, this was the one with the most pre-festival buzz because of its very raunchy posters and photographs of its four main actors naked with only towels protecting their modesty. True to its promise, the play frankly tackled issues of a man's sexuality, with a generous helping of naughty humor. With the exaggerated daring sexy antics and a hilarious manner of achieving a time lapse effect, this was the easy audience favorite for this set, and most probably for the whole festival. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review of Atlantis' BEAUTIFUL: A Composer's Chronicles

June 15, 2019

I know Carole King as the artist behind the phenomenal album "Tapestry" released in 1971. It was #1 on the Billboard Album chart for 15 weeks and stayed within the chart for the next 6 years. It won the Grammy Album of the Year in 1972, while its tracks "It's Too Late" won Record of the Year, "You've Got a Friend" won "Song of the Year." The double-sided hit single "It's Too Late/ I Feel the Earth Move" was #1 on the Hot 100 chart for 5 weeks.

This 2013 musical "Beautiful" followed Carole King's songwriting career 12 years before "Tapestry" when she was a precocious 16-year old auditioning her song in New York City. She met and fell in love at first sight with her lyricist Gerry Goffin in college and married right away within the same year. 

Nick Varricchio and Kayla Rivera as Gerry Goffin and Carole King
(photo from the Atlantis FB page)

The whole play was a literal jukebox musical -- just singing one song after the other like a variety show, with no effort in the writing of the book (by Douglas McGrath) to integrate the lyrics of the songs into the story or the dialogues. It was just a simple chronological chronicle of Carole King's career and the songs she wrote, at first with Gerry Goffin and later on her own. 

Carole and Gerry would sing a raw bit of the song first, then later we will hear the same song sung by the "recording artists" who made these songs popular hits, like the Drifters, the Shirelles and Little Eva. In between these song numbers, we would hear banter in the 1650 Broadway office about the song's performance in the charts and see episodes from Carole and Gerry's troubled marriage at their home or at a Vermont ski resort as the main dramatic conflict of the story. 

Also featured in the story were the career and romance of their contemporary songwriting rivals and supportive real-life friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Their own set of hits  competed with those of Carole and Gerry's on the charts, like "On Broadway" by the Drifters and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers.

Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and George Schulze as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann
(photo from the Atlantis FB page)

Kayla Rivera played Carole King as a mousy, old-fashioned young woman who wore simple, even dowdy, clothes and hairstyles for most of the show. In Act 1, she often got overshadowed by the noisier, more colorful characters around her. It was only when she sings with that beautifully fluid voice of hers that she captures our full attention. This was especially true when she bloomed with confidence with her powerful Tapestry solos in Act 2, particularly "It's Too Late" and "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." However, she was not yet convincing when she shadow-plays the piano, which was an integral instrument of Carole King's songwriting and performing career. 

Nick Varricchio (last seen on the local stage in the 2015 "Saturday Night Fever" Asian Tour) played the thankless role of Gerry Goffin, who despite co-writing some of Carole's best songs, also stole her best years away from her with his irresponsibility. Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and George Schulze often steal their scenes as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann as they have more snazzy costumes, more bombastic singing voices and funnier lines. Jaime Wilson (as songwriter manager Don Kirshner) and Carla Guevara-Laforteza (as Carole's mom Genie) lent effective support even if they did not get to do much singing.

Tim Pavino, Markus Mann, Arman Ferrer, and Jep Go sang, strutted and glided as the members of the Drifters. Among the four, for me it was Go who stood out with his solid solos in songs like "Up on the Roof" and "On Broadway." As the Righteous Brothers, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo wowed the audience with his rich deep baritone for Bill Medley's part in "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," with Ferrer providing the tenor harmony of Bobby Hatfield in similarly impressive fashion. This catchy duet had the best audience response of the night, ironic because it was NOT a Carole King composition. Dean Rosen (as Nick of the Bitter End nightclub) and Nelsito Gomez (as Neil Sedaka) played the other male ensemble roles.

Rhenwyn Gabalonzo and Arman Ferrer as the Righteous Brothers
(photo from the Atlantis FB page)

Gab Pangilinan was the elegant lead singer of the Shirelles who sang the first Goffin & King-penned #1 single "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Teetin Villanueva was Carole's babysitter who was given the break to record the original version of "The Loco-Motion" as Little Eva, with its perky pink song and dance number. Jill Pena played the fictional temptress Janelle Woods who sang "One Fine Day" for Goffin & King, only to cause their domestic distress. Maronne Cruz (as Carole's BFF Betty), Gabby Pineda and Alex Reyes played the other female ensemble roles. 

Director Bobby Garcia again led a world-class team of artists and technicians to mount a Broadway-quality production to the stage of the Meralco Theater. Set designer Faust Peneyra used large panels of orange-hued geometric patterns (like those seen in silk ties from the 70s) to frame the stage, which worked well with the lights designed by Broadway's Aaron Porter (back after "Waitress" last year)

We were subtly led us through the evolution of popular culture from the late 50s to the early 70s, with the costume design of Raven Ong, the hair and makeup design by Leslie Espinosa and the joyful choreography of Cecile Martinez. Broadway sound designer Josh Millican (also back from "Waitress") worked hand-in-hand with musical director Farley Asuncion to create the perfect soundtrack to accompany the action on stage. The songs of Carole King were simply so infectious and familiar, you will sing along!

The innovative 45 vinyl record-inspired souvenir programme of Beautiful


"BEAUTIFUL:The Carole King Musical" runs from June 14 to July 7, 2019, with shows at 8 pm from Fridays to Sundays, with 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. The venue is the Meralco Theater in Pasig City. Tickets can be scored through Ticketworld, with prices range from P5,000 (orchestra center), P4,000 (orchestra sides and loge center), P2,500 (loge sides) and P1,500 (balcony center and sides). 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review of Artist Playground's LARO: Interlocking Intimacies

June 1, 2019

"La Ronde" by Arthur Schnitzler was controversial from the get-go because of its sexually-charged subject matter. It took twenty years before a public performance was actually staged after it was privately published in 1900, and it still provoked scandalized public uproar. The play followed encounters of ten people -- the Whore, the Soldier, the Parlor Maid, the Young Gentleman, the Young Wife, the Husband, the Little Miss, the Poet, the Actress and the Count -- as one character was linked to another one in sequential scenes. 

Fifteen years ago, Floy Quintos adapted "La Ronde" into Filipino and transposed the setting into the gay underbelly of Manila. The characters have been changed accordingly as well -- Call Boy, Policeman, Drag Queen, User, Lover, the Ideal, Student, Writer, Model and Philanthropist. This Pride Month June 2019, Artists Playground had chosen to restage "Laro," under the direction of John Mark Yap, who also updated Quintos's script with some current references and details. 

Call Boy was accosted by the Policeman in the park after a raid. The Policemen flirted with the Drag Queen outside the bar. The Drag Queen went to the mall to shop with her User boyfriend. The User boyfriend met up with a Lover from an online chatroom. The Lover was feeling stifled by his Ideal partner. The Ideal met up with his boytoy Student at the basketball court. Student confessed his story to his Writer cousin. Writer interviewed the popular underwear Model. Model was toyed with by his Philanthropist sugar daddy. Philanthropist hired a Call Boy for short-time fling.

The topics of each conversation really ran the gamut of emotions experienced in such relationships -- from sleazy to serious, from silly to scary, from saucy to scandalous. Each scene will affect you differently. some having stronger impact than others. The scene where the Drag Queen was being abused by her User boyfriend was the most painful. That sordid scene of the Ideal and Student's basketball teammates felt the dirtiest. The smoke from characters vaping and the use of red lighting to highlight steamy scenes further gave the play a seedy atmosphere which may make viewers uninitiated in this GBTQ world very uncomfortable. 

Dela Cruz, Palmos, Paule and Miguel

AndrĂ© Miguel was a smiling playful Call Boy. Paul Jake Paule was a naughty corrupt Policeman (Pulis). Phi Palmos was a long-suffering martyr Drag Queen. Gio Gahol was a cold shameless User (Mangagamit). MC Dela Cruz was a reluctant curious Lover (Kalaguyo). Victor Sy was a perverse Alpha Male Ideal.  Ross Pesigan was a vulnerable naive Student (Estudyante). Vincent Pajara was a wry, pragmatic Writer (Manunulat). Jonathan Ivan Rivera was a muscle-bound dimwit Model (Modelo). Vincent De Jesus was a jaded, world-weary rich Philanthropist (Pilantropo). These actors all boldly bared their bodies and souls as they portrayed these wolves and lambs in this menagerie. 

Mike Liwag alternates as Manggagamit. Al Gatmaitan alternates as The Ideal. Jon Abella alternates as Manunulat. Jay Gonzaga alternates as Modelo. Players of Artist Playground, namely Aaron Dioquino, Dan Sheneill Solis, Robert Macaraeg, and Christian Silang, are the props men throughout the play, but also appear onstage as Students' teammates.  

The artistic team behind director John Mark Yap (in his directorial debut for a full-length play) include Io Balanon (set design), Nicolo Perez (costume design), Miggy Panganiban (lighting design), Arvy Dimaculangan (sound design) and JM Cabling (movement design).  

Sy, Pesigan, De Jesus, Rivera and Pajara


"LARO" runs for two weekends, June 1-2, and 8-9, 2019, with 3 pm and 7 pm shows. Venue is at Arts Above, West Venue Building (BIR), West Avenue, QC. Purchase tickets at only P600 each, either via or at the gate. Play lasts for approximately 2-1/2 hours, an hour plus per act with a 10-minute break.