Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review of Artist Playground's NAKAKAPAGPABAGABAG: Disturbing Desperation

October 26, 2019

Artist Playground had Grade 12 students under their wing from the College of the Holy Spirit who chose the Arts and Design track for their senior high school. Instead of merely asking the kids to just stay on the side to observe how theater people stage a play, AP immersed them in an actual project where they were hands-on in all parts of the production crew. This anthology of three original Filipino one-act plays was their major project for this semester. All three plays were directed by Paul Jake Paule. In between each play, a song composed by Andrew Caleb Gorospe was performed by Melvin Sumalinog



Writer: Elisia Jades Malicdem
Song: "Pagitan" (lyrics by Jessica Hernandez)

Ernesto and Magda grew up together in the province. Ernesto obviously had a crush on pretty Magda, but her dream was to leave and go to Manila to try her luck. Years later, Ernesto is seen to look for Magda in Manila, and the two meet quite by chance on the street as she was coming out of her place of work. Her sexy outfit betrayed her current line of work, but blinded by love, Ernesto offered her marriage.

A scene from "Itim na Sampaguita"

According to her playbill notes, writer Malicdem wrote this play as one of the requirements of her theater writing class. They were supposed to write a play based on a Gloc 9 song, and she chose to adapt Gloc 9's 2013 single featuring Rico Blanco entitled "Magda." In the final scenes of the play, Gloc 9's rap lyrics recounting the contents of Magda's letter to Ernesto were delivered practically verbatim by Magda in her final soliloquy. However, Malicdem upped the tragedy quotient of the song by adding two major details in her play -- what made Magda go to Manila, and her response of Ernesto's proposal.

Mondejar and Sasaki take their bows

This one-act play was a short two-hander with a story that spanned several years within its limited run time. Sarina Sasaki, fresh from her recent stint in Dulaang UP's "The House of Bernarda Alba," was able to show the maturity and cynicism of her character effectively, and this was not only because of her new look. You feel the desperation which pushed her to do what she felt she had to do in the end. Karl Mondejar played her "Kuya" Ernesto. This was less showier role, but Mondejar played it with simplicity. sincerity and earnestness. 

Alternating as Magda are Miah Fernandez and Star Alferez. Alternating as Ernesto are Benj Espina and Stefano Perez. 



Writer: Rayne Jarabo
Song: "Antimatter" (lyrics by Andrew Caleb Gorospe)

A man named Jo jumped to his death in an apparent suicide. His friend, Woman at Home, could not understand what made Jo do it. She contacted their common friend, Woman at the Door, who was also receiving treatment for psychoses issues of her own. She brought along a Concerned Friend with a more cynical view of life. The three of them struggle to regain control of the situation as they try to make sense of Jo's act. Finally, Jo has his own cautionary message from beyond the grave.

A scene from "On Wednesday"

Mental health is very much in the news as suicides are on the rise, with several successful celebrities among the names in the list. Since 2016, suicides passed homicide to become the second-leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. According to more recent WHO statistics, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people from 15 to 29 years worldwide. It is truly disturbing that one person somewhere around the world dies from suicide every 40 seconds.

Martinez, Arguelles, Mosang and Calilao take their bows

This one-act play shows the aftermath of a suicide among the friends left behind -- how much confusion, how much guilt, how much turmoil. Played by veteran character actors, Kathy Arguelles (as Woman at Home) and Mosang (as Woman at the Door), they wonder and argue how they could have missed the signs of Jo's escalating depression. Concerned Friend, with his condescending tone and laughter, was a disconcerting character as played by Marco Calilao in full drag. As the suicide victim Jo, Francis Ronnie Martinez was a haunting vision under the stage lights with his waist-long white hair and lined visage.

Alternating as Woman at Home are Ina Salonga and Joy Sepina-Perez. Alternating as Woman at the Door are Jolly Bilad, Anne Constantino and Manel Sevidal. Alternating as Concerned Friend are Jesse Arenas and Jasmine Eugenio. Alternating as Mysterious Jo are Bea Copino, Jean Barredo and Wowens Victoriano. 



Writer: Lakangiting Garcia
Song: "Kamay ng Kapatid" (lyrics by Lakangiting Garcia)

Young Man is a student from the university who joined an activist organization. His professor could not dissuade him from joining a rally. The rally turned violent as Young Man shot one abusive police captain in the head. He was arrested. After a short but tearful visit from his father, the Young Man was subjected by his two captors to unspeakable torture as he discovered more about the man he killed.

A scene from "Juan Bautista"

The subject matter of police brutality against student activists is an oft-revisited topic in local socially-conscious theater groups. There is so much intense drama which could be mined out of confrontations between these two classic adversaries, as it was in "Juan Bautista." The title was a reference to John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness paving the way for the coming of the Savior. The Young Man sought to pave the way for reform and justice in the country, but his violent means clashed with established government.

Carpio, Dioquino and Memo take their bows,
with Sumalinog on his guitar

This play won the second prize in the One-Act play category of the Palanca Awards back in 1992. The Young Man was played by Aaron Dioquino with youthful idealism and fanatical dedication. His two co-actors served as narrators and played multiple roles around him. Jeff Carpio played his elderly professor, as well as a strapping sergeant with a major chip on his shoulder. Chad Memo played his anguished father, as well as another heartless torturer. It is always a painful experience to watch torture on stage, especially in an intimate venue.

Alternating as Young Man (Binata) are Jayson Santos, Carlo Gianan and BJ Ocampo. Alternating as Professor are Jan Tagnipez, Mark Stanley Mozo and Mikee Lim. Alternating as Father are Cesar Batistis, Jacob Collado and Norman Penaflorida. 


"Nakakapagpabagabag" has a limited run of 6 performances from October 26-27, 2019 at Arts Above at the Penthouse of the BIR Building along West Avenue, Quezon City. Showtimes are at 1 pm, 4 pm and 7 pm. Ticket prices at P800 for VIP Seats (front and elevated back), P600 for Regular Seats (in between) and P300 for Students. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review of Atlantis' SWEENEY TODD: Singularly Stunning Style

October 20, 1019

I had known the music and songs of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 Tony and Olivier Award winning musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" since the 1980s since I was lent a copy of the original cast recording on CD featuring Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett. Its darkly humorous plot involved a barber coming back home to London after 15 years of exile to avenge the loss of his family. However, at that time, I only imagined the macabre scenes in my head while listening to the songs and their grisly lyrics. 

It was only in 2008 that I saw everything come together in Tim Burton's film version of Sweeney Todd (MY REVIEW) starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The next year 2009, the dream of seeing this musical live onstage finally came true when Repertory Philippines staged it (MY REVIEW), with local theater royalty Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo in the lead roles. Both of these versions, I liked a lot. 

This 2019, for their 20th year anniversary, Atlantis Theatrical has come up with its own stage interpretation of  "Sweeney Todd" with no less than international star Lea Salonga as Mrs. Lovett, with Jett Pangan as Sweeney Todd. Everything about this was grand. The venue was at the high-tech Theater at Solaire. The live music in the pit was to be rendered by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerard Salonga

Director Bobby Garcia's unique concept for this iteration of the show is the first thing you see on stage even before the play begins. Mrs. Lovett's pie shop along Fleet Street had been transported by set designer David Gallo into a junkyard for rotting automobiles, located right beside the Fogg's Asylum for the mentally deranged. Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett's grand entrance during the first song was via a long red vintage car with beautifully-lit interiors (by lighting designer Aaron Porter). 

Since the time setting had been moved from the 19th century into an uncertain period of economic decline, which can either be current or even future, the costumes of Rajo Laurel had likewise shifted from the former Victorian-era fashion sense to a lesser-defined eccentric modern fusion ensembles, a stylish "Mad Max". The hair and make-up designs of Leslie Espinosa followed accordingly in the same goth and punk styles. These style choices are apparent in the publicity posters showing Salonga and Pangan in full costume.

Lea Salonga brought a delightful wickedness in her energetic interpretation of slatternly, twisted but astute businesswoman Mrs. Lovett. Every word of Lovett's motor-mouth chatterbox songs were so clearly enunciated. Not a single note of those complex distinctly-Sondheim melodies went astray with her. It was a topnotch performance that was above and beyond everyone else on that stage that night, a true national treasure. 

Jet Pangan hit all his low and high notes squarely, matching Salonga note for note in their songs together. However, his Sweeney Todd seemed to be too sane and phlegmatic to be  a cold-blooded killer. The dangerous tension he should have generated in those shaving scenes felt lacking. Perhaps because his acting was too restrained or too subtle, or maybe his costume and make-up looked too regular? Pangan was still able to hold the central role together solidly nevertheless in a most compelling.

Andrew Fernando got the deep operatic baritone all fit for his role as Judge Turpin, but despite his bodily heft, his stage presence felt like he was not strong enough of a threat to match Todd's wrath, nor lustful enough a lover to desire Johanna for himself. Gerald Santos and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante sounded beautiful singing together as Anthony and Johanna. However, they did not generate any sense of romantic chemistry between them. Johanna's ugly blonde wig and drab plain dress also did not do her any favors. 

Luigi Quesada was a joy to watch as Tobias Ragg, as he hustled gleefully from being the harassed assistant to Pirelli, then Mrs. Lovett's. By the time his youthful sensibilities got hit by a strong mind-blowing jolt, he had the whole audience wanting to provide him the comfort he so desperately needed. With his naturally flashy stage fluorish, Nyoy Volante is consistently a joy to watch. Even in a jerk conman role as Adolfo Pirelli, the audience loves him and lapped up his antics. Arman Ferrer, mostly known for his soaring tenor vocals, had some pretty funny moments as the Beadle Bramford and his "Parlour Songs."

In the 2009 Rep production, the set (by Gino Gonzales) featured an ingenious contraption in which Sweeney Todd's latest victim in his tonsorial chair upstairs would slide down into Mrs. Lovett's pie kitchen below where she had a fiery oven ready. In this Atlantis production, there was no clear barber shop, nor a clear pie shop. The barber's chair (actually just an office chair) was just on a stage at the posterior part of Sweeney's car. After Todd sliced the neck of a customer, the "corpse" would simply stand up and walk into Mrs. Lovett's oven waiting on stage right, and come out carrying a pie made of his meat. This change was such a major departure from the original which may be hard to accept for purists.

Even though it was already on its second weekend, there were still some sound glitches heard during the show last night. There was one moment of a prolonged feedback noise, which thankfully they were able to control promptly. The most unfortunate glitch for me was during the quartet number "Kiss Me (Part 2)" in which the voices of the Judge and Beadle were barely heard at all, ruining one of my awaited moments of the show. 

Despite these petty little issues and comparisons to previously seen versions, it was still the Sondheim music and songs and the incomparable musical talents of Filipino artists which held my rapt attention for the nearly three hours running time. The risky directorial choice made by Bobby Garcia to change the time setting was certainly bold and unprecedented. It was jarring, yes, at first. But ultimately, his audacious vision served to distinguish this production from all others before it with its singularly stunning theatrical style, in which strut assembly and hacksaw have replaced the rolling pin and butcher knife. 


Atlantis Theatrical's SWEENEY TODD runs from October 11-27, 2019 at the Theater at Solaire. Showtimes are at 8 pm on Thursdays to Sundays, with 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are from P5000, P4000, P3000, P2000, and P1500. Very limited seats left at this time.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Review of Rep's THE QUEST FOR THE ADARNA: Enjoying an Ethnic Epic

October 12, 2019

King Fernando and his wife Queen Valeriana ruled the Kingdom of Berbania. They have 3 sons: Don Pedro, Don Diego and Don Juan. One night, King Fernando had a nightmare of Don Juan being murdered, and he became very ill that he did not even want to eat or rest. None of the doctors were able to cure the King. An old native healer advised that the Ibong Adarna was the only creature which could restore his health by its restorative singing. So the princes set out to Mt. Tabor to try to capture the mythical bird so she could sing for the healing of their father.

Every Filipino school child should know about the Ibong Adarna as this epic was required reading in their Filipino class. There had been two LVN movies about the bird, first in 1941 (by Vicente Salumbides, starring Fred Cortez) and a second in 1956 (by Manuel Conde, starring Nestor de Villa and Nida Blanca). In 1972, there was a comedy version starring Dolphy, which most Gen Xers would remember from their childhood. It would be best to forget that ill-advised 2014 indie film (by Jun Urbano, starring Rocco Nacino) that was an insult to the original. Gantimpala Theater Foundation has a stage version in Filipino written by Ed Maranan, which it has been showing regularly since 2010. 

This year, Repertory Philippines stepped out of its usual box of foreign stage adaptations of foreign fairy tales by commissioning a new, completely original musical about the all-Filipino epic Ibong Adarna for its yearly Rep Theater for Young Audiences program, which is now on its 27th year of providing theater experiences for school children. 

Luna Grino-Inocian, who had previously adapted for the Trumpets two C.S. Lewis fantasy classics -- "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in 1997 and "The Horse and his Boy" in 2015 -- was an inspired choice to write this English adaptation of the Adarna story for children for Rep. The music was by Rony Fortich, in his first production with Rep, and his second musical about a bird -- the first being "The Bluebird of Happiness" in 2013 which was adapted from a Belgian play by Jaime del Mundo, also for Trumpets.

The fancy and colorful set and costumes of this show

In the Thursday 1:30 pm afternoon show I watched, the Adarna bird was played by Carla Guevara-Laforteza. She was in  all fairy-like diva mode in that armored body suit and colorful flowing wings, sitting on that pedestal that represented her tree or on that suspended swing. Her voice was of course of ethereal soprano quality as the role demanded. (Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Cara Barredo and Andrea Monique Alvarado alternate as Adarna.)

The lead character of Prince Juan was played by Diego Aranda. He had that good boy-next-door vibe that fit the role well, even as he evolved into hero later in the play. He also had an effective chemistry with Alex Reyes who played the spunky Maria Blanca. This strong empowered princess was a lesser-known character, and it is good that Grino-Inocian made her into a major character here, albeit without the complicated love triangle subplot from the original epic. (Neo Rivera and Leo John Guinid alternate as Prince Juan. Justine Nicolas, Jillian Ita-as and Cara Barredo alternate as Maria Blanca.)

Jim Andrew Ferrer played the prideful, scheming eldest brother Prince Pedro, while Luis Marcelo played the vain dimwit second brother, Prince Diego. (Arion Sanchez and Ade Valenzona alternate as Prince Pedro. Andres Borromeo, Sean Nolasco and Vinni Todd alternate as Prince Diego.) Raymund Concepcion and Naths Everett had regal presence to play the King and Queen. Noel Rayos riotously played the Hermit with all his silly facial expressions which made the kids laugh (Hans Eckstein and Jay Barrameda alternate as the Hermit.)

The cast take their final bows
(L-R: Rayos, Aranda, Laforteza, Reyes, Ferrer, Concepcion)

The technical designers and crew had their work cut out with the huge challenge of staging a story that involved adventure and magic to meet the demanding standards of today's tech-savvy children. Very important in this aspect was the fluid stage design of Joey Mendoza, the colorful fusion-type costumes of Tata Tuviera with hair and makeup by Ely Maalat, the critically vital lighting design of John Batalla and the rousing choreography of PJ Rebullida. There was variation in techniques -- from shadow play, puppetry to ballet dancing -- to spice up the story-telling for the kids. 

When it came alive on stage under the direction of Joy Virata (with co-directors Jamie Wilson and Naths Everett), this original Grino-Inocian and Fortich collaboration hit all the right spots, fitting right into the Rep formula for its children shows. All the energetic performances of the cast, the delightful songs (from upbeat to ballads to rap!), the wacky juvenile humor and kiddie interactions ("Kids, help Prince Juan remember the steps on how to capture the Adarna!"), the magical stage effects (the petrifying poop! the 7-headed monster!), and of course, that all-important moral lesson at the end. 


THE QUEST FOR THE ADARNA runs from September 14, 2019 to January 26, 2020 with multiple showtimes (10 am, 1:30 pm and 4 pm) throughout the week. You can check out the schedules on the Ticketworld site. Tickets are very reasonably priced at P800 for Orchestra Center (reserved seating), P600 for Orchestra Sides and P500 for the Balcony. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Review of TP's KATSURI: Drama of the Downtrodden

October 5, 2019

"Katsuri" is a Hiligaynon word for "shrew." That is the title Ms. Bibeth Orteza chose to give her modernized Filipino adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic, "Of Mice and Men." For her, the titular "katsuri" was to represent the "sakada," or sugar farm workers, who lived lives of downtrodden oppression. Inspired by the death of Bernardino "Toto" Patigas, an activist who fought for sakada rights, Ms. Orteza brought Steinbeck's story from a California farm during the Great Depression to a Negros sugar farm in the present day.

George and Toto were a couple of farmhands who always worked as a tandem. The steadfast and practical George had taken it upon himself to be the guardian of Toto, a big strong but mentally-challenged man. The two shared a dream of owning a piece of farmland which they could call their own, where Toto could raise his favorite pet rabbits. Because of an unfortunate incident in Hacienda Luisita, the two friends sought work in a sugar farm in Negros to start over in their quest for their elusive dream. 

George (Marco Viana) and Toto (Jonathan Tadioan)

With his hefty body build, Jonathan Tadioan was the natural choice to play the bulky hulk Toto (Lenny in the book). Tadioan had to create in Toto an aura of child-like innocence which audiences will want to mother, and this multi-Gawad Buhay nominated actor certainly rose to that challenge as only he can. Tadioan's Toto was a gentle giant teddy bear when he tells about his love for soft furry rabbits and puppies. However, he can also exude an air of danger when provoked as he forgets how strong he is. His co-stars' best scenes were those they shared with him.

For people who have read the book, Marco Viana would seem to be physically miscast as George. Steinbeck describes George as a "small man," but Viana looked as tall, or even taller than Tadioan, from where I was seated. However, this eventually did not matter, as Viana was able to effectively convey George's deep sense of concern for his mentally-challenged friend Toto, trying his best to keep Toto out of trouble. Such was the genuineness of George's love which made his final decision all the more painful.

Inday (Antonette Go) teases Toto and George

Nanding Josef (as Tatang) and JV Ibesate (as Payat) played sympathetic farmhands who  who fully appreciated the bond between George and Toto. Fitz Bitana played a tough and insecure Kulot, whose presence spelled bad news whenever he was on. Antonette Go gave an outstanding featured performance as Kulot's wife Inday, whose allure and beauty portended trouble among the menfolk. For once, Ybes Bagadiong hit all the right notes in his portrayal of farm outcast Nognog. The role of the Boss was given a puzzling treatment in the play, especially with surprise guest actor Michael Williams playing that role. 

The heavy depressing subject matter of the play may be hard to bear in certain moments of intense talky scenes. However, the mood was occasionally lightened somewhat with Tadioan's cute antics, or whenever Orteza injected the conversation with current pop culture references, anything from "Pinoy Big Brother" to "The General's Daughter." 

The cast and crew of Katsuri take their bows

The tech designers were all on point to create the suffocating atmosphere of oppression: Ohm David for the sets, Dennis Marasigan for the lights, Daniel Gregorio for the costumes and T.J. Ramos for the sound. Director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna brought Orteza's script into life with all the foreboding dread and tension precariously simmering, building up to an explosive boil over in the end. This hit us with a reeling punch so powerful it will take some time before you can recover your breath and composure.


KATSURI runs from October 4 - 27, 2019 at the CCP Studio Theater (Tanghalang Huseng Batute). Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices at P1000 for VIP and P800 for the bleachers.