Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review of TP's JUEGO DE PELIGRO: Sinister Seductions

February 23, 2015

"Dangerous Liaisons" is one of my favorite movies of all time. It was shown back in 1988, but the performances of Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves in this complex web of social intrigue remain unforgettable. This film was in turn based on a controversial French novel first published in 1782, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. There had been other film versions of this story set in 18th century Korea, or 1930s China and even 1999 New York (as "Cruel Intentions"), showing how adaptable the story was for any culture or any time in history.

Tanghalang Pilipino is currently staging a Filipino adaptation of this timeless story, set in the late 1800s in Manila. Entitled "Juego de Peligro", the cruel and manipulative French aristocrats Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont in the original story are now Spanish peninsulares Senora Margarita and Senor Vicente. The victims of their sadistic games of sexual hijinx are convent-bred virgin Cecilia, her indio music teacher Daniel and the very virtuous Senora Teresa. Watching these dangerous liaisons unfold live on stage in vibrantly scintillating Tagalog as adapted by Elmer Gatchalian remained to be as entertaining and absorbing as the film it was based on.

Arnold Reyes and Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino

Sharmaine Centenera-Buencamino was an excellent choice to play Senora Margarita, a truly challenging and ruthless role only the best actresses can play. She delivers her lines with just the right amount of classy naughtiness it was a brilliantly convincing portrayal. She was thoroughly delightful despite the many sins committed by her character. Her worldly maturity and innate confidence makes her a perfect Margarita, dominating the stage whenever she is on. I wish they could have had more people in that final ballroom scene in order to make the sting of humiliation more powerful and more painful than how it appeared.

Arnold Reyes definitely has the requisite irresistible masculine charm to seduce the ladies as Senor Vicente. At first, he did seem too young for the role especially when side by side the magnificent Ms. Buencamino, but he gains believability as the play went along. Vicente is the busiest character in this play, with scenes happening one after the other, entering from various parts of the set, in various states of dress (or undress) in some of them. Reyes ran through these difficult transitions seamlessly. His interpretation of the classic "It is beyond my control" scene is as hateful as it should be.

Arnold Reyes and LJ Reyes

LJ Reyes plays Senora Teresa. With her small doll-like face with porcelain complexion, she seemed to be so young for her role. I always imagined that Margarita, Vicente and Teresa should approximately be of the same age. The delicate Ms. Reyes does succeed in looking pitiful in her virtue. However, because of LJ's  childlike looks, Vicente looked more like a lecherous pedophile. (The alternate for this role is Valerie Concepcion, whom I believe is the better choice based on age and maturity of mien vis a vis Arnold Reyes' Vicente. That should also be interesting to see.)

Adrienne Vergara was a joy as the foolish Cecilia. She was unafraid to make a fool of herself, from her very first scene "singing". She has a lot of chemistry with Reyes' Vicente, which was a lot of fun to watch. The actress who played Cecilia's mother Senora Violeta, Raquel Pareno, was also a delight. Lharby Policarpio as Daniel, was hardly seen in Act 1. But he certainly gets more "exposure" in Act 2. He has the required youthful naive face, and the willingness to bare. He seemed a bit tentative, unsure in his delivery of lines at this point, but will probably improve as the play's run continues. (TV5 actor Vin Abrenica alternates in this role.)

Arnold Reyes and Adrienne Vergara

Being a sex comedy of the vicious sort, this is for mature audiences only. There is some nudity from three male characters, even from Jonathan Tadioan (as Vicente's manservant), but the ladies were more modest. The very elegant costumes for the aristocratic characters by James Reyes, particularly those for the ladies, were so meticulous in detail. The complex set design is by no less than the play's director Tuxqs Rutaquio. That wide balcony looks so real from where I was seated -- it was breathtaking. The lights designed by John Batalla, vital for the sensitive parts of the play, were faultless. However, there were some sound effects which seemed to have been mistimed in that show I watched.

Congratulations to Director Tuxqs Rutaquio and the rest of the Tanghalang Pilipino cast and crew for another bold and entertaining production.

"Juego de Peligro" is the closing production of TP's 28th Theater Season. It opened on February 20 at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater). It runs for two more weekends, Feb. 27-28, and March 1, 6-8 at 3 pm and 8 pm. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review of PETA's ARBOL DE FUEGO: Dynamic Dramedy

February 21, 2015

Anton Chekhov is one of Russia's greatest playwrights. There are three plays he is most remembered for. These are "The Seagull" (1896), "The Three Sisters" (1901) and his last play, which debuted only months before his death in 1904, "The Cherry Orchard." PETA's latest offering "Arbol de Fuego" is a Filipino adaptation of "The Cherry Orchard" written by the prolific Rody Vera.

The story of "Arbol de Fuego" revolves around the decline of a landed wealthy family . The play is set during the Martial Law days in Talisay, in Negros province. Enriquetta Jardeleza-Sofronio returns home after five years of living in Madrid, only to discover that their family now stand to lose their their beloved farm and estate known for its titular grove of flame trees. Nonoy Tiking, a son of the Jardeleza's former sugarcane farm hand who became rich with his businesses, suggests big plans to save the land by cutting down the flame trees and making a subdivision. Enriquetta simply cannot accept this solution, but it appears inevitable.

Luna and Gil

Cherie Gil was flawless as Enriquetta. She is tall, beautiful, classy, the perfect insulares aristocrat. She possess the whole stage whenever she was on it. Her comic timing was impeccable and so charming. There was even a scene when the spotlight was on something else, but Ms. Gil can still draw audience attention with her dancing antics in the dark on the side of the stage. I had seen Ms. Gil in two one-woman shows before, where she inhabited big diva characters Maria Callas and Diane Vreeland. "Arbol" proves that she also be part of a big ensemble, but really she can't help but stand out. Best Actress awards are definitely forthcoming for this performance.

Rialp, Bayani, Gil and Macapagal

Jake Macapagal, with his tough exterior and moreno complexion, did not seem to be the right actor to be cast as Adjie, the effeminate brother of Enriquetta. But again, he effectively went against type and imbued this character with so much delightful idiosyncrasies. Another transformative performance was that by Leo Rialp. This tall Hispanic actor usually played haughty rich men, and he can play those with his eyes closed. Here in "Arbol", he played family friend Chitong, an unkempt man with disheveled clothes with a bad reputation for borrowing money and a bad comb-over. He totally nailed this sadsack character so much against what we knew him for. 

Bayani and Tejada

Angeli Bayani is perfectly cast as Charito, a mousy spinster but nonetheless, an efficient caretaker of the estate. Her character is being teased with that of Nonoy Tiking, everyone thinking they are a couple bound for the altar. Her frustration with his failure to commit and propose to her was portrayed so well. Raffy Tejada did not immediately seem to be the correct actor to portray Tiking because of physical mismatch (long hair, beer belly), but he eventually grew into the role as the play went on. 

Enriquetta's optimistic daughter Carmen was played by the upcoming indie actress Anna Luna. Her character's partner onstage is Dante, an idealistic perpetual college student, played by Riki Benedicto. The two don't really look like they make a good pair at first, but their parts were written and played out so well, with much romantic thrill. 

Benedicto and Luna

What drama about the aristocrats would be complete without the servants, who are also with their own little dramas. The scene-stealing standout is really Divine Aucina, who was hilarious as Ling-ling, the flirtatious maid. I have to say though that I was confused as to what role Anthony Falcon played here. His good looks and stylish clothes seem to go against his character Caloy's social standing. He would probably be better suited in the Dante role. Bembol Roco plays the role of Manoy Iking, the mayordomo, who is already slowly becoming senile. The role was awkward as written, but Roco played him with dignity.

Aucina and Falcon

I was expecting "Arbol de Fuego" to be a heavy drama, especially when I saw that top rated dramatic actors are playing the leads. However, I was very pleasantly surprised that there was so much humor in it. Writer Rody Vera's Filipino adaptation has brought out the farcical elements of Chekhov's drama, chock full of sociological sarcasm. The actors really took their roles to heart. They delivered their kilometric lines in thick Bacolod accent with so much heart and passion, with their sense of humor fully intact. The dynamics between the actors on the stage are riveting and a joy to watch. 

Congratulations to director Loy Arcenas and the rest of the PETA cast and crew for another excellent and memorable production. This play should be amply rewarded come awards season later this year.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review of Ballet Phils' MANHID: A Political Musical with Pinoy Mutants

February 20, 2015

I went to watch "Manhid" tonight at the CCP Main Theater with no clear idea what the storyline would be like. The subtitle "The Pinoy Superhero Musical" is most intriguing. I have seen photos of the cast of actors, singers and ballet dancers in various colorful "hero" costumes. This is a 45th anniversary production of Ballet Philippines, so it is fair to expect dance to be a major component of the show.

It turns out that these "Pinoy superhero" characters would be thrust into a political plot. This original Filipino musical was first staged in UP Diliman back in 1991 when the US bases were the issue of the day. Writer Kanakan-Balintagos (then more popularly known as Auraeus Solito) wrote this play as "a protest against the apathy of the Filipino people." As the play progresses, you will get a sense that it was inspired by the mutant X-Men of Marvel comics and films, the battles between the good and bad among them, and their conflicts with non-mutants, all in a decidedly Filipino context. 

Some of the music was composed by Vincent de Jesus, who is still a popular movie, TV and theater musical director to this day. It is also very interesting to note that THE Pinoy rock band of the 90s, the Eraserheads (Ely Buendia, Raymund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala, Marcus Adoro), also composed music for this musical, and also played as the in-house band onstage in the original production. This was before they eventually broke through to massive mainstream success and icon status. In fact, I was surprised to hear one of the E-head's big hits "Kailan" sung in this show!

Sandino Martin and Teetin Villanueva

The play is about a future in the Philippines when Mamalahi-ma, the evil megalomaniac Minister of Humanity, wants to kill 99 "children of protest" who were born with special powers, so she can control the whole country. She surrounds herself with a bunch of them who have turned to the dark side, calling themselves the "Tulisan ng Bayan," led by the spear-wielding Gen. Apolaki. Also under her thumb was the mesmerizing shapeshifter and seducer Radia Indarapatra. 

They target to eliminate the "Maragtas", the rest of the children of protest who remained to be on the side of good. Among them were Bantugan (with the power of dreams), Lam-Ang (with the power of wind), Urduja (with the power of insects), Dilim (with the power of song) and Alunsina (with an extraordinary power with her profane tongue). The musical climaxes with a battle-royale to the death between these two rival groups, where only the strongest and most powerful ones survive.

Mayen Estanero and Fredison Lo

The singing is very strong and powerful. I was really surprised that indie film actor Sandino Martin (as Bantugan) can sing so well. He gets to sing "Kailan", the only familiar tune in the show, and that number between Bantugan and Alunsina was one of the most memorable moments of the whole show. Teetin Villanueva (as Lam-Ang) and Jean Judith Javier (as Dilim) I already know are great singers, as I have heard them sing in Dulaang UP productions before. Javier in particular had to hit some pretty killer notes. I knew he could sing very well, but Fredison Lo surprised me in his daring and sensual portrayal of Radia Indarapatra.

The most powerful vocal performances come from three ladies I have never seen before. These were Kim Molina (as foul-mouthed Alunsina), KL Dizon (as the alluring Urduja) and Mayen Estanero (as the despicable Mamalahim-Ma). These three ladies were powerhouse vocalists with their own unique styles. Molina and Estanero were also very funny. Looking forward to seeing and hearing them in more musical productions in the future.

Jean Judith Javier

The dancers from Ballet Philippines played able supporting characters to the singers and actors in this production. Since I recently just watched BP's "Cinderella", it was interesting to watch them dance a totally different, interpretative type of modern dance. Choreography was by Alden Lugnasin and Paul Alexander Morales

Richardson Yadao (as Apolaki) even had spoken lines which he delivered in an American drawl since Apolaki was supposed to be a West Point graduate. Very funny indeed. The other two male BP principal dancers Jean Marc Cordero and Earl John Arisola also stand out marked roles as the winged Sarimanok and the dark puppet master Malyari respectively.

Two beautiful and elegant female dancers, Katherine Trofeo and Rita Angela Winder, may have no lines, but they danced the two most sinister and powerful evil characters, Gonoglenda (with the deadly touch) and Rasagadang (with the voodoo doll) respectively. Really amazing transformations for these ladies.

The Creative Team (De Veyra, Buendia, Evangelista, Kanakan-Balintagos, De Jesus)

Admittedly, it was not too easy for me to immediately understand what was going on in the beginning of the play. There were a lot of characters onstage at the same time, and it was not easy to catch the story told in songs. Just when you think you finally figured out what was going on, a major character dies and Act 1 ends already. However, from Act 2 and Act 3, the characters, the story and even the songs become easier to follow and understand. Even then, you may feel you really need to buy its very detailed souvenir playbill to fully know the characters and understand everything that is going on on that big stage.

"Manhid" is ambitious and it pulls it off. Director Paul Alexander Morales effectively manages his big cast of singers, dancers, actors, and a live band (Radioactive Sago Project) to fill up the expansive stage and create truly a unique and exhilarating theater experience. The message still hold true now as it did back in 1991. Can the youth of today take on the challenge posed by this play?

"Manhid" runs at the CCP Main Theater Fridays (8 pm), Saturdays (2 pm and 6 pm) and Sundays (2 pm and 6 pm) from February 20 to March 8, 2015.