Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review of Dulaang UP's ANG KATATAWANAN NG KALITUHAN: Madcap Mix-ups!

August 28, 2016

“Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan” is Guelan Varela-Luarca’s Filipino translation of William Shakespeare's “The Comedy of Errors.” Dulaang UP opens its 41st season with this work of the Bard in observance of Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary this year. The prospect of watching Shakespeare translated in Filipino may sound formidable, but as with my previous experience with Dulaang UP, they make sure we will understand the story as we will be entertained in the process. 

Antipholus of Ephesus is a known and respected citizen of his city. His loyal but foolish servant Dromio is always at his beck and call.  One day, Antipholus of Syracuse pays a visit to Ephesus, accompanied by his own foolish servant Dromio. The people of Ephesus mistake both sets of men for each other because they apparently looked exactly like each other. Even Adriana, the jealous wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, and her romantic sister Luciana also fell victim to this madcap mix-up. In fact, each Antipholus and each Dromio were themselves misled by their twin's identity. The situation would later escalate to crazy accusations of mental illness and demonic possession.

As with most Shakespeare plays, the first few minutes can be confusing as the complicated situation was getting set up. The kilometric Shakespearean lines seemed more complex when delivered in poetic Filipino (which the cast impressively delivered with no obvious line fumbles). However, once you get your bearings straight about who is who, as well as get used to the style of the language used by Luarca in his animated and sparkling translation, then you will definitely enjoy the rest of the riotous ride. The hilarious over-the-top situations of the second half (especially that nutty vegetable throwing scene and that psychotic witch doctor scene) really had me laughing out loud along with everyone else. 

Paul Jake Paule and Jerome Rosalin played the two Antipholus, Paule from Syracuse and Rosalin from Ephesus. These two actors were quite different from each other in physical appearance and attitude so it was not too convincing that people were mistaking them for each other, even if they were wearing exactly the same clothes. Paule was very much in tune with the farcical nature of the play with his expressive and comical face. Rosalin was the more serious and physically agile of the two, and he was really funny whenever his character got annoyed or angry. 

The comic highlights of the show though were care of the Dromio characters. Gabo Tolentino and Khen del Prado, played the two Dromios, Tolentino from Ephesus and Del Prado from Syracuse. In their slave garb, they could pass for a pair whom people could mistake them for each other. These two guys had exhausting, very physical slapstick comedy scenes that had the audience in stitches. Tolentino is the more histrionic of the two, recalling the flamboyant style of a young Roderick Paulate in his showy style. Del Prado is the more subdued actor of the two, but just as funny in his antics.

Gel Basa played the nagging wife Adriana with a certain Odette Khan vibe with her fierce communicative eyes and big frizzy hair. Jean Judith Javier played her sister Luciana. This is the first time I have seen a non-singing part for soprano Javier and she was quite the delightful comedienne. Mitoy Sta. Ana played the Duke of Ephesus, probably the only sober character of the show, the mediator amidst the mayhem. Greg de Leon played the Syracusan trader Egeon and Amihan Ruiz played the Abbess, both of whom will have their own big revelation moments at the end. The ensemble actors playing various people in the neighborhood, like the goldsmith, the merchants, the courtesans, the ugly kitchen wench and the witch doctor all had their turn to shine. 

Director Alexander Cortez created a very lively and energetic, occasionally naughty, occasionally absurd, overall very entertaining show. Gino Gonzales' costume design with those geometric designs and bright colors really livened up the stage, along with Ohm David's complementary set design that seemed to be a colorful cartoon town come to life, so vibrant. Citations go to Meliton Roxas Jr. for his complex technical direction and lighting design and PJ Rebullida for his wacky choreography.

"Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan" opened last August 24, 2016 and will run up to September 11 with the following schedule: August 24, 25, 26, 31 (7 p.m.), August 27, 28 (10 a.m. & 3 p.m.), September 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 (7 p.m.) and September 3, 4, 10, 11 (10 a.m. & 3 p.m.). Venue is at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2nd floor Palma Hall, U.P. Diliman, Quezon City. For more information, contact Dulaang UP office | 926.13.49 | 433.7840 | 981.8500 loc 2449 or Arkel Mendoza (0908 814 9975), Joshua Chan (0917 677 5141), Zia Parcon (0915 338 5227) or email

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review of Red Turnips' TRIBES: Deconstructing Deafness

August 20, 2016

The theater scene in Manila is really alive and relevant. Recent plays I've seen have tackled the most difficult, most uncomfortable subject matter. "The Normal Heart" was about AIDS. "Suicide Incorporated" was about Suicide. "Katips" was against historical revisionism with regards to Martial Law. Now here comes "Tribes" which tackles another sensitive topic not commonly depicted in theater -- Deafness. After staging complex plays like "Rabbit Hole" and "33 Variations," we can really count on Red Turnips to come up with the most intellectually-challenging productions.

"Tribes" is an award-winning play written by British playwright Nina Raine in 2010. This current local production is helmed by Topper Fabregas. The theater area of the Power Mac Spotlight Center was transformed into the first floor of a middle class Jewish-British household with its living room and dining room by set designer Ed Lacson, Jr. The layout of the stage and the audience areas was very different from how it looked in the last Red Turnip production, "Constellations". It would be exciting to see how flexible this area can be rearranged to fit the requirements of future productions staged here. 

Billy was born deaf. He lives with his ever-quarreling family, who had raised him to read lips and talk, never to sign. His father Christopher is an acerbic academic and critic. His mother Beth is caught up in writing her very first detective novel. His two elder siblings are aimless young adults still living with their parents. Brother Daniel is a bum bothered by voices he hears in his head. Sister Ruth is a frustrated opera singer desperate for a boyfriend.

One day Billy meets and falls in love a pretty and articulate girl named Sylvia, a hearing girl born of deaf parents. Sylvia teaches Billy how to sign and gets him to learn more and get immersed into the world of the deaf that his family had painstakingly sheltered him from his whole life. Billy comes into belated realizations about his life, his handicap and his dysfunctional family. All this while though, Sylvia was having her own adjustments to go through as her own hearing fades.

The first scene of the show was not easy to watch because it was very noisy. The characters were oftentimes shouting, cursing, boisterous, vociferous, talking over each other at the same time. The effect to emphasize the isolation of the deaf member of the family definitely worked. In our efforts to get our voice heard, we can inadvertently leave a deaf person out of the loop, and this message was clearly delivered. The family of Billy were initially portrayed like the antagonists of the play. They were the family from hell, it seems, with their egotistical pursuits and philosophies. They seemed unmindful of their effect on Billy and his handicap, despite caring for him deeply.

Despite spewing invectives with every sentence, Teroy Guzman's masterful delivery of his lines as the dad Christopher was so captivating in his very naturally-accented British English. The ever-delightful Dolly de Leon plays the ditzy and sympathetic mother Beth. Sassy Thea Yrastorza played Ruth with her brand of humorous exasperation. Cris Pasturan had the misfortune of being given the unenviable role of Daniel, who for me most unsympathetic character in this play. It would a big challenge for any actor to make the audience understand him, if at all. It felt rough going in the first half for Pasturan, but we finally get him in the second half.

Kalil Almonte had to deliver Billy's lines with that certain airy resonance like how we usually hear deaf people speak, and I bet that was difficult to do for the entire hour and twenty minutes of play time. For the whole first act, he was relatively reserved and reticent, simply reacting to the people around him. He finally made his mark in the second act when he discovered how to get people to listen to him and declares a bold decision to his family -- the big dramatic moment of the whole play. 

For me, the standout actor in the ensemble was Angela A. Padilla giving life to the extraordinary character of Sylvia. Every scene she was in was a highlight. She will make us fall in love with Sylvia like how Billy did on their first meeting. She will mesmerize us with her calm dignity like how Billy's family were at their first dinner together. She will break our hearts in that scene in the second act when she described how she was losing her hearing. Ms. Padilla looked great and had strong stage presence. Her line delivery was so natural and fluid. Her acting was so real and heartfelt. Her piano scene was divine.

In my line of work, I encounter a lot of patients with hearing disability. When their hearing loss is severe to profound, they are not easy to communicate with, especially if they do not have a hearing aid. Early in my career, I tried to learn Sign Language in order to be able to communicate with them. However after finishing the lessons, I slowly lost the skills due to lack of usage and practice. I deeply regret that I never picked that language up again, especially as I was watching this particular play. 

The play tackled a lot of issues about the deaf we hearing people take for granted. It brought up a lot of misconceptions we have about the social interactions of deaf people. This was all very fascinating to learn about. The show I watched yesterday afternoon was specially dedicated for deaf audiences. The whole play was subtitled via a projection of the script on the wall. I am very curious what these deaf members of the audience thought of the issues taken up during the show. Too bad there had not been a Q&A session for us to learn from them, especially about the accuracy of the information presented in the Philippine setting.


TRIBES started its run last August 5, 2016 and will run weekends up to September 4, 2016. Remaining shows: Aug 26 Friday 9pm, 27 Saturday 4pm and 8pm, 28 Sunday 4pm, September 2 Friday 9pm, 3 Saturday 4pm and 8pm and 4 Sunday 4pm and 8pm. Venue will be at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Lane, Circuit Makati. Tickets priced from P1,254 to P1,881 via Ticketworld.