Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review of Upstart's MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT: A Cheery and Chuckly Camelot

July 29, 2017

Monty Python were a British comedy group composed of British comedians Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. They shot to fame because of their sketch comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus, which was broadcast by the BBC from 1969-74. After the TV show folded, they had films as well. Their first "proper" film with all-original material was a spoof of Arthurian legends called "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975).

"Spamalot" is musical stage version of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" with book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by John Du Prez, which made its Broadway debut in 2005. There were a couple of songs from the source film itself, "Knights of the Round Table" and "Brave Sir Robin", both by Neil Innes. The show's most familiar-sounding song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was also by Idle, but it was for the film "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979).

The original 2005 Broadway production was a commercial and critical success. It won three of its 14 Tony nominations, including Best Musical, Best Direction for a Musical (for Mike Nichols) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (for Sara Ramirez, who played The Lady in the Lake). The show ran for more than 1,500 performances, closing in 2009. A West End production ran from 2006-2009, and had multiple Olivier nominations as well (no wins).

King Arthur (Lorenz Martinez) and his horse Patsy (Domileo Espejo)
(Publicity photo by Jaypee Maristaza)

Arthur, King of the Britons, armed and guided by the Lady of the Lake, is riding around the British countryside gathering a group of brave men to be his Knights of the Round Table. God spoke to Arthur to tell him and his men to go on a quest for the Holy Grail. Along the way, the King and his knights encounter a great many adventures, like the one with taunting French soldiers, the persistent Black Knight, the demanding Knights Who Say Ni, the effeminate Prince Herbert, the suspended Tim the Enchanter and the deadly Killer Rabbit. 

When you first see how King Arthur "rides" his horse Patsy, you'd think that this was just a silly technique to save the production from having to have a real horse on stage. Actually, though this was really the way Monty Python portrayed the horse in the film, a man galloping behind the king clip-clopping a pair of coconut shells for the hoof beats. In a later number, the Knights slyly inserted a "maglalatik" segment with their coconut shells, just one of many ad libs in this show.

In fact, that whole conversion with the guards about the coconuts and the migrating swallows was actually straight out of the film. Incredibly, a lot of the outrageous scenes and dialog of the play were likewise directly lifted from the film: like the man collecting corpses, Arthur's first meeting with Dennis Galahad and his mother, Arthur being told by God about the quest, the bloody fight with the Black Knight, the French soldiers throwing a cow off the ramparts, the stupid Trojan Rabbit incident, the loopy exchange between Herbert's father and his guard, the search for the shrubbery, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, among others.  

Knights and Horse take a bow (Rayos, Schulze, Rosen, Reyes and Espejo)

Lorenz Martinez is ever so comically hammy as King Arthur, like he did playing Mandy Patinkin in "Forbidden Broadway" (MY REVIEW) and Christian Gray in "50 Shades the Musical" (MY REVIEW). Martinez was no slouch in the singing department as we know very well. Domileo Espejo plays the loyal horse Patsy, and in that role, he got to sing the bright and cheerful show tune "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." 

Noel Rayos (as Sir Lancelot, the French Taunter, Tim the Enchanter, the Head Knight of Ni on stilts) is really very much at home in these loud and florid roles, as we had seen him from in past shows. Reb Atadero gave it his all in all those little roles he did, like never-say-die Not Dead Fred, the boot-licking minstrel of Sir Robin (singing the funny "Brave Sir Robin"), and the damsel-in-distress Prince Herbert.

With their long locks, facial hair and Caucasian looks, actors George Schulze (as the cowardly Sir Robin), Bibo Reyes (as the flatulent Sir Bevedere) and Dean Rosen (as the dashing Sir Galahad) looked like real British knights. In my opinion though, they still came across a wee bit awkward with the comedy routines they had to do. Nevertheless, they were clearly having fun up there.

Carla Guevara-Laforteza in one of her Libiran gowns
(Publicity photo by Jaypee Maristaza)

A totally new character not in the film gets to sing the most showstopping numbers, the Lady of the Lake. A couple of her songs actually talks directly to the audience, "The Song That Goes Like This" in Act 1 spoofing overwrought musical theater love songs, and the totally hilarious "The Diva's Lament" in Act 2, where she whines about her short role in the play. 

The fabulous Carla Guevara-Laforteza was radiant every time she stepped out on that stage solidly belting out those killer notes. As the Lady of the Lake, she also gets to wear glamorous gowns designed by Francis Libiran, channeling divas from Cher and Norma Desmond. Laforteza clearly enjoyed every high-fashion moment as she sashayed with aplomb in all her flowy and glittery get-ups. 

Chino VeguillasRoxy AldiosaRachel Coates and Edrei Tan complete the wacky ensemble.

The jokes fly fast and furious here. Some may fly above your heads. Some don't fly at all. Some are drowned by the heavy British accents. Some are corny and groan-inducing. But a lot are still really very funny, especially all the references to musical theater and all those crazy puns (symbol, arms), hilarious pop references (like Justin Bieber, Village People) and Pinoy-centric ad libs (RCBC Theater, Lea Salonga). The unrefined set (by Ed Lacson, Jr) and silly props fit right into the absurdness of the whole show. 

This is simply one very rollicking happy show. A smile on your face is guaranteed, with several chuckles and guffaws along the way for the especially ticklish, like me. Kudos to director Joel Trinidad, co-director Nicky Trivino, musical director Onyl Torres, the live band, and the rest of the cast and crew!

The Whole Cast Takes a Bow


"MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT" has a very short run of 9 shows: Fri. Jul 28 (9pm), Sat. Jul 29 (3pm), Sun. Jul 30 (3pm), Fri. Aug 4 (9pm), Sat. Aug 5 (3pm & 8pm), Sun. Aug 6 (3pm), Fri. Aug 11 (9pm) and Sat. Aug 12 (8pm). 

Venue is at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium (4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City). Ticket prices are: ₱2,090 (Orchestra Center), ₱1,881 (Orchestra Sides), ₱1,567.50 (Loge) and ₱1,045 (Balcony) from Ticketworld.

I need to comment about the price of parking at the RCBC which increased effective this month. I arrived and parked at a little before 2:30 pm and left around 5:30 pm, and paid P110, which I found exorbitant for the time I spent there. I wish there would be special consideration for people watching a play there. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review of Globe Live and 9 Works' NEWSIES: Explosive, Energetic, Entertaining

July 16, 2017

The journey of "Newsies" began as a musical film in 1992, inspired by the true story of the Newsboy Strike of 1899. It featured music and songs by Alan Menken and Jason Feldman, directed by Kenny Ortega. It starred an 18-year old Christian Bale in the lead role of Jack Kelly. The film was panned by critics and bombed at the box-office, winding up as one of the lowest-grossing Disney films of all time. Ortega, along with supporting actors Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret were nominated for Razzies.

Disney was still confident about its material though. It got Broadway master Harvey Fierstein to write the book for a theater musical play based on the movie. The show still contained most of the Menken-Feldman songs from the film, with the notable exception of "High Times, Hard Times" which actually won the Razzie for Worst Song. 

When it debuted on Broadway in 2012, "Newsies" had a complete reversal of fortunes. The musical show was a critical success and box-office smash. It went on to be nominated for 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book (for Fierstein) and Best Lead Actor in a Musical (for Jeremy Jordan), winning two for Best Choreography (Christopher Gatelli) and Best Musical Score (Alan Menken). 


Jack Kelly is the leader of a group of poor orphan newsboys in New York City. One day, the owner of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, suddenly decided to raise the cost of the newspaper for the newsboys, in order to get more profit for himself. Jack, as helped by his smart new friend Davey and female reporter Katherine Plumber from rival newspaper The Sun, rallied his other newsie friends to rise up and strike against the newspaper mogul. 

Like "American Idiot" and "A Christmas Carol" in the last two years, Globe Live in full partnership with 9 Works Theatrical stages "Newsies" at the Globe Iconic Store Amphitheater at the Bonifacio High Street in Taguig. Unlike the last two shows, the outdoor venue was enclosed with walls perhaps in preparation for rainy July weather. When we watched last night, we can hear that it was raining cats and dogs in BGC, but we were kept completely dry inside the venue.

As designed by Ed Lacson, the stage looked more compact than the one used for the two previous shows. It had five huge metallic-looking, movable, multi-tiered sub-stages on which the story will unfold. The center area converts to the Pulitzer's office, Ms. Medda's burlesque theater, or Jacobi's deli, with the use of appropriate furniture. The lights were designed by Martin Esteva. The turn of the century costumes were designed by Eric Pineda. The live orchestra was led by musical director Daniel Bartolome.

(photo from the 9 Works FB page)

The dancers get you energized from the get-go up to the grand finale. Choreographer PJ Rebullida had to create original dance moves because the rights to the Tony-award winning choreography was not included. The performers cast as the Newsies are mostly seriously trained dancers of different disciplines of dance -- ballet, jazz, folk, hiphop, cheerdance. All those powerfully muscular jumps, jetes, splits, tumbles, cartwheels, front and back flips, spins and pirouettes by the Newsies had the girls in the audience shrieking with delight. 

My personal favorite number of the whole show was the amazing and exhilarating "King of New York" tap dancing exhibition that opened Act 2. There is something about tap dancing that is so clean, so elegant and so happy, I simply enjoy watching a good tap routine. This scene happened just after the defeated Newsies were cheered up by having their photo and story on the front page above the fold, hence the exuberant uplifting joy. The additional choreography for tap in this number is by Yek Barlongay.

The main dancing Newsies are: Alex Diaz, Jon Abella, MC dela Cruz, Kendrick Ibasco, Anton Posadas, Ian Ocampo, Erick Arenas, Jim Ferrer, Stephen Vinas, Ronelson Yadao (from Ballet Philippines), Mark Anthony Granatos (from Ballet Manila), Vyen Villanueva (from Company of Ateneo Dancers), Clark de la Riva (from UST Salinggawi), Jourdan Bartolome (from UP Filipiniana Dance Group) and Jan Mayo (from UP Pep Squad). Since they also acted and sang, these boys are now all certified triple threats.

(cast photo from the 9 Works FB page)

Gian Magdangal took a long leave from the local theater scene by working abroad in HK Disneyland. He may be already too old to be 17-year old Jack Kelly, but his wide-eyed idealism in his face and boundless energy in his feet convinces us of his youthful spirit. He was required to sing soaring ballads which he definitely nailed in both notes and emotion. His best numbers were the painful "Santa Fe (Reprise)" that closed Act 1, and the romantic "Something to Believe In," a duet with Katherine.

Jack Kelly's love interest in this play Katherine is played by Danielle Chopin. Although her name is not familiar to us, this winning Fil-Am soprano grabbed the audience attention from her first time we see her pretty face. Katherine is ambitious, independent and resourceful. She is definitely not the typical damsel-in-distress trope. In fact, she even helped get Jack out of messes he got himself into. Chopin captured Katherine's pluck in her performance. She was very charming in her solo number "Watch What Happens."

Busy and popular stage actor Jef Flores plays Davey. With the clean-scurbbed look of his character, he stood apart from the other unkempt, dirtied-up Newsies. He sings mostly in group songs without a specific featured number on his own, but his voice was best heard when he took the lead in singing "Seize the Day." Davey's precocious 10-year old brother Les was played last night by very confident Daniel Drilon. This child actor has an impressive stage credits for his age and should be someone to watch in the future. (Tory Cortez alternates in that role.)

A major supporting role was given to theater newcomer Luis Marcelo as Jack's crippled friend Crutchie. He has an emotional featured song solo as he wrote an impassioned "Letter from the Refuge." The main antagonist role of Joseph Pulitzer is played by American actor Greg Dulcie who really embodied that rich, cunning yet heartless, abusive character with his imposing physical heft and stage presence.

Most of the actors shift different roles within the show, some playing up to four different characters with just a quick costume change. Ariel Reonal gets to play paper dispatcher Wiesel, deli owner Jacobi, the Mayor of New York, Medda's stage manager, and a Newsie. Chesko Rodriguez gets to play a Pulitzer staff guy, a photographer, a policeman and a Newsie. Melissa Bell gets to play Pulitzer's secretary Hannah, one of Medda's Bowery Beauties, a nun, a goon and a Newsie. 

Raymund Concepcion gets to play the barber Nunzio, a policeman and Gov. Teddy Roosevelt. Joni Galeste plays a Bowery Beauty, a nun and a Newsie. Pinky Marquez not only plays Ms. Medda Larkin (with her own solo song "That's Rich"), she also plays her diametrical opposite, a nun. Even Shrek actor big guy Franz Imperial, who plays the shady bad guy Snyder, gets to dance as a Newsie! Talk about versatility indeed.

(cast photo from 9 Works FB page)

Globe Live is Globe Telecom’s thrust to elevate production quality of live events to international standards. It was only with the trust of the Disney Company in Globe Live that made it possible for the rights of "Newsies" could be acquired. With his background in professional equity theater in the US, Globe Live head Joseph Caliro personally advised 9 Works on the technical aspects of their co-produced shows. When Caliro engaged the audience in a short pep talk before the show last Saturday, he shared that Disney executives were in the house the night before (Gala Night was Friday July 14) and they loved this local production of their show. 

Truly I never thought I would enjoy a play about such a dry stuffy topic as a newsboy strike at the turn of the previous century. But all the goodwill, energy and talent seen onstage last night changed that initial impression. Director Robbie Guevara said in his notes that Dance is less prioritized form of stage artistry, compared to acting and singing. With this new show "Newsies," 9 Works aimed to change all that, and set out to set a high bar for dance. It is a given that Filipinos are excellent actors and singers, this show wants to showcase Filipino dancing prowess as well. -- AND IT DEFINITELY DID! Kudos to all the cast and crew!


"Newsies" opened last July 7, 2017 and will run all Fridays to Sundays of July, up to July 30, all 8 pm shows only, no matinees. Venue is at the Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Tickets at one price only, P2090, via Ticketworld. 

Based on our experience last night, this is one show where it might be better to sit a little further back so you can take in the whole stage all at once. We were seated at the second row yesterday. While we can clearly see the faces of all the actors, it can be difficult to see everything happening simultaneously all over the stage. Neck can also get tired looking up a lot, especially those scenes set on the top tiers. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Review of Atlantis' KINKY BOOTS: Fabulous Footwear and Fun!

July 9, 2017

Drag queens and musical theater seem to be a natural fit. The colorful costumes, the elaborate song and dance numbers, the human drama behind the make up all make these shows fun and evocative. They just need a gimmick to make it stand out. "La Cage aux Folles" had a wedding. "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" had a bus. "The Producers" had Hitler! The title of this new show clearly tells us what its unlikely gimmick is -- SHOES!. 

The plot of "Kinky Boots" the musical was based on a 2005 British film with the same title, that starred actors Joel Edgerton (as Charlie) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Lola). Producer Daryl Roth acquired the rights to turn the film into a musical. He got Harvey Fienstein (who also wrote other shows about drag queens like "La Cage" and "Torch Song Trilogy") to write the book, and 1980s pop star Cyndi Lauper to write the music and songs. 

The show was a hit on Broadway in 2013. It earned 13 Tony nominations, and won 6 including Best Musical, Best Score for Cyndi Lauper (the first win ever for a solo woman), and Best Actor for Billy Porter (as Lola). Jerry Mitchell lost his bid for Best Director, but won for Best Choreography. The West End production in 2016 won 4 Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Matt Henry as Lola) and Best Costume Design.

Price & Son has been making shoes in Northampton for four generations. Charlie Price was not interested, but he inherited the business anyway. But unfortunately by then the whole shoe industry was on a down trend. After meeting Lola, a flamboyant drag queen nightclub entertainer in London who needed stronger stiletto heels for her outrageous boots, Charlie came up with a bright idea of a unique niche market their company can focus on in order to save the family business.

(Photo courtesy of Atlantis Theatrical FB page)

Nyoy Volante never fails in all the lead roles given to him by Atlantis in the past. He was amazing in "In the Heights" and absolutely fantastic in "Jersey Boys." Volante hits it out of the park again as the fabulous Lola. For every show-stopping production number like "Land of Lola" and "Sex is in the Heel," he also shows his mellow side in ballads like "Not My Father's Son" and "Hold Me in Your Heart." I felt Volante was a bit hoarse last night but he still gave it all his soul in this challenging role. 

Fil-Kiwi singer-actor Laurence Mossman, who made his local stage debut playing multiple small roles in "Fun Home" also from Atlantis last year, makes the big jump this year to play the co-lead character Charlie Price. Lauper made Charlie some pretty tough belting songs to sing (like "Soul of a Man"), with high notes to sustain at the end.  Notes may not have been perfectly hit all the time, but Mossman definitely had the wide vocal range for the role. Mossman had the winning aww-shucks charm to make his Charlie work.

I first recognized Yanah Laurel as a solid singer as Sue Snell in "Carrie" back in 2013. Her vocal power was fully affirmed in her performance last year as Whatsername in "American Idiot." As Lauren here in "Kinky Boots," she had a most delightful role as the factory employee who was thrilled to be working closely with her handsome new boss Charlie. She was so disarming and cute in her one featured song "The History of Wrong Guys."

Tricia Canilao plays Charlie's self-centered fiancee Nicola. Too bad we only get to hear a hint of her strong "Ms. Saigon" singing pipes in the very end.  Nel Gomez plays Charlie's friend Harry, gets to sing a solo "Take What You Got." Jaime Wilson plays chauvinistic bearish factory worker Don, sang mainly in the chorus but he stunned us with a solid rock wail at the end. 

Steven Conde was funny as George, a senior employee who supports Charlie. Rhenwyn Gabalonzo briefly played Charlie's father at the beginning. The others in the  factory workers ensemble are played by Christine Flores, Sarah Facuri, Jill Pena, Japs Treopaldo, Juancho Escoto and Ron Gohel.

Playing as Lola's troupe, the Angels are Ritz Beltan, Jorge Jahnke, Michael Jahnke, Jazztin Cacayan, Mark Pineda, and Gerhard Krysstopher. These "ladies" blew the audience away with daring fashion sense, and even more daring acrobatic dance moves all done on stiletto heels! They steal the scene whenever they are onstage. Splits, cartwheels, and moving conveyor belts do not faze them at all.

The choreography by Cecile Martinez is funky and athletic. The set design of the Price and Son factory by Faust Peneyra is huge and impressive. Lola and the Angels were outrageously dressed in wild finery designed by Raven Ong, while their wigs and makeup design are by Johann dela Fuente. Musical director Molinder Cadiz led the live band. Putting it all together is Bobby Garcia, whose name is already a brand of excellence in terms of quality of show production, and he certainly lives up to that reputation with "Kinky Boots." Everybody will definitely say Yeah! 


"Kinky Boots" runs at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City from June 30 - July 23, 2017, with shows on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays, at 2 pm & 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Ticket prices at Ticketworld range from ₱4,180 for Orchestra Center, ₱3,135 for Orchestra Sides and Loge, and ₱2,090 in the Balcony. Last night's show was totally sold out, so don't delay if you want to catch this show.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIII - SET D: Alarm and Aggravation

July 6, 2017

The three one-act plays in Set D of this year's Virgin Labfest XIII all involve characters that cause undue alarm, therefore aggravating the current situation they are in. As a result the plays of this set were not exactly comfortable to watch.

Written by: Adrian Ho
Directed by: Jenny Jamora

The Sincerity Bikers Club is a small group of neighbors who went on biking trips together. There were only five members: a separated teacher Cynthia and her son Tom, her spinster co-teacher Marife, a bachelor narcissist Rocky, and an old man Dudz. 

One day, a new neighbor Louella, a bank teller who described herself as newly single, joins them on a ride. Marife, wary about the security of their group, did a background check on their new member, and discovered some disturbing information about Louella's husband. When Marife confronts Louella about these sordid details of her past life, the neat dynamics of their group was thrown into disarray.

Frances Makil-Ignacio played the wet blanket Marife, so aggressively frank with all her alarming projections. On the other hand, Japo Parcero played Louella in all simplicity and humility. Soliman Cruz played Dudz as the group's (and the play's) voice of wisdom and reason. Chrome Cosio (as Rocky) was there mainly for comic relief. Ring Antonio, as the president Cynthia, could have been more decisive or assertive. Jerome Dawis, who played Tom here, was also the same young actor who played co-lead in Set B's "Boses ng Masa."

The whole hullabaloo of this play was all just based on some unfounded selfish speculations of one unreasonably suspicious woman. Despite its rustic outdoor setting, the atmosphere was stifling and discomfiting. It was the effective ensemble performance of the actors as directed by Jenny Jamora that made all this uncomfortable paranoia worth watching. 

Written by: Eliza Victoria
Directed by: George de Jesus III

Isabel went to an old house to see the witch who lived there. This was the same witch visited by Isa's philandering father before, which resulted her mother to get seriously ill and suffer until she died. Because of the extreme jealousy, Isabel asked the witch to do some black magic so Miguel would love her, not her best friend Kat. But for that happiness, Isabel had to pay a big price.

Angeli Bayani, what an entrance and first line! As the Witch, she projected a spooky vibe that can give you goosebumps. Delphine Buencamino had all the angst of betrayed daughter, frustrated caregiver and unrequited lover going on in her Isabel. Mara Paulina Marasigan needed to be bold to play Kat, in costume and in action. Kevin Posadas was the smiling, clueless pretty boy the whole time as Miguel. 

Horror is not an easy genre to pull off on a stage and director George de Jesus surely had his hands full with this richly convoluted one-act play by Eliza Victoria. There were so many things going on in the plot, I am not really sure if I got the whole story correctly or not. I do not know which scenes were figments of Isa's fantasy or which were actually happening to her. Impressive how they were able to effectively execute these creepy surreal scenes in that limited space of that small stage.

Written by: Dingdong Novenario
Directed by: Carlos Siguion-Reyna

Tatay and Nanay are both very excited about the return home of their daughter Gracia from her studies in the US. They are doubly excited about the American guest whom she will be  bringing over to visit. When Gracia came and introduced her boyfriend Richard to her parents, they were very shocked to see that the guy was an African-American. 

After seeing him speak perfect English is Rep plays, Audie Gemora would be the last actor you'd expect to play the heavily-accented, brutal bully Tatay. I had never seen veteran actress Madeleine Nicolas on stage before, and she was a delightful riot on her own as her wine-inebriated Nanay delivered the play's funniest one-liners. 

Lhorvie Ann Nuevo had the most difficult role having to strike a balance between her father and her boyfriend. I don't think I had ever heard her speak straight English in a play before. New Care Diva Thou Reyes played it serious this time as the harassed guest Richard. He may look calm and cool, but you can feel him seethe under his collar.

This is a very familiar story tackled in film like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967) and just this year, "Get Out (2016)  -- what happens when a daughter brings home a black boyfriend, without any telling her parents beforehand. Bringing this story into the Filipino setting opens the floodgates to all sorts of racial references, jokes and insults as crisp as only Filipinos could deliver them. Writer Novenario is relentless with these zingers! It may be funny for us, yes, but it can also make you cringe and squirm.


The remaining performances of SET D are on July 11 and 15 at 3 pm, and on July 9 and 14 at 8 pm. Tickets to the Virgin Labfest are at P400 each.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIII - SET A: Career Catch-22s

July 6, 2017

The three one-act plays in Set A of this year's Virgin Labfest XIII all involve characters questioning sticky dilemmas about their current careers in which the final decisions seem to be very difficult, if not totally impossible, to arrive at.

Written by: Rick Patriarca
Directed by: Ian Segarra

Art and Ed had been working as copywriters in the same firm for several years already. One day, Peter, a much younger colleagues, announced that he had decided to quit his job and take up his Masters in Sociology, with no clear career path in mind. After 30 years in his job, Art is very much contented that he is in this easy yet high-paying job. However, Ed is having nightmares about not knowing what he had actually been doing in his whole life.

It was impressive how young writer Rick Patriarca expanded this seemingly mundane topic into an evocative and provocative drama. I guess his background as a content writer in a BPO company came in handy here. The pithy discussions between Art and Ed can get you thinking about your own satisfaction about your current life and career. Is your career something you derive genuine happiness from? Or is it just a repetitive monotony you are trapped to keep doing just for the money?

Gie Onida played the practical elder colleague Art, the older man who loves his job as it provides very well for his family. He was pretty convincing in delivering his arguments, and was a delight to watch when he gets all hot and passionate about the topic on hand. As Ed, the father whose son just turned one year old, Aldo Vencilao effectively enunciated onstage the frustrations of many young people caught in dead-end jobs. 

Written by: Eljay Castro Deldoc
Directed by: Roobak Valle and Tuxqs Rutaquio

Ambet and Nato run, a website that serves up historical fiction. However, just when their site and its articles are gaining in popularity, Ambet gets hit by a sense of guilt that they are spreading false information that majority are actually accepting as the truth. Nato reminds him that they are up to their necks in contracts with various showbiz, religious and political groups, and they cannot quit just that easily.

Eljay Castro Deldoc can really whip up the most outrageous situational comedy. We saw this talent in his previous VLF hit "Ang Goldfish ni Prof. Dimaandal," and we definitely see it in this one now. The potshots at showbiz personalities or religious charlatans, however sharp and irreverent, brought the house down in laughter. After all the fun though, an important timely message against historical revisionism was still delivered at the end. The first half of the title gives a clue about the serious topic this play sought to address.

Paul Jake Paule brought over some of his Macbeth brooding as the guilt-stricken Ambet. I guess this character's name is a reference to noted historian Ambeth Ocampo, who wrote popular history books like "Rizal Without the Overcoat" which was referred to in the second half of the title. Fitz Bitana was a natural comic whiz as the more carefree techie Nato, who did not mind about the potential dangerous effects of their creative writing, as long as they become viral on social media and bring in the big money contracts. 

The absurd comedy factor that made the show a riot was care of Chunchi Cabasaan and Anthony Falcon who played up the caricatures of various popular celebrities. These two guys were loud, colorful, scene-stealing and no-holds-barred in their comic delivery to the rollicking delight of everyone in the audience.

Written by: Oggie Arcenas
Directed by: Michael Williams

Allen is an actor who was desperate to resuscitate his flagging career. He visits an art exhibit of his old friend and co-actor Rainier, who has now shifted careers to painting. Allen proposes to Rainier if he would agree to reviving their once very popular, albeit homosexual, telenovela love team "All-Rain" for one movie. However, Rainier cannot seem decide easily because of various issues that face him now and bothered him before.

The whole play seemed to just go around in circles about the same basic problem, all in the aim of gaining enough momentum for one smashing climax. Judging from the anticipatory sighs and stifled gasps of the girls in the audience, it seems they knew exactly what was about to happen. I guess the poster was not too subtle. When that big moment actually happened, the girls all screamed with utmost thrill. 

As Allen, Andrei Vegas gamely played up his rough bad-boy appeal in stark contrast with the more refined gentlemanly appeal of Alex Yasuda as Rainier. Electric chemistry was actually there between these two actors. With the words of playwright Oggie Arcenas to work on, director Michael Williams patiently built up the "kilig" tension between the two characters and, based on the excited girls in the audience, it definitely worked. I just wished the painting they used had more significant impact than the one they chose to use.


The remaining performances of SET A are on July 7, 12 and 16 at 3 pm, and on July 11 and 15 at 8 pm. Tickets to the Virgin Labfest are at P400 each.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review of VLF XIII: Staged Reading of ULILANG TAHANAN: Melancholic Melodrama

July 5, 2017

When I planned to watch Set C at 3 pm today, I did not know that there would be a staged reading of National Artist Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero's "The Forsaken House" (1937), translated into Filipino (with several Spanish lines as is) as "Ulilang Tahanan" by Ony de Leon. It was to be held at the Tanghalang Amado Hernandez at 6 pm. It was not written on the program booklet but I saw the poster on social media. Since I was already there at the CCP, I decided I should not let it pass.

Sr. Ramon and his wife Encarna have seven children, three girls and four boys, and they lived in material comfort. However, because of the extremely tightfisted overprotective way Sr. Ramon controlled their lives (no guests in the house, no attending parties, etc), the children began to rebel against him. One son Antonio suddenly took off to the USA, while daughter Adeling eloped with her boyfriend, and so on. Can Sr. Ramon realize the error of his ways before the other children leave him?

Sr. Ramon was played by the patriarch of Tanghalang Pilipino, Tatang himself, Nanding Josef. As he proved in productions like "Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente," father roles come very naturally to him. He was terrifying as the terror strict dad. His mere presence on that stage felt stifling. His elegant wife Encarna was played by Liesl Batucan, who definitely exuded a warm maternal vibe. She too though lived in fear of her husband.

Dennis Marasigan was the director of this staged reading, and he also played close family friend Tio Carlos. He was the one the kids could vent their frustrations on and the only one who can possibly talk sense to Ramon.  Tami Monsod takes on Tagalog material for the first time playing the kind and solicitous Tia Pelagia. She still has very short hair following her having to go bald in her last role as a cancer patient in "Wit".

The children were played by JB Ibesate (as Jorge), Antonette Go (as Teresita), Aldo Vencilao (as Flavio), Eunice Pacia (as Adeling), Blanche Buhia (as Clemencia), and Joshua Tayco (as Gonzalo). Even if they were all holding the script in their hands, these young actors still attacked their roles with so much heart and emotion. There were real tears that fell during their respective scenes with their father.

As a staged reading, there were some scenes that were not too clear as set up. Clemencia had a scene with a suitcase that came out of nowhere and was never referred to again. The fate of Clemencia seemed to have been left out, and it was up to the audience to assume what happened to her. Tio Carlos seemed to just enter in and out of scenes at will towards the end to join in the conversations.

The material may have been dated in terms of pop culture references (like one character watched "Gone with the Wind" in the movie house), but the message is still pertinent up to now. Despite being written in the 1930s, this kind of family melodrama is still the stuff Filipinos seem to relish masochistically in all those telenovelas to this day. 

Since Ramon had six problematic children, this soap opera can feel long and repetitive at times. The ending scenes sort of felt rushed, maybe because they needed to wrap up before the 8 pm shows begin (?). However overall, the on-point acting of the cast was still the key aspect that carried the day for this project -- an excellent ensemble effort indeed!

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XIII - SET C: Integrity and Introspection

July 5, 2017

The three one-act plays in Set C of this year's Virgin Labfest XIII all involve characters looking inside one's self while facing questions of integrity. 

Written by: Layeta Bucoy
Directed by: Jonathan Tadioan

Dr. Dolly Dalisay has a PhD in Entomology and has been researching about the agricultural value of ladybugs since her college days. She is on the verge of a big breakthrough discovery about the use of modified ladybugs in the control of the deadly tungro virus killing rice crops. Before she can get on with her project within the limited schedule set by her sponsor, she needs the approval of a contractual technician as soon as possible.

Unfortunately for Dolly, the contractual technician whose signature she needed on her report is her own mother Leticia with whom she had never been close to. Despite her very humble beginnings, Leticia is a stickler for small details of each project before she signs any report. However, on the day Dolly desperately needs her signature, Leticia was more focused on practicing a winning routine for the dancing contest she joined scheduled that night. 

Ms. Celeste Legaspi looked so elegant as Leticia, I could not believe I'm hearing all the "jologs" things she was saying during this play. Her delivery of her Filipino lines was flawless, clear and crisp, it sounded so musical, despite the occasional dirty words. Her comic timing was on point the whole time, so delightful.

Dolly de Leon played the straight man in this two-handed dark comedy. It was remarkable how she had that sense of overconfident ambition, patronizing cynicism and wry sarcasm dripping from her every line. I loved how she enumerated her list of credentials and how she ranted against the BT Pechay project of her rival.

As a man of science myself, I was amazed at how playwright Layeta Bucoy came to write so frankly about disturbing issues of intellectual honesty and integrity in the field of science and technology, yet imbue it with a healthy sense of humor. I guess her being based in UP Los Banos gave her the necessary inspiration and resources she needed to knowledgably develop her story with sufficient scientific veracity. 

There was a pool of water right there on the stage, about which I wondered about while the play was going on. When its turn in the story came up, what a big moment! It was definitely well worth the effort spent for that essential set piece. The execution of that multi-layered final scene was a triumph by director Tadioan and his stars.

Written by: Sari Saysay
Directed by: Topper Fabregas

It is late in the afternoon and a 50-year old man (called Matanda) is waiting for the bus which is scheduled to arrive at that bus stop in 30 minutes. The man turned out to be a priest who had decided to tap out of the priestly life. Later, he was joined by a 7-year old little boy (called Bata) came along at this same bus stop and struck a conversation with him. As the boy shares about his ambitions in life, the man shares his pressing reasons why he wanted out of his sacerdotal duties. 

Of the plays I had seen in the VLF so far, this one is the one with the smallest scope and focus. My own interpretation was that this whole piece was an introspective meditation of the priest within in himself, looking back at the reasons why he became a priest in the first place and justifying his drastic decision to leave his vocation.

Jojo Cayabyab (as Matanda) and young Omar Uddin (as Bata) both delivered their lines with depth and sincerity of feeling. Always impressive to see a child actor deliver such a big important role. Sari Saysay wrote the script with such simplicity that it needed a director's creative vision to execute it vibrantly for the stage. Topper Fabregas certainly rose to that challenge in his directorial debut at the VLF.

Written by: Carlo Vergara
Directed by: Ricky Villabona

A scared young woman with a dirty face and unkempt hair wearing a disheveled kimona ran across the stage. Suddenly she addressed the audience in straight English with a snooty British accent. She longed for her recently lost love Joe, and bemoaned her sorry lot in life following a stillbirth, a revolutionary war and a firing squad. 

While wandering lost in the deep dark woods, she met a mysterious magical man who calls himself the "Alpha Babaylan" who seemed to be able to unlock wonderful powers of her own. However, it turned out in exchange for the development of her magical talents, she had to fulfill a mission which ran against the very things her husband lost his life for. 

Being written by Carlo Vergara, I was expecting a wacky comedy, like "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" and "Mula sa Kulimliman" from VLF's past. This time though, the title and the poster of this new play sounded and looked serious. When Cris Villonco first ran across the stage looking like a terrified madwoman in the first scene, I braced myself for a different Carlo Vergara product. 

Then she opened her mouth to speak her lines in that cute British accent, and I realized this was still a comedy after all! The appearance of a flamboyant Bernardo Bernardo as the Alpha Babaylan shifted the comedy gears further up a notch. That this play was almost entirely written in Queen's English was remarkable. The wry British wit was impressively written by Vergara and fluidly delivered by both actors. 

The twist in the plot in the latter half of the play when it revealed the underlying message of play came from right out of nowhere. I won't reveal it here, but let's just say that it was ironic to hear it right after Fil-Am Friendship Day. For me, it sort of threw off the momentum of the first twenty minutes of the play.


The remaining performances of SET C are on July 9 and 14 at 3 pm, and on July 8 and 13 at 8 pm. Tickets to the Virgin Labfest are at P400 each.