July 1, 2017
1. MARAWI MUSICALE
Written by: Tyron Casumpang
Directed by: Ariel Yonzon
The play was set in a feeding center where a group of Christian and Muslim volunteers prepare food for the evacuees, especially the children. It had been four months since Maute-ISIS had laid siege on Marawi City, and the bombs are still falling around them. They sing to release their pent-up fear and pain.
Writer Tyron Casumpang had actually gone to Marawi with fellow Ateneo teachers and got inspired to write this play about the food volunteers he met there. While the intentions are sincere, one cannot help but feel that the story felt incomplete, that this play was just scratching the surface with familiar conflicts. It could still be expanded into a full-length play to better cover all relevant issues. The side issue between the music therapy volunteers from Manila (played by Lhorlie Ann Nuevo and Nazer Salcedo) felt forced and unclear.
Jonathan Tadioan was right at home playing Kuya Jhong, the gentle and optimistic team leader who was also worried about his sick son back home. The most memorable song in the musical was a plaintive prayer to Allah sung by Muslim characters Salanka (Junelie Barrios Villegas -- more popularly known as Bayang Barrios) and Khalid (Poppert Bernadas) as they plead for the safety of Abdul, Salanka's husband and Khalid's brother. That one song lifted the whole play up to an ethereal level with their beautifully emotional singing. The three kids Marlowe Concepcion (Yusof), James Ramil Garlando (Asis) and Tyrone de la Cruz (Moner) all sing very well.
2. AMOY PULBOS ANG MGA ALABOK SA ILALIM NG RILES NG TREN
Written by: Lino Balmes
Direted by: Tess Jamias
Chona and Ramil were informal settlers who lived under a railroad bridge with their young son Igit. Day in and day out, the couple argued loudly about their wretched living conditions where every train that passes would shower a coat of dust over everything they owned. A recurrent point of contention were the decisions Ramil made a few months ago when he had the chance to win a million pesos as a contestant on TV's "Pera o Bayong."
Writer Lino Balmes caught an episode of real "Pera o Bayong" on TV and got curious to explore about the aftermath of those situations when the contestant did not win. The way director Tess Jamias staged those flashback scenes with every train that passed was so effective, with the shower of dust from above, the loud engine noise and the mesmerizing strobe lights. Kudos go to production designer John Carlo Pagunaling and Lights desinger Barbie Tan-Tiongco for coming up with these realistic technical details.
I had seen Bong Cabrera before as a loud-mouth brother in "Ang Naghihingalo" (VLF X). He plays another loud-mouth character here, and again he was so effective. He may have had a fumble with the lines (or the timing) at the end which affected the dramatic twist at the end a bit. Marjorie Lorico had once won Female Lead Performance in a Play for “Nobyembre, Noong Akala Ko Mahal Kita” back in 2012, and you can see why with her loud, passionate and committed performance here. The stage time of John Paulo Rodriguez (as Igit) was very short, but it was a painful scene which will haunt you for a long time.
3. RIVER LETHE
Written by: Allan Lopez
Direted by: Chris Martinez
Abe and Mara met while undergoing chemotherapy of their respective cancers. Despite their health conditons, the two got along well and had an affair. Abe was still married to a very busy wife, but he did not want to bother her with his needs, medical and otherwise. Mara was a spinster who was just liberated from her responsibilities and was now free to explore life on her own.
Writer Allan Lopez had a solid idea -- ruminations about the temporariness of human pleasures vis a vis the permanence of death, while checked into a sleazy motel for some short-time sex. The title alone, alluding to the river in Greek myth where people bathe to forget, tesitified to the depth of the writer's intention. Director Chris Martinez decided to insert interludes of "cleaners" dancing salaciously around the room before and between the more serious scenes between Abe and Mara. While definitely attention-grabbing, liking them or not is a matter of personal taste. I do not really see why these cleaners were there (aside for shock factor) or what they symbolize (if any).
Veteran VLF actors Paolo O'Hara and Dolly de Leon play Abe and Mara so naturally and so fearlessly, such that it gave the feeling that everybody in the audience were voyeurs invading their intimate time. I'd seen O'Hara go sleazy before when he did "Macho Dancer the Musical" back in VLF XI. I had been a fan of Dolly de Leon since "Ang Naghihingalo" (VLF X). As Mara, she gave a stirring performance of such deep sensitivity that went well beyond the dirty talk and sexual acrobatics her role required.