[Note: An earlier version of this story assigned photo credit for all three pictures used to Dalanghita Productions; the photos are by Saul de Jesus and Trixie Dauz. This page has been updated to reflect that correction. We apologize for the error.]
SET A (Vincen Gregory Yu)
Love has to be the most overused subject in the theater, and yet here’s Dalanghita Productions’ “Tatlong Linggong Pag-ibig,” an ersatz festival of six one-act plays all centered on that mother of topical clichés.
‘Mula sa Kulimliman’
Among the offerings in Set A, Carlo Vergara’s “Mula sa Kulimliman,” directed by Hazel Gutierrez, stands out both for its quality and its thematic dissonance. It was, to our mind, the best entry in this year’s Virgin Labfest, and we’re not about to take those words back.
Here, it is the only play to tackle love as the glue that holds a family together, but it remains peerless in its unraveling of that glue. The pieces seamlessly come off and reshape themselves into something altogether refreshing—and downright hilarious—as the story takes a deliberate, unexpected turn from domestic normalcy into fantastic tragicomedy.
Jonathan Tadioan, Timothy Castillo and the sublime Mayen Estañero have lost none of their inspired touch in their portrayal of a family coming under phantasmagorical fire. The laughs still burst in all the right places, and this production flows like a freewheeling circus of crazy you just don’t want to end.
‘Malapit Man, Malayo Rin’
The rest of the plays are varying takes on the boy-meets-girl trope. The finest among them is Chris Martinez’s “Malapit Man, Malayo Rin,” which was first seen two years ago during Philippine Educational Theater Association’s one-weekend showcase of new work, dubbed “Peta Lab.”
The timely premise alone is a winner: Can love still conquer all if traffic comes in the way? Boy lives in Valenzuela while girl lives in Las Piñas, and those who must deal with Metro Manila’s hellish roads on a daily basis can only imagine how exasperating that can be.
That exasperation is arrestingly translated by Melvin Lee’s direction into a kind of theatrical urgency, as the play gradually convinces you that, yes, this quirky business of the heart must come to an end. As the fated lovers, Roi Calilong and Pat Liwanag authentically capture not only the frustrations and weariness of the Filipino everyman, but also the romantic’s bullheaded conviction that things can still and will certainly get better.
Which brings us to the third play in Set A of this “festival”: Pertee Briñas’ “Isanlibong Taon,” a musical directed by Guelan Luarca and composed by Ejay Yatco. It is the only debuting work in this set, and yet we would be remiss if we were to blame this production’s shortcomings on its relative newness.
The ultimate challenge in this festival is to mount a play that sidesteps the hackneyed, one that can somehow take a fresh spin at the theme. “Isanlibong Taon,” about a pair of fishermen burdened by a love that must not be named, does the complete opposite: Its script succumbs to overt triteness without really making its mind up on the kind of story it wants to tell.
Luarca and Yatco have certainly done better work in the theater, but, saddled by such a material, even they can do nothing about it. Despite its unlikely setting, this play manages to feel both stale and half-baked, and nothing in how it is told—neither the direction nor the acting—makes it remotely believable.
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SET B (Cora Llamas)
The second set of “Tatlong Linggong Pag-ibig” sets itself apart from the first by its music.
The first play, “Corazon Negro,” is a sung-through operetta that uses exaggeration and absurdity to make its finer points. The second, “Ang Una at Comeback Album ni Pete,” transforms pop ditties into a platform of expression for its protagonists’ romantic problems. Interestingly, music serves only as a backdrop in the third, “Rom.Com,” which turns out to be the best in this trilogy.
“Corazon Negro” shows the darker side of passion, and requires an acceptance of the tropes of its operatic genre (the music is by Joed Balsamo). Otherwise, a lot of time will be spent suspending disbelief, which can mar the appreciation of the moving musical performances.
Without that concession to the underlying exaggeration that runs through the material written by Layeta Bucoy, the story becomes quite implausible: an affluent maestra in Spanish-era Philippines (a sympathetic Mayen Estañero) obsessing over gravedigger Honorato (Al Gatmaitan), to tragic results.
Emotion and passion are celebrated here, and director Tuxqs Rutaquio makes his cast—which also includes Greg de Leon and Natasha Cabrera—give their all. They make the audience stay in the moment and exult in the madness, while leaving logic at the door.
‘Ang Una at Comeback Album ni Pete’
If one of “Corazon Negro’s” virtues is its brevity, a weakness of the second play, directed by Mara Paulina Marasigan, is its overwrought length.
Ex-child star Pete (Bym Buhain) is trying to recapture his lost glory by becoming a pop idol-composer. Instrumental to his success are the two loves he is torn about: promising singer Diwata (Sari Estrada) and Darlene (Andrea Tatad), ex-co-star and now a West End biggie. The songs Pete composes for his women convey the emotional phases he cannot verbalize, until possibly the end when he has to make that final choice.
Unfortunately, by that time, it is difficult to care. As performed, there is nothing sympathetic about Buhain’s Pete. He starts and ends the show as an insensitive, thoughtless wannabe. Neither does he have any chemistry with the two ladies, despite the lengthy backstory and Juan Miguel Severo’s heartwarming, likeable tunes.
Tatad shines effortlessly as the wiser, more sensitive, more sophisticated friend. Ultimately, she, and not Pete, gets the most attention.
Fortunately, “Rom.Com,” written and directed by George de Jesus III, does not fall into that trap. The balance of the polarities symbolized by ruthless pragmatist William (Jett Pangan) and lovelorn romantic Beth (Sarah Facuri) is teased and preserved up to the very end.
The sexual and romantic tension between two strong characters with vastly different emotional needs and attitudes on love keeps the audience guessing as to the “final winner.” Screen images, madcap music, and satirical videos also heighten the humor and the irony of the sharp, biting script.
While neither looks like typical romantic heroes, Pangan and Facuri create wonderful, sizzling chemistry onstage—a feat almost topped when they switch gears and play other quirky characters (Pangan as Beth’s gay best friend and Facuri as William’s nerdy tomboy cousin).
“Rom.Com” is an affectionate, highly intelligent dig at the titular genre. It also makes a fitting, rewarding climax to a near-three-hour exploration of the perils and pleasures of love—in whatever form. —CONTRIBUTED
“Tatlong Linggong Pag-ibig” has remaining performances this weekend, at Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit, Makati. Call 09175383433.