Ateneo Entablado’s “Desaparecidos,” Lualhati Bautista’s novel of the same title adapted for the stage and directed by Guelan Luarca, with guest artists Delphine Buencamino and Brian Sy heading the mostly-student cast.—PHOTOS BY ROXAN CUACOY
A disclaimer from the get-go: This list is by no means complete, and should account for only what was humanly possible for us to cover on the Manila theater scene in 2016.
Due to impossible schedules (ours, not theirs), we missed the likes of Anton Juan’s “Godspell” for MusicArtes and the Philippine Stagers Foundation’s long-running “Katips,” so their absence here should not be a judgment either way on their merits.
That said, our theater-watching this year constituted quite a record: 75 shows, everything from one-act to full-length dramas, from “recitals” to musical spectaculars (and not counting the times we went back to catch the alternate cast). In venues, by the way, scattered all over the metro—traffic be damned.
Interestingly, 2016 is the third year in a row that the plays have outstripped the musicals, of which we counted 23 (including reruns). Discounting the touring production of “Les Misérables,” we managed to catch 19 of them.
The non-singing variety had unexpected help: Aside from the annual Virgin Labfest and its regular output of at least nine new one-acts, a mini-festival of plays organized in response to the resurrection of the Marcoses yielded another nine entries (six originals, three restagings), followed by newbie theater company Dalanghita Productions’ audacious move late in the year to hold its own ersatz festival of six one-acts, half of them with singing and half without. Many other young theater companies—Red Turnip, Egg Theater, Twin Bill Theater, Artist Playground—are focusing on plays instead of musicals as their core offerings.
Talking recently about the lively state of local theater, Tanghalang Ateneo artistic director Glenn Sevilla Mas was moved to declare: “For me, the future is here—Guelan Luarca, Ed Lacson Jr., Charles Yee, Toff de Venecia, the young directors of Red Turnip Theater and Sipat Lawin Ensemble—and it’s looking very, very good!”
Indeed. Go over this roundup and some names leap at you again and again—the apparent vanguard of a new age and the recipients of the generational torch increasingly being passed: Skyzx Labastilla, Mayen Estañero, Cris Villonco, Nicco Manalo, Topper Fabregas, Jonathan Tadioan, Marco Viaña, Delphine Buencamino, Tanya Manalang, Paul Jake Paule, Myke Salomon, Faust Peneyra, Carlo Pagunaling, Ejay Yatco, Teresa Barrozo, etc.—joining the other young names of promise and passion Mas mentioned.
As the millennials and young turks are, to our wonderment, taking over the streets, so are they inexorably leading the charge for and remaking local theater. Hashtag carry on.
Here, for us, are the Manila productions and performances that stood out this 2016 and lodged themselves in memory:
BEST PLAY (ONE-ACT)
“Indigo Child” (Rody Vera; José Estrella, director). We stand by what we wrote about this play in October: the most indelible entry in the “Never Again: Voices of Martial Law” mini-festival of plays was Rody Vera’s “Indigo Child”—“about a boy awakening to the buried horrors of his mother’s past in a military detention camp… Acted with harrowing, burrowing power by Skyzx Labastilla as the mother, the play’s treatment of fate and chance under unspeakable circumstances—and the wrenching question of whether to survive by erasing one’s memories, or to hang on to every lash for eventual cosmic justice—marks it as a profound new work in martial law literature.”
Honorable Mentions: “Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania” (Ian Rosales Casocot’s short story “The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak,” adapted by Alexandra May Cardoso; Charles Yee, dir.); “Mula sa Kulimliman” (Carlo Vergara; Hazel Gutierrez, dir.); “Ang Mga Bisita ni Jean” (Ma. Cecilia de la Rosa; Ariel Yonzon, dir.); “Daddy’s Girl” (Ricardo Novenario; Nicolas Pichay, dir.); “Lagablab” (W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “The Unconquered,” adapted by Dan Hollanda; Paul Jake Paule, dir.)
BEST PLAY (FULL-LENGTH/ NON-FILIPINO MATERIAL)
“Tribes” (Nina Raine; Topper Fabregas, dir.). A moving, beautifully realized staging, patient and restrained in all the right places as it told the story of a deaf young man’s coming of age in the company of his quirky, overbearing family and a new girl, also deaf but seemingly from another world, showing him a different path to adulthood. Top marks go to Kalil Almonte and Angela Padilla’s heartbreaking, exhilarating turns as the hearing-impaired characters, and to Topper Fabregas’ delicate, observant direction.
Honorable Mentions: “Constellations” (Nick Payne; Rem Zamora, dir.); “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!” (Lloyd Suh; Ralph Peña, dir.); “Suicide, Incorporated” (Andrew Hinderaker; Steven Conde, dir.); “Almost, Maine” (John Cariani; Bart Guingona, dir.); “The Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Ultimately Becomes Nostalgia” (Shimizu Kunio, adapted by Chiori Miyagawa from an original translation by John Gillespie; Alexander Cortez, dir.)
BEST PLAY (FULL-LENGTH/ORIGINAL FILIPINO MATERIAL OR ADAPTATION)
“Desaparecidos” (Lualhati Bautista’s novel of the same title, adapted and directed by Guelan Luarca). Ateneo Entablado’s “Desaparecidos,” which ran for about three weeks on-campus, was a mostly student-mounted and acted production, adapted for the stage and directed by the prolific and gifted 25-year-old Guelan Luarca. But, as veteran theatergoer Arturo Hilado wrote in an online post, “This was the most ferocious indictment of that era I have seen—and it doesn’t limit its searchlight to the martial law perpetrators, either… a harrowing look back at the political past, [with] the staging and acting so inspired.” Amen.
Among the multi-hyphenate Luarca’s works this year—he also wrote a one-act play for the “Never Again” festival; translated Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” into “Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan” for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas and Anna Ziegler’s “Boy” for Tanghalang Ateneo; and directed Pertee Briñas’ two-hander “Isanlibong Taon”—“Desaparecidos” counts as an early milestone achievement, his theatrical vision transmuting the sweep and power of historical testimony into an electrifying document of moral outrage and remembering.
Please, ye theater gods, bring it back somehow and let more people see this never-more-timely work.
Honorable Mentions: “Boy” (Anna Ziegler, translated by Guelan Luarca; Ed Lacson Jr., dir.); “Tiyo Vanya” (Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” translated by Rolando Tinio; Dennis Marasigan, dir.); “Kalantiaw” (Rene Villanueva; Charles Yee, dir.); “Schism” (Moliere’s “The Misanthrope,” adapted and directed by George de Jesus III); “The Pillowman” (Martin McDonagh, translated and directed by George de Jesus III)
Kalil Almonte (“Tribes”). The hearing-impaired character he played was sort of an Oscar bait, but Almonte went the other way by rooting his portrayal on a compact, charismatic stillness that lent the play its unmistakable center of gravity. [See also Best Play (Full-Length/Non-Filipino Material).]
Honorable Mentions: JC Santos (“Constellations”); Cholo Ledesma (“Boy”); Aldo Vencilao (“The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!”); Jonathan Tadioan (“Tiyo Vanya”); Reb Atadero (“Almost, Maine”); Jamie Wilson (“Almost, Maine”); Marco Viaña (“Daddy’s Girl”); Jonathan Tadioan (“Mula sa Kulimliman”); Hans Eckstein (“Suicide, Incorporated”); Neil Ryan Sese (“Tisoy Brown: Hari ng Wala”); Gino Ramirez (“We Choose To Go To The Moon”)
[Note: In the print version of this story, Marco Viana (“Daddy’s Girl”) was inadvertently left out in the list for Best Actor-Play. The online version, which includes his name, is the updated and correct version.]
Skyzx Labastilla (“Indigo Child”). Already exceptional in the Virgin Labfest entry “Daddy’s Girl,” Labastilla easily exceeded herself with a towering, career-best turn in “Indigo Child.” [See also Best Play (One-Act).]
Honorable Mentions: Delphine Buencamino (“Desaparecidos”); Cris Villonco (“Constellations”); Mayen Estañero (“Mula sa Kulimliman”); Blanche Buhia (“The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!”); Frances Makil-Ignacio (“The Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Ultimately Becomes Nostalgia”); Ces Quesada (“The Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Ultimately Becomes Nostalgia”); Sheenly Vee Gener (“Ang Mga Bisita ni Jean”); Skyzx Labastilla (“Daddy’s Girl”); Natalie Everett (“Almost, Maine”); Ira Ruzz (“Lagablab”)
BEST FEATURED ACTOR-PLAY
Mako Alonso (“Suicide, Incorporated”). “A breakthrough performance,” wrote Inquirer Theater reviewer Vincen Gregory Yu, adding: “As Norm, the ‘client’ upon whom the entire story, its emotional twists and turns, hangs, Alonso masterfully fleshes out a tortured soul’s history, oftentimes in so many words crammed within so little time.”
Alonso would also deliver a strong Rooster in Resorts World Manila’s “Annie”—but it was in “Suicide, Incorporated” that he notched a new mark in thespic maturity.
Honorable mentions: (Hold on, this is the longest list in this roundup—a testament to the fiercely acted quality, at the very least, of many of the year’s productions.)
Teroy Guzman (“Boy”); Brian Sy (“Desaparecidos”); Teroy Guzman (“Tribes”); Paul Jake Paule (“The Pillowman”); Renante Bustamante (“The Pillowman”); Bibo Reyes (“Suicide, Incorporated”); Vince Lim (“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”); Jojo Riguerra (“Schism”); Marco Viaña (“Tiyo Vanya”); Marco Viaña (“Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw”); Gabo Tolentino (“Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan”); Timothy Castillo (“Mula sa Kulimliman”); Bong Cabrera (“Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania”)
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS-PLAY
Angela Padilla (“Tribes”). Both radiant and subtle in her portrayal of a capable, independent young woman inspiring a deaf man, and his whole family, to see his condition in a different light, even as she herself slides deeper into the same disability, and more uncertain bearings. [See also Best Play (Full-Length/Non-Filipino Material).]
Honorable Mentions: Missy Maramara (“The Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Ultimately Becomes Nostalgia”); Dolly de Leon (“Tribes”); Camille Abaya (“Boy”); Antonette Go (“Tiyo Vanya”); Maxine Ignacio (“Desaparecidos”); Mayen Estañero (“Boy”); Thea Yrastorza (“Tribes”); Sarah Facuri (“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”)
BEST MUSICAL (NON-FILIPINO MATERIAL)
“Fun Home” (music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Lisa Kron; Bobby Garcia, dir.). Like “Changing Partners” (see below), a breath of bracing originality in the musical-theater landscape, eschewing conventional razzmatazz for material, tonal character and staging that aimed for the rawer, more real and intimate.
Hilado again: “Terrific theater, emotionally gripping and absorbing in its portrayal of human complexity… Promotional strategy notwithstanding, it is not centered on Lea Salonga’s character, but her performance is the most nuanced I’ve seen of her, and her terribly aching ‘Days and Days’ was the emotional highlight of the play.” (See also Best Featured Actress-Musical below.)
Honorable Mentions: “Jersey Boys” (music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; Bobby Garcia, dir.); “American Idiot” (music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; Robbie Guevara, dir.); “Tick, Tick… Boom!” (music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson; Robbie Guevara, dir.)
BEST MUSICAL (ORIGINAL FILIPINO MATERIAL OR ADAPTATION)
“Changing Partners” (book, music and lyrics by Vince de Jesus; Rem Zamora, dir.). A slip of a musical, running only 90 minutes, but what a wallop from De Jesus’ minutely constructed, emotionally engorged, exquisitely sung story of love and fraying loyalty among four pairs of shifting lovers and genders, culminating in a virtual coup de théâtre.
As ABS-CBN.com reviewer Vladimir Bunoan described it: “The concept is mind-blowing in itself—this central idea that infidelity and heartbreak knows no gender… But on stage, this was just jaw-dropping. Director Rem Zamora orchestrates the action beautifully but with crystal clarity… a masterclass in stage direction.”
Honorable Mentions: “Ako si Josephine” (music by Yeng Constantino, book by Liza Magtoto, musical direction by Myke Salomon); “Mula sa Buwan” (Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” adapted by Pat Valera; music by William Elvin Manzano, lyrics by Manzano and Valera)
Nyoy Volante (“Jersey Boys”). Who could do Frankie Valli, he of that Olympian falsetto, in a jukebox musical about his and the Four Seasons’ rise to legendary heights, and not come off as a mere impersonator? Volante gave it his all, and emerged with an astonishing performance that not only was a technical feat (“Jersey Boys” featured 19 of the band’s hits, nearly all of them with Valli’s lead vocals, plus a clutch of era-specific music), but one also vitally built on genuine dramatic chops and star sparkle.
Honorable Mentions: Nicco Manalo (“Mula sa Buwan”); Jef Flores (“Tick, Tick… Boom!”); Sandino Martin (“Changing Partners”); Eric Kunze (“Fun Home”); Nicco Manalo (“3 Stars and a Sun”); Nel Gomez (“American Idiot”); John Arcilla (“Dirty Old Musical”); Michael Williams (“Dirty Old Musical”)
Via Antonio (“Ako si Josephine”). We live for moments like this in musical theater—when an ingenue becomes a full-fledged star, as Antonio, a product of Dulaang UP, did with a performance of irresistible charm and energy in “Ako si Josephine.” Perfectly capturing the wry, kooky, bittersweet flavor of Yeng Constantino’s musical storytelling, Antonio’s blend of sass and empathy left one perky and in a perpetual grin long after curtain call.
Honorable Mentions: Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante (“Fun Home”); Cris Villonco (“Fun Home”); Tanya Manalang (“Rak of Aegis”); Liesl Batucan (“Mabining Mandirigma”); Hazel Grace Maranan (“Mabining Mandirigma”); Krystal Brimner (“Annie”); Mayen Estañero (“Corazon Negro”—more an operetta than a musical, but included for purposes of this roundup); Anna Luna (“Changing Partners”); Agot Isidro (“Changing Partners”)
BEST FEATURED ACTOR-MUSICAL
Ricci Chan (“Ako si Josephine”). The other secret weapon of “Ako si Josephine” was Ricci Chan, in an absolute scream of a performance that reveled in his cartoon-villain character. Larger than life, his grasp of high camp wedded to formidable pipes, Chan galvanized the meandering show back to zany, scintillating life every time he stepped on stage to deliver a zinger or break into song. A hoot, and a class by himself.
Honorable Mentions: Bodjie Pascua (“3 Stars and a Sun”); Ariel Reonal (“Tick, Tick… Boom!”); David Ezra (“Mabining Mandirigma”); Markki Ströem (“Jersey Boys”); Nar Cabico (“3 Stars and a Sun”); Basti Artadi (“American Idiot”); Mako Alonso (“Annie”); Vince Lim (“Rak of Aegis”)
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS-MUSICAL
Lea Salonga (“Fun Home”). “Generous” was the word that first came to mind at the sight of Salonga, an international superstar, taking on essentially a supporting part in this musical (the lead role was played in the grown-up stages by the splendid Cris Villonco and Mikkie Bradshaw, and as a child by Andee Achacoso alternating with Katie Bradshaw). And then, late in the show, she sang the haunting “Days and Days,” and you understood exactly why director Bobby Garcia got her for the part; Salonga’s sound remains a wonder of the stage, in this case providing the musical its most transfixing emotional and aural moment. (See also Best Musical—Non-Filipino Material.)
Honorable Mentions: KL Dizon (“Mula sa Buwan”); Tanya Manalang (“Tick, Tick… Boom!”); Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (“Annie”); Carla Guevara-Laforteza (“Rak of Aegis”); Bituin Escalante (“Stepping Out, The Musical”); Carla Guevara-Laforteza (“3 Stars and a Sun”); Roselyn Perez (“A Little Princess”)
Guelan Luarca (“Desaparecidos”).(See Best Play Full-Length/Original Filipino Material or Adaptation)
Bobby Garcia (“Jersey Boys” and “Fun Home”). For two superlative productions of Broadway material, totally dissimilar from each other but both benefiting from their director’s mastery of the American musical idiom, while utilizing some of the country’s finest musical-theater and backstage talent.
Honorable Mentions: Topper Fabregas (“Tribes”); Rem Zamora (“Changing Partners” and “Constellations”); Robbie Guevara (“American Idiot” and “Tick, Tick… Boom!”); Charles Yee (“Kalantiaw” and “Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania”)
ARTISTIC AND TECHNICAL STANDOUTS
In lighting design, John Batalla remained the busiest with yeoman’s work in “Almost, Maine,” “Constellations” and “Tribes.” Also
—Ian Torqueza for “3 Stars and a Sun”; Meliton Roxas Jr. for “Kalantiaw”; Barbie Tan-Tiongco for “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!” and “Boy”; Joseph Matheu for “Suicide, Incorporated”; Martin Esteva for “American Idiot”; D Cortezano for “Desaparecidos”; Adam Honoré for “Fun Home”; Driscoll Otto for “Jersey Boys”; and Tsuguo Izumi for “The Tempest Reimagined.”
For set design/scenery, the crowded field is led by Ed Lacson Jr.’s consistently laudable work in (count them) five productions—“Constellations,” “Tribes,” “Boy,” “Kalantiaw” and “Suicide, Incorporated.”
Likewise, Gino Gonzales for “3 Stars and a Sun”; Ohm David for “The Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Becomes Nostalgia” and “Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan”; Boni Juan for “Ako si Josephine”; Coco Anne and Baby Imperial for “Almost, Maine”; Mio Infante for “American Idiot”; Faust Peneyra for “Jersey Boys” and “Fun Home”; Marsha Roddy for “The Tempest Reimagined”; Toym Imao for “Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw”; Meredith Ries for “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!”; Mark Legaspi for “Desaparecidos”; and Paul Jake Paule, Rowena Jarito and Glenn Macalong Caspe for “Lagablab,” with its ingenious use of barely-there space.
For musical direction—Ceejay Javier for “Jersey Boys” and “Fun Home;” Daniel Bartolome for “A Christmas Carol,” “Tick, Tick… Boom!” and the outdoor rock-concert vibe of “American Idiot” (with Onyl Torres); Myke Salomon for “Ako si Josephine” and “3 Stars and a Sun”; Vince de Jesus for his own “Changing Partners”; Ejay Yatco for “A Little Princess”; and Rodel Colmenar for “Annie.”
The year’s most accomplished sound design work in our book is Shane Rettig’s, for “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!” (Never has the CCP Little Theater sounded better.) Also—Teresa Barrozo’s signature minimalist underscoring for “Tribes” and “Boy”; Jethro Joaquin for “Almost, Maine”; Jeff Hernandez for “Kalantiaw”; and Jaime Godinez and Rards Corpuz for the commanding outdoor soundscape of “A Christmas Carol.”
For costumes—Gino Gonzales for “3 Stars and a Sun” and “Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan”; Mio Infante for “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!” and “A Christmas Carol”; Mickey Hirai for “American Idiot”; Carlo Pagunaling for “Ako si Josephine” and “Kalantiaw”; El Cua for “Desaparecidos”; and Raven Ong for “A Little Princess.”
The short list for choreography/movement design includes PJ Rebullida’s work for “American Idiot”; Gio Gahol, for “Ako si Josephine”; Dexter Santos, for “A Little Princess”; Leslie Dailisan, for explosive tango sequences on a teeny-tiny stage in “Happiness Is a Pearl”; and Delphine Buencamino, whose overall movement design for “Desaparecidos” added to the show’s intensely immersive experience.
In translation/adaptation, Guelan Luarca did exemplary work with “Desaparecidos” and “Boy;” ditto George de Jesus III with “The Pillowman” and “Schism”; and Dan Hollanda with “Lagablab.” (Also—Pat Valera’s “Mula sa Buwan,” though this “Cyrano de Bergerac” transposition to pre-World War II Manila was first mounted in 2010.)
Lastly, it bears mentioning that the late National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio continues to enrich and inspire the scene, with theater companies doing fresh takes on his invaluable Filipino renditions of world drama as evidenced this year by Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Tiyo Vanya” (Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”—a “recital” for TP’s actors’ company that showcased deft ensemble work) and “Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw” (Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). When do we finally see a definitive anthology of his major translations and adaptations?