On TV, actor Jake Cuenca has the swag, the abs and cryptic tattoos to enhance his villain persona. But can he portray a good guy on stage?
People will find out on Sept. 22, when Cuenca debuts as a theater actor opposite young actress Sab Jose in “Lungs,” the one-act play by Olivier Award-nominated British writer Duncan Macmillan to be mounted by The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical.
“Lungs” will run weekends until Oct. 7 at Power MAC Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati. It’s a small, two-character show that follows the producers’ recent grand projects—Filipino musicals “Himala,” an adaptation of the classic Ishmael Bernal film; and “Heto Na! Musikal nAPO,” a semi-original story of the Apo Hiking Society.
“‘Lungs’ is a bare play,” director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan said. “It is a story of love and its nuances, and a reminder to breathe.”
The intermission-less play has two actors discussing the question: “Is now a good time to have a baby, global warming and all?”
The “hyperaware” couple makes conscious ecological decisions, but are anxious about raising children in an increasingly disastrous world. The 90-minute conversation ensues between Cuenca, who plays M (as in Man), and Jose, his partner W (Woman).
(Actor Gabs Santos alternates as M in the Sept. 29 shows.)
Cuenca said he welcomes the challenge of doing theater for the first time and having chemistry with costar Jose.
“‘Lungs’ is about a relationship that goes through time,” he explained, “so you really have to have good chemistry with your co-actor. They (the producers) gave me time to work with Sab, so I said yes to this project—an opportunity to act in front of a live audience.”
Both studied theater abroad: Jose in London, and Cuenca in New York. Working together involved an exchange of techniques and methods. At rehearsals, Jose helps Cuenca with vocal energy and seamless transition. Cuenca, on the other hand, gives suggestions on how to keep the performance sincere since “the dialogue spans decades,” requiring intimacy and heat.
M is a relatable character, Cuenca said. “He reminded me of my last relationship. There are many things in that script when I’m like, ‘This is exactly what I was going through.’”
Jose said she considers herself “intense,” but described “W” as “neurotic”: “She overthinks everything, from having a baby to what she’s going to eat today, to how much water she should use.”
The actors are in their 30s and—just like the characters they’re playing—are constantly questioned about getting married and having kids. (Jose is juggling rehearsals with her coming true-to-life wedding.)
“M and W drive each other crazy, but they balance each other out,” Jose added.
As for Cuenca, he is just happy about not being the bad guy—for a change. “This is my first play, and I’m not going far away from home. I’m using my experiences and my personal choices in ‘Lungs.’”