The second and third installments of “This Is War,” a four-part series of dramatic readings by the Company of Actors in Streamlined Theatre, were a study in contrasts—contrasting Jameses, that is.
James Christy’s “A Great War” is set in the Great War itself. That’s World War I. The play follows three plot lines: that of the German-Jewish soldier who acquires a reputation for being indestructible; that of the soldier’s family and loved ones back home; and that of a pair of brains in the control rooms (bunkers?).
Fully staged, it probably would have been spectacular: the horrors of war enacted in detail, the poignant, oftentimes dangerous quiet pervading the more cerebral moments made deafening in the vastness of the theater.
But reduced into a reading in a space as tight as Pineapple Lab, the play meandered and felt hollow. Suddenly there were too many maudlin spots in the writing; suddenly one could almost see the playwright’s brain at work, maneuvering his narrative with such obviousness that almost nothing was a surprise anymore.
One wishes directors Nelsito Gomez and Sarah Facuri could revisit this play, this time as full production, and find a more commanding actor for the central role of soldier (read by Luis Marcelo, who must have felt too light and too small for it).
James Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter” was an unqualified, rip-roaring triumph. Directed by Mako Alonso and Jill Peña, it stood its ground even before the classic 1968 film adaptation starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn.
The last hundred years in English-language nonmusical theater have produced many nasty families—Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” where a daughter commands her mother to “eat the fish, bitch”; or Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” with its inebriated men and morphine-addicted leading lady.
The family at the heart of Goldman’s play, however, can give “King Lear” a run for its money: attempted parricide, attempted filicide, a father whoring around with his son’s betrothed, a mother with a venomous tongue—all delivered in modern language.
The great joy of this dramatic reading was in witnessing a sharply written script being feasted upon by an all-around dazzling cast, which included Roselyn Perez, delectably acerbic in the Hepburn role of the matriarch Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Franco Ramos, in an uproarious breakout performance as the family’s bratty, sullen, spineless youngest son.
Then there was Jaime del Mundo. When was the last time he essayed a major part onstage? As the patriarch Henry II, his was a titanic turn—god and monster, passion and pathos all rolled into one. By December, we’ll no doubt look back and say, yes, this was the year’s first great performance. —CONTRIBUTED
“This Is War” will stage its fourth and final reading tomorrow, Feb. 3, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., at Pineapple Lab, Palma St., Brgy. Poblacion, Makati City. Tel. 09453167768 for tickets.