The turn of the first quarter, heading into the summer break, always seems to produce a logjam of theatrical offerings, with the impending close to major companies’ seasons jostling with end-of-academic-year productions from university groups.
Over the past couple of weeks, the wealth of options could overwhelm proper notice for many smaller, but very worthwhile productions, some of them with runs so limited, you might well have missed them if you blinked.
‘Hanggang Isang Araw’
“Hanggang Isang Araw” was one such production. Adapted by Eljay Castro Deldoc from Trina Paulus’ classic 1970s inspirational novel “Hope for the Flowers,” it was staged at University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman’s Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan as the thesis of seven graduating UP students in either BA Theater Arts or Certificate in Theater Arts programs (variously for performance, lighting design, production, or stage management).
The material harked back to the warmhearted idealism of its era, which might normally come across as overly simplistic to those with a rather cynical bent (such as this reviewer).
But what a production these students and their director Mark Mirando came up with! It was a truly outstanding testament to what creativity can conjure out of limited, even cramped, space and limited resources, and only four actors essaying an array of quirkily memorable characters (as caterpillars!).
Set to wonderful music by Fitz Bitana and Krina Cayabyab, it evoked a whole magical world, with towering treetops and a myriad of caterpillars scaling them, lush foliage to feed on, butterflies emerging from cocoons—all from simple fabrics manipulated to simulate cocoons and butterflies’ wings and heights.
The sets by Ohm David and costumes by Hershee Tantiado were marvels of imagination and ingenuity. The four student actors were a nimble, witty, affecting delight—Joseph Nabong, Alexandra Turingan, and outstandingly in the lead roles, Miah Canton as Pilya and Reynald Santos as Dilaw.
“Hanggang Isang Araw” was enough to win over a cynic—and was cause for regret that it ran for only one weekend.
‘Tartuffe (o Ang Manloloko)’
The annual “recital” of the Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) Actors Company was another one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em productions.
The recital, which runs for just a couple of evenings (in midweek at that) following the close of TP’s regular season, has nonetheless become a can’t-miss feature of the theater calendar. Away from the elaborate stage designs and star-studded casts of TP’s season productions, it is here, at “end of term,” that one can most appreciate the Actors Company’s cohesion as an ensemble, honed by months of intensive orientation in all aspects of theater.
Its “Tartuffe” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Huseng Batute, skillfully directed by Dennis Marasigan, was yet another bravura display.
This reviewer had previously watched this classical French work by Molière, played as straightforward “serious” character comedy. But the Company’s take on it, using Rolando Tinio’s Filipino translation (now titled “Ang Manloloko”) was irreverently, and refreshingly, laugh-out-loud.
This was real ensemble work, with wacky turns from everyone. Much was made in the informative Q&A session afterward of the production’s employment of commedia dell’arte techniques. But the production was reminiscent of the best screwball farces from films.
While the ensemble nature of the production was the play’s essence, inevitably some roles stood out more than others. Clearly the principal moments belonged to Aldo Vencilao as the credulous Orgon and Ybes Bagadiong as the charlatan Tartuffe. They must be credited with carrying off these meaty dramatic roles while hewing to the comic spirit.
But given the chosen farcical style of the show, it must be said that particularly scene-stealing were Lhorvie Nuevo (as Orgon’s wife Elmira) and Antonette Go (as the maid Dorine) who both repeatedly brought the house down. They truly encapsulated “Tartuffe” as rollickingly enjoyable farce.
Even more ephemeral in terms of available viewings was the one-evening showcase, “Hugpungan” of three one-act plays—the theses products of three Ateneo Fine Arts playwriting students, staged at the Doreen Black Box of the university’s Areté complex.
To be honest, this reviewer had managed expectations about student-written plays and had been primarily enticed to watch by the participation of well-known stage actors guesting in the evening. But what a surprise—staged supposedly as readings, these were virtually full-blown, acted-out and designed plays, a proto-Virgin Labfest!
The works themselves were unexpectedly impressive and sophisticated efforts, worthy (with some plot tweaking and refinement) of potential full-fledged stagings. This potential was fleshed out in the engaging performances by the excellent guest actors, finely directed by Abner Delina Jr.
Two of the plays—Blooie Agas’ “Maliwanag Ang Buwan” and Isyan Sandoval’s “Isang Gabi Sa Balete Drive”—daringly and hauntingly wove doses of surrealism, poignancy and humor into dark themes of maternal loss and chilling EJK doom, respectively, all the more effectively in that not everything was spelled out, but were beautifully acted by Wenah Nagales, Krystle Valentino, Acey Aguilar and Raf Tibayan. In particular, Sandoval’s piece was strikingly enigmatic, in material and performance.
The third, Denise Congson’s “Magkabilang Bahagi,” was a more conventionally plotted but poignantly scripted familial drama, which drew achingly lovely performances from Sherry Lara and Gabs Santos.
Raw these works were, but as staged, directed and performed, they made for quite a satisfying evening—and were enough reason to look forward to future creative output from the neophyte playwrights.
The fourth in this compendium, Ateneo Entablado’s “Freedom Wall,” does not quite fit in the mold of the others, in that it has the benefit of a three-week run (it is now on its last) and a more spacious staging. Yet it, too, calls for more notice than it may receive with all the competing ongoing productions, even within its campus.
Written by Tyron Casumpang and directed by Jerome Ignacio, “Freedom Wall” tackles themes perhaps closer to home than most campus plays, its provocative subject matter being double-barreled. On one hand, there’s the troubling rising incidence of sexual harassment on campus and the problematic issues it raises about even-handedness; on the other, the conundrum of social media, its twin-faced potential as enabler and subverter of justice.
It must be to its credit that the script frequently gives eloquent voice to the vexing complexities of the issues. The treatment of the sensitive material is intelligent and heartfelt, and much of it is absorbing.
But the narrative eventually feels overstretched, slips too often into didacticism and seems to lose its way in the twists and turns of its characters’ motivations. Particularly, this reviewer finds it difficult to get into focus the character of the female lead Julia (played when I watched by Nic Garcia), who is a key figure in the story. And the closure, too, feels dramatically unsatisfying.
Nonetheless, it is a brave production. Ignacio’s kinetic direction evokes the fervid volatility of a high school milieu in turmoil. The young cast is engagingly earnest in its polemics and make for an exuberant ensemble. In particular, Quiel Quiwa gives a charismatic, appealing performance in the lead as King, and his scenes with his onstage father (Adrian Reyes) and with Garcia, were some of the most affecting in the play—reflective counterpoints to the high-strung confrontations in the classroom settings.
With some tightening and tweaking of the narrative (this reviewer watched on opening weekend), “Freedom Wall” should become a work that will contribute needed scrutiny to personal issues that closely relate to the generation it portrays. —CONTRIBUTED
“Freedom Wall” ends April 14 at Doreen Black Box, Areté, Ateneo de Manila University. Call Sam, 09985694100.