Saturday, October 22, 2016

PDI Review: 'Changing Partners' by MunkeyMusic; 'Annie' by Resorts World Manila

My first piece under the Inquirer's redesign, which has drastically reduced our word limit to 650 (and that used to be my minimum count). Anyway, "Changing Partners" ends tomorrow, while "Annie" runs until December 4 (or so they say). The online version here.

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Heartbreak in 'Changing Partners,' easy comforts in 'Annie'

"Changing Partners" curtain call: (L-R) Vincent de Jesus, Anna Luna, Jojit Lorenzo, Agot Isidro, Sandino Martin, Rem Zamora.

There are two ways to an audience's heart, or so musical theater insists these days.

"Changing Partners," the self-styled torch musical by Vincent de Jesus, prefers madness as its method: the mangling, twisting and turning of the heart--or four.

This is Cris and Alex's May-December relationship, but told through shifting perspectives. Sandino Martin and Anna Luna play Cris, while Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo play Alex, and a merry-go-round ensures as the story mixes and matches the actors, exploring the nuances that arise with each pairing.

Once the honeymoon phase of this affair is over, the fissures created by age and sex widen, spewing doubt, and with it, fear.

And De Jesus, unsurprisingly, captures the cracks and tears at the seams of this love with precision ("Minahal kita/ sa pag-aakalang mahal nga kita," goes a line) and a flair for language that crackles as it rolls off the tongue ("Kababae mong tao, kung kani-kanino kang lalaking nagpapakaladkad," Alex spits at Cris).

No one in theater today must be more adept at capturing that thing called "hugot" than De Jesus: the cruel pain of surrendering, of letting go, of loving and not being loved in return.

It is this pain that director Rem Zamora and his first-rate cast understand so well. They never hold back, but also never devolve into cheap hysterics. (Luna, especially, does heartbreak so beautifully.)

And when they jab at each other's wounds, it is with such clear intention that one feels the weight of mistrust it all carries.

As a staged reading at this year's Virgin Labfest, "Changing Partners" was already "a fully realized show," we wrote. This full production is the real deal: a towering musical out to drain the tear ducts and tangle the heartstrings.

Ready embrace

Meanwhile, Full House Theater Company's "Annie" stays true to its kiddie roots and approaches the audience with a ready embrace so warm and wooly, it instantaneously summons childhood memories of tender, loving care (whether they be factual or fabricated).

The story of the spunky orphan who unexpectedly finds family in a billionaire's mansion has more or less weathered the test of time. Its songs (which includes the timeless optimist's anthem "Tomorrow") still carry with them a tuneful youthful zest, and director Michael Williams keeps his show moving at a fast enough pace without rushing through the non-musical moments.

A closer look, though, reveals clunky choreography, rough ensemble singing, and an incohesive set that relies too much on digital projections (which don't really make the proceedings any classier). Makes one wonder how the budget was divided--maybe a huge portion for orphanage matron Miss Hannigan's raggedy lump of a costume?

Still, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo plays Hannigan with such infectious fun, and Annie finds a promising talent in Isabeli Araneta Elizalde (alternating with Krystal Brimner of the film "Honor Thy Father"). And Caisa Borromeo is a scene-stealing Star-to-Be, unveiling that killer of a voice that, alas, isn't often on full display onstage.

For the most part, this production is amenable, and therefore, pleasant enough, doling out small, easy comforts in an inappropriately cavernous theater. It approaches the heart with a touch so genial, it makes the occasions when it loses its way easy to set aside.

With Christmas just around the corner, one need only think of this "Annie" as a present wrapped in such shiny, pretty paper, never mind that what's inside doesn't exactly match the lovely packaging. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

One Week in Taipei, 2016, DIY, Departure

1. Introduction
2. Itinerary
3. Departure (current post)

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I booked our tickets back in July. Initially, I was looking at Cebu Pacific's fares, which amounted to a little over 4,000PHP roundtrip. (Don't even mention Philippine Airlines; the way they price their flights, it's as if they are such a prestigious force to be reckoned with.) 

Then I came upon EVA Air's midyear sale of sorts in their website, which sold Manila-Taipei-Manila tickets for 112USD per person (which, back then, converted to around 5,000PHP). For a full-service, Skytrax-certified 5-star airline, that was quite an irresistible deal. Plus, EVA Air's pre-dawn departure from Manila and evening departure from Taipei were ideal for us who wanted to really maximize our time in Taipei. 

For our accommodations, I wanted to try AirBnB and had come up with a list of potential places as early as end of July. (T and I had gone hostel hopping for our trip to Shanghai using, and that had turned out quite well.) I finally decided on this place--a loft in Ximending, the "place-to-be" these days, that's two minutes' walk to the nearest train station.

Finally, I worked on our visas with only a month to go before the trip, as the application form strictly requires a place of residence at the intended destination. 

Processing time was a brief three days at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office at the 41st floor of RCBC Plaza, Makati City. As of September 2016, they charged 2,400PHP per person. (Compare that to 4,000PHP per person and eight working days for processing at one of our local travel agencies.)  

The main papers themselves should be accomplished online and printed beforehand here. Note that the application is only in the morning, while pick-up is in the afternoon. 

On the day of departure, we arrived at the airport a little before 2AM, with a good one-and-a-half hours to spare before boarding. You must admit: The makeover of Ninoy Aquino International Airport's (NAIA) Terminal 1 is gorgeous. The check-in hall is now roomier and brighter (though that could also be attributed to the transfer of four of its biggest users--Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Delta Airlines--to Terminal 3). Also, these photos were taken in the dead of night. 

We paid the 1,620PHP travel tax, as EVA Air still hadn't included this in its system. Check-in was a breeze: 3 counters for economy class, 2 for business class and 1 for baggage drop, though in the end, they were already accommodating economy class passengers in all counters. Immigration was also a breeze, and by 2:30AM, we were already in the pre-departures area.

NAIA Terminal 1 check-in hall.

 EVA Air check-in counters.

 Terminal 1 departures board.

Departures immigration.

We were flying an A321, and boarding commenced promptly at 3:30AM. This is an area where EVA Air could certainly improve in. Apparently, they don't board by rows, but by "seating zones" in the pre-departure area. Those "seating zones" don't even mean anything; they're just rows of chairs bunched together by proximity, and anyone can sit in any of them. The whole procedure is absolute nonsense; it's basically boarding at random. 

 Air China B737-800 to Beijing; Asiana Airlines A321-200 to Busan.

 Hallway to our pre-departure area.

 Air China B737-800 at Gate 2.

Our plane: A321. (Photo taken upon arrival in Manila.)

We left the gate promptly at 4AM, though it was a 10-minute taxi to the other end of Runway 6/24. We had been assigned exit row seats, which meant great leg room! Onboard, the flight attendants were attentive and approachable, without being too familiar. 

Legroom at Seat 26K!

For the early breakfast, the choices were "fish rice" and "omelette." The meals went with a side of cold chicken salad (bland) and fruit (fresh and sweet), as well as apple juice and the tea/coffee service after. My sister got the fish rice, which she found too salty. I got the omelette, which was okay; it went with soggy roasted potatoes, a slab of ham and vegetables. Overall, the food was nothing stellar. We slept the rest of the way, and our flight arrived in Taipei-Taoyuan International Airport at 5:59AM.

"Fish rice." 


EVA Air B777-300ER greeting us upon arrival.

Monday, October 10, 2016

One Week in Taipei, 2016, DIY, Itinerary

1. Introduction
2. Itinerary (current post)
3. Departure

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We spent six whole days in Taipei (6D5N), and here's our itinerary. You may notice our days started late, and that's because my sister is such a tourist (and not a traveler). Our third day, for example, after the Yangmingshan climb, she was totally knocked out, and we only managed to leave the apartment in time for lunch.  I'd say six days would be enough to get a filling glimpse of Taipei, but one can easily spend another week in the place; there's simply so much to discover and visit and see and eat, if my newfound love for this city isn't obvious enough. I'll be more specific as I devote a separate post for each day.

DAY 1 (Saturday Oct. 1)

Nile hippos, Taipei Zoo.

6AM  Arrive at Taipei-Taoyuan International Airport

Take shuttle bus to Taoyuan High Speed Rail (HSR) Station.
Take HSR to Taipei Main Station.

8:30AM  Arrive at Taipei Main Station

Briefly explore Taipei Main Station.
Take MRT to Taipei Zoo Station.

10AM-1PM  Taipei Zoo

Take MRT to Ximen Station.
Lunch at Ximending area.

3PM  AirBnB check-in

Rest, then take MRT to Gongguan Station.

7:30PM-10PM  Gongguan Night Market


DAY 2 (Sunday Oct. 2)

At cloud level on our descent from Mt. Qixing, Yangmingshan National Park.

Take MRT to Taipei Main Station.

10:15AM-11:15AM  Brunch at Taipei Main Station-K Underground Mall

Take MRT to Jinshan Station.
Take bus to Yangmingshan National Park Station.

12NN  Arrive at Yangmingshan National Park Bus Station

Hike to Headquarters Visitors Center.

12:30PM  Begin ascent of Mt. Qixing via Mioapu entrance

3:30PM-4PM  Reach Mt. Qixing main peak and rest

5:15PM  Finish descent of Mt. Qixing via Xiaoyoukeng trail

Take bus to Yangmingshan Station.
Take bus to Jinshan MRT Station.

7:30PM-11PM  Shilin Night Market


DAY 3 (Monday Oct. 3)

Lovers' Bridge, Tamsui.

12:30PM-1:15PM  Lunch at Ximending Pedestrian Area

Walk to 228 Peace Memorial Park, passing by Zhongshan Hall.

1:30PM-2:45PM  228 Peace Memorial Park

Walk to Liberty Square, taking note of the Presidential Office Building.

3PM-4PM  Liberty Square (Main Gate, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, National Theater, National Concert Hall, Liberty Square Park)

Take MRT to Tamsui Station.

5PM-8PM  Walk along the Tamsui Waterfront, or take a bus, all the way to Fisherman's Wharf and Lovers' Bridge.

Take MRT back to Ximen Station.

9:45PM-11PM  Explore Ximending Pedestrian Area, including Eslite Bookstore, at night


DAY 4 (Tuesday Oct. 4)

Taipei 101 as seen near the entrance to the Elephant Mountain hiking trail.

9AM  Meet-up with a friend for breakfast at Ximending Pedestrian Area

Transfer to Taipei Main Station because everything seems to be closed at 9AM.

9:30AM-11:30AM  Breakfast

Take MRT to Zhongshan Xinsheng Station.
Walk to Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

11:45AM-1:30PM  Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Walk to Daan Forest Park.

2PM-4:15PM  Daan Forest Park

Take MRT to Taipei 101 Station.

4:30PM-5PM  Taipei 101 Mall

Walk to Elephant Mountain hiking trail entrance.

5:15PM  Begin ascent of Elephant Mountain

5:35PM-6:30PM  Reach peak of Elephant Mountain and watch the sunset and the city light up

6:45PM  Finish descent of Elephant Mountain

Walk back to Taipei 101.

7:10PM-9PM  Dinner at Taipei 101 Mall food court

Take MRT to Songshan Station.

9:30PM-11:30PM  Raohe Night Market


DAY 5 (Oct. 5 Wednesday)

A Mei Tea House, Jiufen.

Take MRT to Zhongshan Station.

10:30AM-12:30PM  Taipei Museum of Contemporary Arts

Walk to Taipei Main station and have lunch.
Take TRA to Ruifang District.

2:30PM  Arrive at Ruifang Train Station

Take bus to Jiufen.

3PM-5:45PM  Jiufen Old Street

Take bus back to Ruifang Train Station.
Take TRA to Shifen.

7:15PM-8:15PM  Lanterns at Shifen Railway Station.


DAY 6 (Oct. 6 Thursday)

Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum.

12NN  AirBnB check-out

12:30PM-3PM  Hotpot/shabu-shabu lunch

Take taxi to Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum.

3:30PM-4:30PM  Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum

Take taxi to Taipei Main Station.
Take HSR to Taoyuan Station.
Take shuttle bus to Taoyuan Airport.

8:30PM  Depart Taoyuan Airport

Saturday, October 8, 2016

One Week in Taipei, 2016, DIY

1. Introduction (current post)
2. Itinerary
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In Taipei, the people are nice and helpful without being overly intrusive, and they all seem to wear Nike or Adidas or Puma or New Balance. The millennials who are well-versed in English litter their conversations with "like," their sentences lilting with a twang straight from the other side of the Pacific. The elderly, on the other hand, can be very chatty, and they can be surprisingly joyous company in the parks or hiking trails. 

Elephant Mountain sunset.

If you come from the Philippines, you will find Taipei's transportation system very efficient and reliable, the trains and buses leaving on the dot for the most part. Seats are reserved for those in need and not routinely given up based on one's sex. You will also come to admire how the city encourages walking, how it silently disapproves of sedentariness, with its sprawling green spaces and wide sidewalks. 

Temple roof, Jiufen.

It was either this trip, or backpacking in Indochina, and of course my sedentary sister wouldn't care for Angkor Wat or Vang Vieng or Bagan. So six days in Taipei it was. I left the Philippines with very few expectations; I came home having discovered another city i could actually live in. 

Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

One of the best things about Taipei is how it straddles that tricky realm between the old and the new, the traditional and contemporary. History is alive whichever way you look, but the city also does not refuse to embrace technology. Its politics, I never really got a full grasp of--who does, in a span of a week? But the culture, the environment, the food, the sights, the people all put Manila to shame. 

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

The last time I got to take my Mandarin off its dusty shelf was three years ago in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou with T, and less than a month later, in Hong Kong with E and A. This will also be a series, and I will be updating the table of contents above as I go along. A final note: The best sunsets are still in the Philippines. There really is no fighting over that.

Mt. Datun as seen from Mt. Qixing, Yangmingshan National Park.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

PDI Review: 'Ako Si Josephine' by Cornerstone Entertainment/ABS-CBN Events

My review of "Ako Si Josephine," which runs until Oct. 9 at the PETA Theater Center, is in today's paper--here. Another musical, "Changing Partners," also plays at the same venue. 

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In 'Ako Si Josephine,' Yeng Constantino's music ignites a revolution

Yeng Constantino, purveyor of angst and longing, as electropop dance music?

Oh, yes: "Ako Si Josephine" sells that metamorphosis with refreshing aplomb.

This brand-new jukebox musical uses Constantino's songs, but it feels like a whole other creature--something nocturnal. It's the synthetic, rhythmic thumping of club music that musical director Myke Salomon has infused into the score, and the result must be how desire sounds amped-up.

Dystopic setting

This musical reimagination snugly fits its dystopic setting. "Ako Si Josephine" is set in an empire where the only kind of music allowed is the hypnotic beat of the dance floor, the better to keep the citizenry's emotions bottled up.

This doesn't sit well with our heroine, the eponymous Josephine, who works for the despotic Monotomia manufacturing those tedious tunes. As her story unfolds, leading up to an inevitable revolution, Salomon unfurls his own range of tricks.

A slower mix of "Chinito" illustrates Josephine's initially unrequited affections for her boss Chinito. When the two of them become a couple and Chinito shares memories of his parents, it is to the tune of "Pag-ibig" as disco. Then he reveals their names--Kundiman and Harana--and the music morphs: "Pag-ibig" is now sung quasi-operatically as a kundiman.

Later, Josephine stages her revolution by awakening the people's deadened senses through an instrumental mash-up of "Ikaw" and "Hawak-Kamay," made using the Composer application of the early Nokia phones (harking back to a time when "app" still wasn't part of daily vocabulary).

It's the sheer audacity of the genre-spanning music-making that convinces you this is Salomon's most accomplished work to date. In its most thrilling--and original moments, you can't help thinking, "Who, in theater today, does that?" Plus, it makes full use of his skills as a DJ.


"Josephine's" evocation of a world designed to look like a graphic novel is just as bold. (It must be said: An ample budget goes a long way.)

Boni Juan's set is dominated by an imposing wall, suggestive of a club facade, topped by a row of megaphones. But the highlight is obviously the jeepney that descends from the ceiling and ascends back numerous times, echoing the helicopter of "Miss Saigon."

Gio Gahol's choreography always feels essential to every scene and Carlo Pagunaling's costumes--those blues and pinks and reds--are hip without being distracting.

The graphic-novel conceit, paired with many of the songs, at times makes "Josephine" teeter on the edge of extreme cuteness (so cute, you can almost pinch it). But director Maribel Legarda manages to keep this production lean where leanness is needed, without denying it its moments of rambunctious excess.

The two Josephines are a study of contrasts: Maronne Cruz is this show's cutesy spirit personified, but Via Antonio fearlessly breaks out of that mold and delivers a performance that really makes the show worth its title.

It is Ricci Chan, however, as Monotomia (alternating with Jon Santos), who lands the loudest laughs and cheers. His biggest moment comes in "Paano Bang Magmahal"--rendered as gospel, complete with backup choir--which requires Monotomia to adlib, and Chan, for lack of a better description, brings the house down by sheer force of "taray."

Glaring changes

If there's any beef to be had with "Josephine," it's with Liza Magtoto's writing. There are occasional sudden, glaring changes in tone, and the second act dawdles. The last quarter is gratuitously complicated, entangling the rest of the story with it.

But Magtoto's dystopia also includes "Pokémon Go," and abductors who leave their victims on the sidewalk with placards that say: "Compusher. Huwag tularan."

More: A despotic regime, where those who speak up and fight back are either exiled or have their lives threatened. And the revolution takes the form of music: Pure art as liberation, if not salvation.

For a cute jukebox musical, "Josephine" sure speaks a ton of truth about the state of our country, its message hitting right at home. Yeng Constantino as revolutionary symbol, anyone?

Friday, September 23, 2016

My friends are licensed, I'm so damn proud

Next week, my sister and I are off to Taipei for six days, and right now it seems like a good idea to start offering eggs to Santa Clara, because if it rains like shit, that would mean no more Yangmingshan and photo shoot atop Elephant Mountain with Taipei 101 in the background and bicycling at sunset in Danshui and hanging out in Jiufen till evening to see how the whole hillside setting lights up.

Tomorrow, my grandmother celebrates her 81st birthday. Last year, when she turned 80, I came home for less than 24 hours--the day of the party, I was post-duty. Left the hospital at seven, had breakfast with the team, took a bath, headed straight to the airport (good thing Uber makes it possible to sleep soundly on public transportation), arrived in Iloilo around noon, went to the party in the evening, then took the first flight out in the morning and I was back in the hospital for pre-duty by eight.

Two days ago, the PLE results came out, and all of my friends who took the exam passed, and I was so damn proud, it sure felt like a sane idea to fly back to Manila and give each of them a hug, and I couldn't even concentrate on writing my review for "Ako Si Josephine." It's an achievement made all the more remarkable when you consider how messed up our lives had been during the last month or so of internship, and how they only had two months (in contrast to the four months all other schools got) to prepare for 12 exams that each had no guarantee of fairness. 

I'm now three hundred pages into Hanya Yanagihara's "A Little Life," and OMFG WHAT IS THIS BOOK IT IS VERY SAD.

Happier times. (c) Vistal.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

PDI Review: 'Koro/Nasyon' by the Triple Threats concert series

The series' final show for the year, "Koro Koro Boom," will be on Oct. 20. The version of this review here.

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In 'Koro/Nasyon,' the ensemble as theater royalty for an evening

When the Triple Threats series at Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) first announced this year's theme--"The Ensemble"--this author was among those who wondered how that would work, if it could even work.

"Koro/Nasyon," the series' second show for the season, was a regal answer to that burning question. True to its playful title, it was a coronation of both "koro" and "nasyon," a celebration of the ensemble as the lifeblood of any production, and of musical theater as cultural patrimony. 

It really makes a world of difference to have the concept, writing and direction for a show merge so seamlessly. The product, as it were, was an organic execution of the theme and an intelligent showcase of musicality.

Rich history

The script by Katrina Stuart Santiago (with additional material by Rody Vera) magnified the life of the ensemble member without unnecessary sanctification. It was the unglamorous life told conscientiously--that of trooping to audition after audition, and memorizing multiple tracks, and hitting the perfect balance of blending in and standing out in a given scene.

And the song selection, which clocked at a concise one-and-a-half hours, spanned the rich history of local musical theater, from contemporary original pop ("Kayumanggilas" from "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady") and the jukebox musical ("Salamat" from "EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson," borrowing from The Dawn songbook) to those that bear the touch of artistic royalty such as Ryan Cayabyab (music for "Katy"), Severino Reyes (libretto for "Walang Sugat") and Bienvenido Lumbera (libretto for "Banaag at Sikat").

This potent fusion of text and music unsurprisingly mined every ounce of its cast's capabilities. The list of performers comprised of names regular theatergoers would have repeatedly encountered in programs: Diana Alferez, Mia Bolaños, Bong Cabrera, Mayen Estañero, Al Gatmaitan, Cheeno Macaraig, Hazel Maranan, Noe Morgado, Wenah Nogales, Onyl Torres.

And each of them did seize that proverbial moment in the spotlight, even as some of them struggled with the demands of unamplified performance.

The absence of microphones was but one of the ways both director Tuxqs Rutaquio and musical director and arranger Joed Balsamo deliberately did away with fluorish.

Compelling arc

With the least embellishment, Rutaquio took his cast of mostly Tanghalang Pilipino alumni on a compelling narrative arc. Opening with a subdued version of "Mundo ay Entablado" from "Katy" established the evening's spare tone; and the protracted "audition" segment, where snippets of songs were entertainingly performed with an additional directive (sing as Sisa from "Noli Me Tangere," etc.) provided a glimpse of how the rest of the evening would pan out.

By the time the cast banded together for a frisky a capella rendition of "Chili con Carne" by Swedish artist Anders Edenroth, the exact magnitude of talent on display was already within grasp.

That number, by the way, felt closest to capturing the spirit of everyday ensemble work, the performers singing multiple harmonies while dealing with choreography and acting--and obviously having a blast juggling all that.

They were evidently breathless by the end of that song, but there they stood on the stage of the CCP Little Theater, the house tragically flecked with many empty seats. For an evening, they were kings and queens of an industry they have so been devoted to for the longest time.   

Friday, September 16, 2016

I'm in Maximum Volume 2!

It's the second edition of an anthology of short stories by Filipino writers under 45 years old, edited by literary royalty Dean Alfar and Sage Lacuesta. My story, "The Woman of Sta. Barbara," is partly inspired by "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Roman Holiday," and incorporates some of my greatest passions: theater, film and histrionic women. (Only kidding on that third one, you.) Also, it's my first published piece of fiction. The anthology is now available in major bookstores, so buy your copy now!

Here's an excerpt:
     Some nights, Mother would join me in the living room with a half-filled wine glass in hand and the lingering stench of alcohol in her breath. The glass, a fountain of scotch that never quite ran out, had long been a fixture of her sultry frame, as if over time it had sprouted roots that dug deep to join the joints of her spindly fingers. She would tipsily catwalk across the living room and slither beside me on the couch, putting her free arm around my shoulders, leaning her head against mine, playfully planting wet kisses on my temple all the way down my neck. I'd gradually come to memorize the musty, smoky smell of Johnnie Walker wafting through her nostrils and clouding her breath. In the darkness breached only by moving colors from the television, we might have made an iconic portrait of sweetness--mother and son proverbially joined at the hip by unadulterated love. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

While my friends took the PLE

I went to Mystery Manila with D, who is now based in Las Vegas but has come home for a couple of weeks. I attended a wedding. I saw two performances of "Ako Si Josephine," which I will be reviewing for the paper. I saw "Koro/Nasyon" at the CCP. In short, I enjoyed the weekend on my friends' behalf.

The kaharutan we did.

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Somewhere past the halfway mark of "Pamilya Ordinaryo," there's a scene where the camera lingers on the bottom half of a character's body, with only her voice to clue the audience in on her possible identity. It's the film's cleverest shot, in my opinion, because it feels so attuned to the world beyond its fiction. Eventually, the camera rises to show us Maria Isabel Lopez, but those who have at least seen "Ma'Rosa" or glimpses of her current primetime soap in ABS-CBN would have already figured that out. It's the scenery-chewing voice that gives her away early on, and what the camera does is a nod towards its, well, stature. And as in "Ma'Rosa," Lopez gets her brief scene and runs away with it.

I saw "Pamilya Ordinaryo" with my mother the day it opened in Iloilo cinemas. She was unexpectedly pretty excited to see it, the film hailing from Cinemalaya and all. It's rare for movies like this--movies that aren't rom-coms or half-baked comedies or dumb fantasies or of the formulaic Star Cinema mold, which can be any of the previously mentioned--to reach Iloilo. So we saw it late afternoon, along with six other people.

It got pulled out the next day. I felt awful on behalf of the film, and embarrassed on behalf of my city. "Most Ilonggo moviegoers can't appreciate this kind of movie," my mother said, "but you really can't blame them." I wish she weren't so right. 

Four days later, when I'd returned (briefly) to Manila, she called to say she still couldn't stop thinking about the movie, especially the part where Moira Lang swindles Hasmine Killip and snatches her baby away. How Killip goes out of the grocery store and starts asking people if they've seen a bakla in red carrying a baby. Her face in that entire sequence, my mother said, was award-winning.

I love that sequence--the quiet of it, the deliberate turning away from madcap hysterics. More things I love about the movie: the idea that the city giveth, and the city taketh away; the vicious cycle of thievery ending, in the timeline of the movie at least, with unexpected redemption for Killip's character; Lang's use of "beh" to entice potential victims; Metropolitan Theater as setting.

Mother certainly didn't expect to see some sidewalk fucking, but she managed.

*     *     *     *     *

I'm certainly part of the minority that thinks "World War Z" is far superior compared to "Train to Busan." I hate the abundance of dramatic clutter in the latter; what is this, "Stairway to Heaven"? The drama is supposed to be its humanizing element, something that "World War Z" (supposedly) lacked, but whatever, I rewatched "Z" and still found myself curled up in my seat, teeth biting nails, spooked during all the right moments. And a note to the Koreans: That pregnant woman sure can run, huh.

After rewatching "Z," I rewatched "Summer Hours." Still beautiful. What I love about it is that everybody in the movie acts like adults. No excessive shouting or hysterical wailing: They converse and behave like normal people. It is an intelligent depiction of death, its eventuality and aftermath; the way people deal with loss, which is to move forward and keep on living. I love how it uses the house as a stand-in for time, its passage, its shifts, its unpredictability. And that score is just gorgeous.

I imagine how the three protagonists could be me and my siblings, except, of course, that they're French and relatively rich and living in the comforts of the First World. There's a fine life, I think, surrounded by sculptures and paintings, museums and gardens and peaceful rustic villages.

B and G forever.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

PDI Review: 'Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan' by Dulaang UP; 'Dirty Old Musical' by Spotlight Artists Centre

Both shows are closing this weekend. The version of the review here.

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Comedy tonight: 'Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan' and 'Dirty Old Musical'

Curtain call of "Dirty Old Musical."

In his program notes for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' (DUP) "Ang Katatawanan ng Kalituhan," translator Guelan Luarca makes a distinction between two forms of comedy: one in which the viewer only ends up thinking a piece is funny, and one that leaves the audience in stitches, an experience best captured by the Filipino word "halakhak."

It is "halakhak," Luarca asserts, that is the intended effect of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors," an absurd yarn about two sets of twins separated during infancy who, thirty-something years later, unwittingly find themselves in the same city and wearing the same clothes.

Such moments of rambunctious laughter exist in DUP's current staging of this comedy, directed by Alexander Cortez. An extended sequence that involves fruits, vegetables and dining implements--all deliberately large and fake--being hurled back and forth from a terrace to the floor below feels like the perfect snapshot of the slapstick spirit of the play.

More often than not, however, "Katatawanan" settles between amusing and agreeable, that state where laughter, as Luarca writes, rings in the mind but never makes it past the mouth. It is a pleasurable enough production to keep viewers glued to their seats with a half-smile on their faces.

Certainly it is not in the technical aspects where "Katatawanan" falls short. Ohm David's set and Gino Gonzales' costumes are a visually sumptuous combination, transporting Shakespeare to an Arabian-tavern setting with a gingerbread-house twist.

And PJ Rebullida's choreography, in the instances when it does not feel expendable, evokes the bustling market life a Mediterranean seaport such as Ephesus, where the play is set, must have had.


It is in the distillation of farce as performance where "Katatawanan" is found wanting. And that is ironic: To have the brothers, both named Antipholus, and their servants, both named Dromios, inadvertently mix their lives up for a day is already a recipe for all-out hilarity.

But though Cortez's directorial emphasis on physical comedy is evident--there is rather an abundance of jumping around throughout the show--this does not translate well with many of his actors, who seem to have difficulty locating their comic veins; who, for whatever reason, just can't seem to squeeze the right juices out of a line, an exchange, a scene.

The few who succeed include Gel Basa as Adriana, the hysterical wife of one of the Antipholus twins; Gabo Tolentino as the Dromios who also doubles as everybody's punching bag; and Bunny Cadag, the bushy-haired quack doctor who makes quite an entrance toward the end.

And when they, along with the rest of this production, hit their stride, the laughs pile on. Alas, such instances are few and far between.

As the saying goes, "dying is easy, but comedy is hard."

Middle ground

It is an aphorism that also strikes a chord--though for vastly different reasons--in Spotlight Artists Centre's "Dirty Old Musical," wittily shortened to "DOM," which makes use of Filipino pop ditties of the '70s and '80s to tell the story of five fictional ex-boy band members who meet for a fund-raising reunion concert.

One may look at the "dying" part as pertaining only to the character of Ricky Davao, appearing only in video as the band's musical director of sorts who is now gravely ill. But "dying" is also speckled across the band members, these middle-aged men grappling with hair loss, erectile dysfunction and even gender identity.

It is this middle ground of denial between the midlife crisis and full-fledged "senior-hood," librettist Rody Vera writes in his program notes, that is the concern of "DOM," as conceptualized by musical director Myke Salomon and producer and actor Robert Seña.

Often, though, it all feels like a case of the idea sounding better on paper than it looks fleshed out onstage. The story is spread too thin, and the jokes fall flat. And it is not a good sign when the first act's dramatic ending is anchored on priapism (Google that), even worse when that is intended as a comedic highlight.


It is when the dialogue ends and the music begins that the show as a whole feels richer in both its storytelling and characterization. In fact, it is sad that the Music Museum, where "DOM" closes tonight, has such inadequate acoustics for musical theater, because the music-making at play is just terrific.

It is not just the singing--for example, Fred Lo's gorgeous take on Florante de Leon's "Sana." It is also Salomon's orchestrations, the way he refashions Gary Granada's "Kaibigang Tapat" into a thrilling a capella number, or spins radio hits like Ryan Cayabyab's "Nais Ko" and "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika" into integral parts of the narrative.

The music finds its match in Dexter Santos' direction, his emphasis on movement well-suited to this production. His choreography effectively aids in the suspension of disbelief, the limber dancing among these men starkly contrasted with their bodily woes once the singing ends.

Effortless portrayal

Among the cast, Nonie Buencamino delivers the truest, most effortless portrayal of a DOM, or dirty old man, as Filipino slang goes.

John Arcilla, now quite famous as the temperamental titular character in Jerrold Tarog's "Heneral Luna," brings a similar dramatic intensity to the show, and unveils a soaring singing voice that is unfortunately rarely heard nowadays.

His duet with Buencamino on Jim Paredes' "Nakapagtataka" is a genuine musical theater moment, its smooth unfolding of emotional layers at once propelling and deepening the story.

Two numbers before that, however, is when the musical really lights up and hits its stride. Probably nobody else this year could make an entrance quite like Michael Williams--red jacket, red shoes and "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika" at the ready. The laughter that greets the sight of him is unmistakably one thunderous "halakhak."