Saturday, November 28, 2015

PDI Review: 'The Bridges of Madison County' by Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group

Last review for the year! The online version of my piece on Atlantis' "The Bridges of Madison County"--once again, beautiful music by Jason Robert Brown--in today's Inquirer is here. Show ends on December 6!

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'The Bridges of Madison County': Elegant musicality, accomplished staging

Fans of "The Bridges of Madison County"--either of the sentimental sinkhole that is Robert James Waller's original novella, or of the 1995 Oscar-nominated film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep--may pick up a whiff of heresy in the musical adaptation directed by Bobby Garcia for Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group.

The lovers at the heart of the story--Italian war bride Francesca (Joanna Ampil) and photographer Robert (Mig Ayesa)--now appear awfully young. It may look like a trifle, but this slight change in detail is actually a game-changer as far as character dynamics are concerned.


Understand that what comprises much of the appeal of the novel and film is the depiction of forbidden middle-aged love. Francesca is a bored housewife living what appears to be the perfect life in the American flatlands. Then, just as her husband and kids are away at the state fair, a mysterious free spirit comes swooping in, and suddenly the possibilities, in a place that runs on routine, are once again infinite.

Robert is 52 years old in the book; Streep was already well into her 40s while Eastwood had just breached his 60s when they did the film. Imagine if Francesca and Robert had been any younger--the excitement would have simply fizzled out, the story reduced to being your typical love affair, just another account of youthful foolishness.

By situating the story in that patch of time where people are supposed to have long found "the one," settled down, devoted to raising a family and keeping it intact, "Bridges" coats its tale of adultery with a novel sheen, something to pique the viewer's curiosity. Imagine if these people were your parents!

Visually stunning

In the case of the current Atlantis production (running until Dec. 6 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza), it's not entirely clear if the considerably fervid youthful glow emanating from the leads is only a matter of casting, or something specifically stipulated in the musical's script. (The book is by Marsha Norman, the Tony Award-winning score by Jason Robert Brown.)

Still, it seems rather imprudent to raise such complaints when you've got a show as visually stunning and emotionally searing as the one Garcia has put on. Rest assured that while the love affair now treads more along the path paved by restless thirty-somethings, the heartbreak is no less real and visceral.

That's largely because of Ampil, who brings both weight and lightness, sadness and rapture to Francesca, even as she works with an unconvincing Italian-American accent. In her hands, the role becomes a showcase of alternating stale resignation and newfound ecstasy; and the songs, through a voice of immeasurable luster, become occasions for exquisite, breathtaking imagery.

Suddenly, the tedious life promised by Madison County, as painted by Brown's lyrics, doesn't sound so bad.

Robert, as portrayed by Ayesa, becomes sort of a manic pixie boy dream with the body of an Olympian god. It's this swagger and manly appeal that fueled his interpretation of the rock star Stacee Jaxx in Atlantis' "Rock of Ages"; here in "Bridges," those traits lift the character off the ground, and Robert the earthy photographer is now a dreamboat with a penchant for balladry.

You can clearly see why Ampil's Francesca would invite him into her house and eventually jump into bed with him when the opportunity finally presented itself.

Sweeping grasp

Elegant musicality aside, it's also how the world of this "Bridges" is conjured that makes it such a beauty, via Faust Peneyra's set, Jonjon Villareal's lights and Garcia's splendid direction.

What Peneyra has achieved here is not just spectacle, but a sweeping grasp of past and present. By converting the proscenium of the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium into a magnificent gilded frame, by depicting the stark Iowa landscape through rectangular snapshots hanging on all three walls of the stage, "Bridges" becomes a memory that refuses to stay buried beneath earth and dust.

It is a photograph that has weathered time, granted distinct tones by Villareal's transformative lighting: blood red for overwhelming love; deep blue for the hurtful past; and so on.

It is this moving picture that Garcia directs with clockwork fluidity. Everything falls neatly into place at the perfect time--the movements precise and meaningful, from the way the actors are blocked to how some of Peneyra's frames are flipped to become props or present-day articles, all the way to the tiniest shade of light and angle of limbs.

The production, in fact, owes its best moments to the tableaus Garcia has crafted out of Francesca's mirror autobiographical numbers--the opening "To Build a Home," which tells of how she came to settle in America; and "Almost Real," a delicately morose recollection of her life back in Italy.


With the ensemble sitting on the fringes of the stage (a concept first used by the original Broadway production), it's no longer just the audience who are witnesses to the story and the sweet infidelities it harbors. And these people surprisingly feel organic, and not just like glorified roles.

In particular, Nino Alejandro (of "The Voice of the Philippines" fame) leaves an indelible presence as Francesca's husband, while Emeline Celis-Guinid is an unexpected comic delight as her snooty neighbor.

Despite the mushy, turbulent nature of its central idea, "Bridges" remains by and large a work of admirable subtlety, and that is Garcia's most remarkable achievement. The romance is kept mostly just beneath the surface, the feelings restrained, and thus, truthful.

Suffice to say, if you're looking for a show where the Filipino concept of "kilig" reigns supreme, then this is the last thing you'd like to check out. Not much in the way of the obvious dots this production; most of the time, it pulls back, so that in the few instances that it openly pours its heart out, the payoff hits pretty hard.

In a relatively weak year for local musical theater, Garcia and Ampil have given us quite a gem. The staging of this "Bridges" is nothing short of accomplished, and its leading lady, a beacon of emotional clarity.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

PDI Review: 'This Is Our Youth' by Red Turnip Theater

Back in the papers after more than a month! My review of Red Turnip Theater's "This Is Our Youth," which plays its final four performances this weekend, is in today's Inquirer - here

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Disaffected kids, damn entertaining show

Closing night curtain call.

It's never really clear what's going on in the minds of the three well-off teenage New Yorkers at the heart of Kenneth Lonergan's "This Is Our Youth." They kiss and curse and flirt, fire insults, plot schemes, smoke pot. Yet it's hard to shrug off the feeling that what we're seeing is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; in this delirious adolescent fever dream, who exactly are these people?

They themselves wouldn't know. Such is the uncertainty of youth, the dread that comes with being on the brink of adulthood, which Lonergan's play captures with piercing precision and which Red Turnip Theater has summoned to electrifying, hyperkinetic life in a production directed without unnecessary flourish by Topper Fabregas.

The youngsters in question are Dennis, a drug-dealing borderline-psychopath; his best friend Warren, who stumbles into his apartment late one night with $15,000 in stolen cash; and Jessica, the fashion student whom Warren has the biggest crush on. It's a formulaic story--a trio of bored, affluent kids with a chunk of money, some dope and stretches of time to spare--but Fabregas and his team have spun a damn entertaining show out of it.

It is not "story," meaning the advancement of plot, or a seamless jump from scene to scene, that seems to be this "Youth's" primary concern. Rather, what this production generously dispenses is "sensation"--specifically the hallucinatory euphoria, that nothing-can-stop-us, me-against-the-terrifying-world feeling only the perpetually high and pitifully young would know too well.

It is this addled state of mind that Jef Flores and Nicco Manalo, as Dennis and Warren, respectively, wallow in. They are lost youth, souls trapped in bodies they barely understand, struggling to set out on their own with wings that won't entirely flap into flight.

Caged in Dennis' well-furnished Upper West Side studio (designed by Kayla Teodoro) where the marijuana haze never seems to lift, Flores and Manalo play out an unlikely friendship in the form of a bully-and-victim dynamic, often to hysterical effect. Posters of Spielberg's "Jaws" and Scorsese's "Mean Streets" on the wall can only be silent spectators to the drugged and droll situations that unfold; these guys are so high, they can hardly think straight.

Lonergan's crackerjack dialogue finds the perfect vessel in Flores, who first made his name earlier this year with a subdued but no less compelling performance as the star of Repertory Philippines' underappreciated "4000 Miles," and who now vanquishes any remaining doubt that local theater has indeed found a new leading man.

His portrayal of Dennis, in which he scours the rocky, unpredictable terrain of a druggie's explosive mind, is at once enthralling and frightening. You see his eyes widen with excitement and shrink with boredom within their sockets and it's only a split second later that the confusion actually sinks in: How thin is the line between reality and imitation? Flores is so good in this role, it's sometimes too difficult to tell.

And the way he plows through the volatile landscape of Lonergan's language can at times be jaw-dropping. One moment, he's making the phrase "dastardly deed" sound like something anybody would say; the next, he's smoothly salvaging the script's unfortunate misstep into the painfully obvious (during the second act's climax) with his flawless, masterful handling of a 15-minute monologue.

Manalo is even better. In a particularly strong year for the nonmusical play, it would be no exaggeration to say that his performance as Warren may just be the best addition to an already-delectable panoply of fine turns by the male lead. 

Adolescent awkwardness has never been this adorable, or, for purely hypothetical purposes, desirable. To watch Manalo's Warren be the butt of jokes, the clueless object of Dennis' cruelty, is to witness a carefully studied performance at play. The timing is never imperfect, the comedy of every line and scene never careless or taken for granted.

Warren's discomfort, his ungraceful innocence and the social tragedies it attracts, is our joy, and Manalo's playing of him is the hook that keeps the audience in sync and constantly hungry for the unruly goings-on in this play.

Cindy Lopez's performance as Jessica is nowhere near as lived-in as that of her coactors. Her accent, a breed we've heard before from progeny of a certain exclusive girls' school in the metro, is perennially at odds with her cast mates' refined American twang.

What's far more interesting, however, is that the very elements that should sink her performance instead enliven it. This tentativeness, this self-conscious, spaced-out state awash in her face and in her studied mannerisms, is exactly what Jessica sounds like on paper. There is a Filipino word that best describes her: "lutang"--and that's not meant as a diss.

It is this very trait that Lopez fully embodies (whether she's aware of it or not) during the show's emotional highlight--Warren and Jessica's initial encounter, which Manalo and Lopez turn into a beguiling courtship that starts out as an amusing, long-winded conversation involving protons, calcium molecules, Reagan-era politics and the meaning of existence and culminates in an inelegant dance, a kiss, the works.

That sequence, by the way, beautifully illustrates what appears to be the gist of Fabregas' direction. Though there is a blatant sense of uncontrollability, a whirlwind of hormones and unsuppressed impulses raging through this show, there is also an unmistakable whiff of calibration in the air.

The performers are apparently functioning on a purely instinctual level, yet that sliver of control pulsating through the proceedings cannot be ignored. These characters are young, restless and clueless. One is never sure just what it is they're thinking, though one thing is clear: You can't take your eyes off them.

Or, for that matter, the first-rate play they're inhabiting.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 in Movies: Cinema One Originals Film Festival Part 1: Original Features

Note: I missed three of the competition entries: Sari Dalena's "Dahling Nick," Raymond Red's "Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso" and Ivan Andrew Payawal's "The Comeback." I supposedly didn't miss a lot.

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63. Baka Siguro Yata (dir. Joel Ferrer)

It cannot be denied that "Baka Siguro Yata" has its heart in the right place: Its attempt at comedy is well-intentioned, and its desire to give the audience a good time, genuine. But ideas alone are never enough, and it's sad how Ferrer's rash and clumsy direction hinders the film from truly taking flight. Some scenes are overplayed, when they could have benefited from softer, subtler tones; others, requiring a largeness in words and actions, are left underplayed. Three intertwining love stories are charted by the film: That of the separated middle-aged couple (Cherie Gil and Ricky Davao, both excellent) now rekindling their sex life, if not romance; the younger couple thrust together by an unexpected pregnancy; and the high school lovebirds whose biggest ambition at the moment is losing their virginities. That last storyline has absolutely no reason to exist (come on, people, what year is it?!) and is representative of the laziness splotched across this otherwise earnest film.

64. Dayang Asu (dir. Bor Ocampo)

"Dayang Asu" is not as literal-minded as its self-explanatory title (which translates to "dog nation") makes it look. It explores an underworld in a place that's too laid-back and honest-looking to deserve such a dirty underbelly. It moves at a steady pace, does not desire to choose sides and presents the eternal fight between good and evil as a long-accepted way of life. The performances, with the sole exception of an ill-fitting Junjun Quintana, blend seamlessly into the milieu of the story, where the most interesting character is a prostitute named Krissy. Still, after all the bullets have been fired, the bodies piled up, the lies told and lives broken, the question remains unavoidable: What exactly is the point of all this? To that, "Dayang Asu" has no desire to give an answer, but it would be a lie to say that the film is incapable of sustaining one's attention. It tells an orthodox story, and tells it decently.

65. Bukod Kang Pinagpala (dir. Sheron Dayoc)

The use of mysticism and an inherently Christian fascination with and fear of evil bestows a feeling of freshness upon "Bukod Kang Pinagpala." The devil, masquerading as naked Jesus, awakens the mother (Bing Pimentel) from a coma, and soon a devotion occurs, the kind that Lou Veloso can turn into a demented gathering with the most random remarks. The atmosphere grows gloomier, the darkness slowly encroaching around the house and the surrounding forest. But then trying too hard has never been a desirable attribute, and "Bukod Kang Pinagpala" tries and tries and tries (and usually succeeds) in delivering the frights, no matter how cheap and convenient and clichéd. "Be scared, be very scared!" it deliberately tells the audience, and in this sense, it is effective.  

Come the third act however, a miracle does occur: "Bukod Kang Pinagpala" manages to renew our interest through an unexpected transfiguration. It abandons all hope of becoming a respectable, if not excellent, horror film (like Eduardo Dayao's "Violator," last year's Cinema One Originals Best Picture winner), and assumes the form of a slasher flick. There's very little blood, actually, but the laughable hysterics are enough to grab your attention and remind you of, I don't know, some scene from "A Nightmare on Elm Street," perhaps. Pimentel is now the deranged mother, and Max Eigenmann is the helpless daughter who gets to shout, "Natatakot na ako!" and locks the door and sobs in the darkness and stupidly escapes to the woods (like that idiot Snow White) and is finally eaten by hell hounds. Cue closing shot of Quiapo, incubator of all things strange and unscientific, just because. Now that's entertainment.

66. Hamog (dir. Ralston Jover)

If "Hamog" were Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice," it would certainly have lost both children in an instant, because here is a film that can't seem to choose which poor child's story to focus on. We're already 15 years into the 21st century, my friends; we've had our fair share of tales about poverty to recognize the blueprints and formulate some relevant expectations. Yet "Hamog" mistakes inclusivity for depth and insists on telling three(!) stories, only one of which really delves into the heart of the matter and carries some semblance of unpredictability. Many things can be said, and faults found, of the plot line concerning Jinky (played with surprising spunk and steeliness by the wonderful Therese Malvar), the waif who becomes OJ Mariano's ward and Anna Luna's Cinderella. But when it does hit its stride, and it does so periodically, "Hamog" becomes compelling viewing, one that locates a sad, sad heart in a cruel, cruel world. The rest of it--the treacly, insubstantial parts--we can do without.

67. Miss Bulalacao (dir. Ara Chawdhury)

The most remarkable thing about "Miss Bulalacao" is how astutely it captures the beat and rhythm of small-town life. The people speak with a distinct slowness, their pauses telling of their origins. The places, though wide and bright and airy, feel so close to one another, it's impossible for secrets to be kept and news to be contained. In this deceptively claustrophobic cradle by the sea, a lowly gay kid suddenly finds himself with child, and the rest of the film is his trajectory, his rise to stardom, so to speak, from cause of his parents' despair to revered local figure. Nothing else, apart from its conceit, is novel in "Miss Bulalacao." Instead, it takes its time to explore what has been explored and portray what has been portrayed in its own unassuming way. The marvelous cast, from the titular character to his conflicted parents to the neighborhood whore, gamely immerse themselves in roles that have seen the dark of the cinema time and again. The trite acquires a sheen of newness, and "Miss Bulalacao," with all its honest laughs and blind mistakes, eventually succeeds in winning your heart.

68. Manang Biring (dir. Carl Joseph Papa)

"Manang Biring" makes you laugh until you no longer can, and then it strikes you deep in the gut. It is cruel that way; it is also what makes it so touching and heartbreaking. The cancer that plagues the title character is almost an aside; the despair it causes her, this need to live just a little bit longer so she may get to see her estranged daughter come Christmas, is the driving force behind this film. But instead of becoming just another cancer movie (meaning cloyingly emotional), or another old-age movie (meaning obsessed with isolation and preoccupied with the idea of death), "Manang Biring" mines its script to the core and gives the viewer life and laughter in the least predictable ways. Glutathione soap, coffee shops, ecstasy, Kalokalike, conyo kids and Mailes Kanapi pushing drugs in a club all find their way to Papa's rotoscoped universe (an argument may be made against the necessity of this device). So we laugh along and forgive "Manang Biring" for its flaws, and by the time the ending rolls along, our tear ducts have been primed and our humanity rendered vulnerable.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

2015 in Movies: QCinema International Film Festival

I wasn't even aware this festival was happening until it was already halfway through and tickets were virtually selling out like pan-fucking-cakes. Please, please, please let there be future screenings of "Apocalypse Child." Pretty please.

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61. Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo (dir. Mihk Vergara)

Why do films often find the need to be about a lot of things, when they could be about just one thing told keenly, clearly and perceptively? Is the multitude of themes, of currents and undercurrents frenziedly weaving in and out the gauzy fabric of a story, always an asset? "Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo" could have just stuck to being about silly children and the games they play, a nostalgia trip telescopically viewed, such that this world of naiveté and credulity is suddenly rendered large and lucid, and it probably would have been a lot easier (because hey, truth-telling is hard) to call it "ingenious," "original," "imaginative."

Instead, it refuses to stay on that plane and pulls back time and again to show the "realistic," "normal," "natural" side of things. Thus, the unoriginal exploration of fractured families and the healing powers of tragedy, for example--the death of the chain-smoking grandmother bringing about the reconciliation of the squabbling siblings; the absentee mother as embodiment of the Filipino diaspora. Or when Meng (Nafa Hilario-Cruz), after being offered candy, responds, "Quit na ako diyan," and somehow it's painfully obvious the script doesn't really 100% believe in the cinematic frivolity of putting adult words in children's mouths. Or when the new kid in town is named Shifty, and there seems to be an awful lot of obese kids in the barangay, and it's not really clear whether laughter is the appropriate response because look, "Take me seriously whenever I please," this movie tells its by-now confused audience.

At the center of the saddest-looking and most poorly attended barangay sport fest is the harshest game of patintero ever played (one would be of sound mind to think twice before signing up and thus risking skull, limb and possibly life). It is so violent, riddled with profanity and images of kids dramatically being shoved and hurled, it's obviously not meant to be taken literally. It knows what it is and stands by its nature. That's commitment--a quality this movie as a whole unfortunately doesn't have enough of. 

62. Sleepless (dir. Prime Cruz)

"Sleepless" isn't really about two people who are in love. The emotional boundaries aren't exactly clear-cut, and more than once, the characters' intentions seem half-hearted (in the context of the story), if not dubious. And yet, the film leaves you thinking about the idea of romance itself, how it is to love and be loved or unloved. How it is to feel, in a manner of speaking. You wonder how, in a city of strangers and uncertain jobs and unblinking lights, love could still be pure, if not perfect. You wonder about alternate endings--how missing the train could have meant meeting that someone on the platform; how an extra couple of minutes in line for pretzels could have convinced you to buy that new David Mitchell novel at Fully Booked, and once there, you both unknowingly lay hands on that last copy at the exact moment. You wonder at the possibility of never meeting someone, of growing old alone in a room thirty floors above ground, with only the sunset and neon city lights for company. You wonder what goes on in the mind of the sleepless, the dazed, the ones who have long surrendered to the constancy of the real, instead of dreams. The best movies aren't the ones that sweep you off your cold seat during those two hours in darkness; they're the ones that won't seem to leave you long after you've rejoined the bright, noisy, humdrum world. We have to wake up sometime, after all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2015 in Movies, 49-60

These are all the movies I've seen since the start of internship, or in the span of 16 weeks. I did finish the latest seasons of "Modern Family" and "Game of Thrones," as well as "Glee's" final one. Still, I catch myself thinking, what a paltry list. And we only have less than three months to go before the year ends.

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"Singin' in the Rain."

49. The Break-up Playlist (dir. Dan Villegas)

"Paano bang magmahal," Piolo Pascual sings, and the first thought that comes to mind is, why is he singing like that? Seriously, guys, why is Piolo whining? It's like a pebble got stuck inside one of his nostrils. Nobody, not even his co-star, bothers to answer him; Sarah Geronimo is too busy trying to show off the embarrassing amount of restraint she has evidently put into her performance, even the creases on her clothes are screaming, "Internal!" (You can almost hear Nora Aunor's teary-eyed applause in the background.) Last year, we had to deal with "Begin Again," which fancied itself a clever, relevant musical film; "The Break-up Playlist" feels earthier, more laid-back, heartfelt, authentic, and because it's directed and written by the Dan Villegas-Antoinette Jadaone master tandem, its sins are all too easily forgiven.

50. Minions (dirs. Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda)

They actually made a movie in pure gibberish--and I liked it! Some conspiracy theorists think these minions are Hollywood's way of promoting devil worship. After all, the cute little things make it their mission to seek out the most evil person/creature there is, from the T-Rex to Napoleon. What utter rubbish! "Minions" is the film industry's way of telling us it's okay to be a kid at heart and that it's perfectly reasonable to love a movie in which the language makes absolutely no sense.   

51. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, dir. David Yates)

Darkness made elegant. Dumbledore dead. Helena Bonham-Carter destroying the Great Hall. Ginny harnessing her slutty side. Hermione realizing she has a slutty side. The dark side triumphant. 

52. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)

I'm not a fan of Marvel, but I'll be damned if there's a better opening scene from a 2014 movie than that of Chris Pratt, in space traveler chic, suddenly breaking into dance to Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" in that abandoned stony wasteland. 

53. Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter)

Movies that made me cry: "Lilo and Stitch," "Toy Story 3," "Finding Nemo," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "The Lion King," "An Affair to Remember," "The Bridges of Madison County," "Got 2 Believe," etc. "Inside Out" came nowhere near my tear ducts, but the intelligence of this film completely surprised and satisfied the aspiring psychiatrist in me. 

54. Singin' in the Rain (1952, dirs. Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

The international touring production of "Singin' in the Rain," based on this movie, was an exquisitely mounted but unfairly unattended production. It ran for three weeks at the Theater at Solaire, and during the final week, they had to slash ticket prices by 50%. Still, that was not enough to draw audiences in--and what a waste! Nobody could ever possibly match Gene Kelly, but--dare I say this--the women, Bethany Dickson (in the Debbie Reynolds role) and Taryn Lee Hudson (in the Jean Hagen role), felt more organic than their film counterparts, bringing surprising warmth and authenticity to their characters. 

55. Heneral Luna (dir. Jerrold Tarog)

"Heneral Luna" felt like "On the Job" all over again--a time when even the most unlikely people suddenly became self-professed cinephiles and started heralding a "new age" in Filipino filmmaking, whatever that meant. Is "Heneral Luna" a bad movie? Far from it. It is obviously a product of hard work and imagination. It has its fair share of beautiful shots (the dream sequence in the Parisian café is gorgeously surreal). It has John Arcilla painting the most persuasive portrait of a volatile leader. The script's turn-of-the-century Tagalog is music to the ears, and the effort to make it accessible to modern and/or young audiences is laudable (For example: "Handang magtapon ng dugo ang totoong makabayan. Hindi pagdurusa ang pagdaan sa napakatinding pasakit. Para kang tumanggap ng basbas, parang pag-ibig). We just have to open our eyes a little wider, or read a bit more, and realize that "Heneral Luna" is not the first excellent movie to come out since "On the Job." That's the real bullshit, my friends.

56. Taklub (dir. Brillante Mendoza)

I wish I could say I thoroughly enjoyed this latest Nora Aunor; that all I felt were the sadness of the Yolanda victims depicted and the harrowing emptiness of their ravaged home. But that would be a lie. Because Mendoza's handheld camerawork was so shaky, it gave me a headache. And it came to a point that I could no longer bear it, so I stood up and left. With still a third of the movie to go.    

57. Etiquette for Mistresses (dir. Chito Roño)

There's Kris Aquino playing Kris Aquino, Claudine Barretto playing Claudine Barretto, and a piece of dialogue that goes, "Timezone tayo mamaya." Also, there's an untouched pancit canton dinner, Kim Chiu trying her best to play cheap (it can be argued that she actually need not try so hard), and a jet escape to China with Iza Calzado, but that's all beside the matter. Rating: RECOMMENDED!

58. The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)

"The Martian" is this year's "Interstellar," except it doesn't have Matthew McConaughey spouting corny declarations of love being the answer to everything in a wormhole. It is also this year's "Apollo 13," except it doesn't take its scientific shiz too seriously (meaning, we somehow processed all the deep shit they were talking about, not that we actually retained it or made our brains understand it). "The Martian" has Matt Damon, a great actor who knows how to make didactic dialogue sound pedestrian and humorous, the way Tom Hanks can make oratory sound like the most spontaneous thing. Damon plays a botanist who grows potatoes in Mars, and Jessica Chastain is his captain, and towards the end, during the requisite ("pivotal" simply won't cut it) rescue scene, they float and bounce and roll in space in spools of red ribbon against a backdrop of Martian red, and that entire sequence just burst of unsullied cinematic beauty, I had to cry.

59. Crimson Peak (dir. Guillermo del Toro)

First there was an insanely sharp pen. Then a short knife. Then a long knife. Then a butcher's knife. Then a shovel. And that was what finally killed Lucille Sharpe--two blows to the head with a shovel, delivered by Alice in Cumberland. But really, "Crimson Peak" the movie is not scary at all; it is vastly entertaining, in the way that seeing Mia Wasikowska suffer onscreen is entertaining (she's really good at portraying helplessness). The one genuinely scary part about "Crimson Peak" is Jessica Chastain, who acts the hell out of Lucille, she deserves to be recognized come year's end. After all, it's not every day you see such a tremendous performance in a so-called horror flick.

60. Bridge of Spies (dir. Steven Spielberg)

Everybody must have that Steven Spielberg movie that made them realize, "Hey, I'm watching the work of a master." "Schindler's List" is mine, even though I have my qualms about that ending. "Bridge of Spies" is a film where every frame is a necessary fragment of the story, where every shot was deliberately inserted in its current place because it's the only way the entire thing could make actual sense. The film, about the moral grey areas that the Cold War brought forth to our global consciousness, is literally shaded in hues of gray, that its nature as a spy film is almost a consequence of its camera work. It opens with three images of one person (you have to watch to find out how this is so)--Mark Rylance, who speaks a million words through the shortest of silences. Much of "Bridge of Spies" runs this way--lines crossed and crisscrossed, ambiguities illuminated then made murkier, exactness in form and spirit reduced to formless air. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

PDI Review: 'Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus' - Vincent de Jesus in Concert

My review of Vincent de Jesus' Triple Threats concert at the CCP is in today's Inquirer--here. The last one, featuring the music of Rony Fortich, is slated this coming Thursday, Oct. 22 at 8PM. Less than three months of theatergoing left!

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The sweetly painful music of Vincent de Jesus

No beating human heart is safe when near the music of Vincent de Jesus.

Granted, the man is also an extraordinary composer of lighthearted, hopeful, even comical music. The "Kayumanggilas" number from "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," for instance, which summons the "barakong" Pinoy image through wildly creative wordplay ("bansot," "jologs," "sakang," "isaw" and "balut" uproariously crammed in a few lines), may just be the cleverest, funniest song we've heard in the theater this year.

But De Jesus' heartbreak music, his assiduous exploration of pain and cruel suffering and love crushed and splintered, is of a different category altogether. At the Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP) Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino last Sept. 24, the illustrious career of this much-garlanded songwriter-actor-musical director received a thrilling, almost unbearably melancholy condensation through the aptly titled "Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus," the second of this year's Triple Threats concert series.


Thirty-nine artists, like pilgrims at the shrine, performed the two-hour set list, which mostly contained De Jesus' musical theater work--"Care Divas," "Zsazsa Zaturnnah," "Himala, The Musical"--interwoven with selections from his album "Songs to Slash Your Wrists By" (how fitting!) and his compositions for the screen, such as the theme from Mark Meily's "Crying Ladies."

It was an impressive display of versatility (and even this phrase seems an inadequate modifier). For De Jesus' body of work runs a gamut of styles and moods, from inspiring patriotism ("Pag-asa ng Bayan" from "Batang Rizal") to brusque elation ("Babae na Ako" from "Zsazsa," performed by Eula Valdes) to heart-tugging, brain-numbing, vaguely soul-crushing romance ("There'll Be Trouble" from "Leading Lady," with original cast members Giannina Ocampo, Hans Eckstein and Bituin Escalante).

And it's that last kind that De Jesus' does exceptionally well. In fact, looking back, the concert felt like a slow descent into a wellspring of tears.

"Here's another happy song," became the evening's oft-spoken sardonic gag, the titles speaking for themselves as they flew by: "Hindi na Kita Mahal," "Ako Lang ang Nagmahal," "Sapagkat Mahal Kita," etc.

Sharp images

It's the language of betrayed lovers and disillusioned romantics that De Jesus speaks most fluently, his images sharp, the voices distinct, the metaphors savagely hard-hitting and honest.

Take this hint of hurt from "Ang Maamong Mukha ng Pag-ibig Mong Sinungaling," which De Jesus himself performed: "Iwan mo na lang sa unan ang amoy ng iyong pagtataksil. Akin yan."

Or from "Tahimik Lang," achingly sung by Reuben Laurente, in which emotional damage masquerades as silence: "Walang tunog kapag ang luha'y pumapatak/at ang pusong sumisigaw, walang nakakarinig/at ang labing napipi, gusto mang magsumbong, tahimik lang."

To use the expression: hashtag "hugot." Whether in English or Filipino, the truthful clarity of De Jesus' lyrics is never diminished.

And come those lung-busting aria--such as "Kasalanan Ko" from "Leading Lady," which only Escalante could possibly render with such crushing anguish--one could only surrender to the sweeping sensory overload.

It's moments like this--and "Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus" had them aplenty--when the human heart is transported to a most vulnerable, searing spot. When that happens, it's best not to hold back; instead, one just has to surrender to this genius' sweetly painful music. Your heart will surprisingly thank you for it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

PDI Review: 'Breakups and Breakdowns' by Ateneo Blue Repertory

I saw three shows last weekend: Tanghalang Ateneo's "Robot Unibersal ni Rossum," a confusingly flamboyant adaptation of the Karel Capek play; Ballet Manila's "Romeo and Juliet," using Paul Vasterling's choreography--Rudy de Dios as Romeo, Gerardo Francisco as Mercutio and Rudolph Capongcol as Benvolio were excellent; and Blue Rep's "Breakups and Breakdowns," which turned out to be the weekend's pleasant surprise--the online version of my review in today's paper here.

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Blue Rep and 'Breakups and Breakdowns' make a surprising match

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more agreeable onstage marriage between man and material these days than at the Ateneo's Fine Arts Theater, where Blue Repertory's "Breakups and Breakdowns" closes tonight after a three-week run.

Despite the middling material--book and lyrics by Joel Trinidad, score by Rony Fortich--it's marvelous how "Breakups" gels so seamlessly with the capabilities and sensibilities of its young performers, this small band of college students finding youthful vitality in a sea of banality.

Trinidad's writing flounders in shades of all-too-eager cleverness and not-too-deep heartache, a mixture obviously patterned (but not perfected) after American TV sitcoms such as "Friends" and "How I Met Your Mother." It's the choice of entertainment of the modern, young and educated, in which jokes are exchanged at lightning speed and romances wither in the blink of an eye.

"Breakups" presents us with a foursome--roommates Mark and Derek, and the women in their lives, graphic designer Nina and (what's her description again?) Sandy--singing largely forgettable music about falling in and out of love (though, admittedly, Fortich has woven a couple of memorable moments in "Boy Meets Girl" and "Tell Yourself").

Privileged people

Where new ground is concerned, none is broken by "Breakups." It's another millennial story of privileged people dealing with their First World problems. We've seen this before in The Sandbox Collective's "No Filter," a monologue series about the middle-to-upper class millennials of Manila, which is currently enjoying a second run at the Black Box Theater in The Circuit, Makati City.

Whereas "No Filter" generates its appeal largely through the inspired writing, Blue Repertory's "Breakups" simply has to look around and within itself. It's the English-spouting millennial Atenean stereotype at play, but really, milieu--or people's perception of it, at least--has never played a more integral part in the relative success of a show.

As the perfect company to put on an English-language show about vaguely American people and their love problems, Blue Repertory more than delivers; this "Breakups" has a beating heart that is as familiar as it is convincingly alive.

Not for a second do we doubt that these performers can indeed assume these fictional identities; the glass slippers fit perfectly, so to speak. That, and the fact that Reb Atadero's direction is an admirable exercise in restraint and streamlining.

Devices are employed sparingly but effectively. In a particularly stirring rendering of romantic irony during the opening song, the sight of Mark and Nina kissing for what appears to be the first time is contrasted with voice-overs of missed telephone calls and glum good-byes.

The girls in particular--Celine Bengzon as Nina and Angela Mercado as Sandy--emanate a kind of radiant freshness generally seen only among the pros. They sing ravishingly and never overdo their acting; they could very well be the people they're portraying, and we'd totally buy it.


It's this comfort with the material that ignites the enjoyment in "Breakups," even though the choreography could use more polish and theatricality, and the singing becomes tentative when it comes to those insipid low notes (not the performers' fault).

Doomed lovers' quartets are, in fact, nothing new. Patrick Marber's "Closer," last staged in Manila two years ago by Red Turnip Theater, is the quintessential example. (Perhaps viewers are more familiar with it through the 2004 film starring Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts.)

It would be quite a stretch to call "Breakups" a "Closer" for a G-rated audience. The latter features thrilling verbal jousts, each person clawing at the other's veneer, willed to expose his or her frailties--a Russian roulette of toxic romances set to the foul language of distrust and betrayal.

"Breakups" has nowhere near as much emotional gravity. Mostly, it attempts to be serious, and be taken seriously, then retreats to its cozy shell of familiarity. But as staged by Blue Repertory, the conflicts unexpectedly become compelling, and the people in it, real. Or as millennials would say it, totally relatable.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

PDI Review: 'Mundong Entablado' by the One Night Stand cabaret series

It was a privilege to write this piece--the website version here. To many more smashing nights like this at the One Night Stand cabaret. 

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'Mundong Entablado': A sensational night for the original Filipino musical

"Pambayad ng trophy!" chirped Nonie Buencamino during the opening spiel of "Mundong Entablado," the one-night-only fund-raising concert for the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists' Group (Philstage) held Sept. 1 at 12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub in Century City Mall, Makati City.

The "trophy" in question was a jocular reference to the Gawad Buhay! Awards for the Performing Arts, which Philstage has been handing out for the past seven years in a ceremony that, while definitely no match against the scale and spectacle of the Aliw Awards, can already claim to be the most legitimate of its kind.

Festive reunion

"Mundong Entablado," the fifth edition of the One Night Stand cabaret series pioneered by Joaquin Valdes, Chinie Concepcion and Mica Pineda, proved to be more festive reunion than concert, like one huge artistic family coming together for two hours of belting and repartee. The air was rife with familiarity, the sense of celebration quite infectious.

Since its inception last April, One Night Stand had so far been about uneven singing and tipsy bantering, its theme nights providing a venue for theater actors to let their hair down and let the alcohol do half the talking and singing (in keeping with the art form's true spirit).

Last month's edition was a glorious departure from the mold: Carla Guevara-Laforteza's 40th birthday concert. It was a scorcher of an evening, her take on Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Unexpected Song" quite the bravura showstopper, one of those ephemeral moments theater worshipers live for.

"Mundong Entablado," directed by Topper Fabregas, deigned to raise the bar even higher for the monthly cabaret: Its theme was the original Filipino musical.

Even in timing, it was already a cheeky move. Only a year ago, theatergoers and the culture-loving public were treated to something rather similar, but of much grander proportions: "Musikal!"--the 45th anniversary concert of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

"It was a night bigger than any other,"we wrote, as the who's who of the local performing arts descended upon the palatial Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo in a starry rendezvous.

Smaller setup

"Mundong Entablado" was a much smaller setup with fewer performers--downscaled to the max, to use the pedestrian expression.

But the concert itself was, in a word, sensational. Buencamino, together with Bituin Escalante, Sweet Plantado-Tiongson, Cris Villonco, Kim Molina, OJ Mariano and Sandino Martin--all of them having starred in original Filipino musicals--stormed the stage and, again, to use a common phrase, sang the hell out of the night.

Count them--17 numbers, including four medleys, representing 16 musicals. Still, already clocking in at a little over two hours, the selection felt oddly limited.

For one, there was the lack of English language work such as Trumpets' visually stunning "The Bluebird of Happiness," or 4th Wall Theatre Company's "Rivalry."

And, given that more than half of the selection were musicals shows within the last five years or so, this ostensible preference for recent work missed the likes of Dulaang UP's (DUP) "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" and "Ang Huling Lagda ni Apolinario Mabini"--both premiered splashily to acclaim last year--or the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) warhorse "Care Divas," or the late great Mario O'Hara's "Stageshow" (in which Buencamino danced up quite a storm three years ago).

More original Filipino musicals are being staged and restaged these days, and more importantly, being patronized by audiences. Parallel to this happy development, the days when exclusivity and territoriality governed the country's various theater companies appear to have largely vanished now, with everyone from directors to designers freely hopping from one company to another, wherever work may be found.

It's a tighter, more harmonious community, where the goal is simply to put on a darn good show.

Bountiful age

Look no further for proof of this bountiful age than in Peta's "Rak of Aegis," which, having played more than 200 shows in less than two years, already occupies its own legendary perch in the industry. Beyond being a wildly entertaining work, it has also become sort of a gold standard in crafting a jukebox musical.

That "Musikal!" and "Mundong Entablado" each utilized medleys of those vocal cord-busting Aegis songs as act enders must speak only of the clout Myke Salomon's revitalizing orchestrations have acquired.

An even better example of the genre (to us, at least) is Culture Shock Production's "Sa Wakas," the middle-class love triangle told in reverse in the style of Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along," that employed songs by the now defunct band Sugarfree.

Hearing Villonco, Martin and Molina tear through "Prom," "Ikaw Pala" and "Bawat Daan" (an original song written specifically for the stage) was a ravishing reminder of the heart-tugging beauty those songs, rearranged by Ejay Yatco, possess.

Or how about Dalanghita Productions' "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," which this year became local theater's version of a summer blockbuster? It was a laugh trip from start to finish (and featured what is, in our book, the year's best musical theater performance so far--Molina's as the ambitious Viva). The last time a fantastical superhero musical hit this big was the Tanghalang Pilipino moneymaker "ZsaZsa Zaturnnah."


These days, historical work also remains a reliable source of inspiration. Ryan Cayabyab's take on the illustrious Jose Rizal novels are already in a league of their own, represented during the concert by Buencamino's haunting "Awit ni Isagani" from "El Filibusterismo," and Plantado-Tiongson's medley of "Awit ni Maria" and "Awit ni Sisa" from "Noli Me Tángere" ("The nerve!" she exclaimed at the end, a finger pointed at herself, to laughs and cheers).

In less than a year, we've also had two musicals on Apolinario Mabini: Floy Quintos' "Huling Lagda" (gloriously sung and passionately acted) and Tanghalang Pilipino's radically reimagined "Mabining Mandirigma," starring a subtly powerful Delphine Buencamino as a female Mabini.

There's even "The Mahabharata," which became "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" ("the year's best and most complex dancing," we wrote in our theater roundup last year, by DUP's talented corps of student-actors).

The movies, too, have had their slice of the stage. "Himala, The Musical" provided the medley that thunderously concluded "Mundong Entablado." Scored by Vincent de Jesus, it was last staged three years ago in concert form starring May Bayot, Isay Alvarez and Dulce (the last two the same powerhouse duo that anchored the 2013 revival of what is widely considered the mother of original Filipino musicals,  "Katy!").

Now, there's "Maxie the Musicale," an ebullient and entertaining, if unevenly written, take on Auraeus Solito's award-winning film; and yes, despite all that's been said of it, even Resorts World Manila's crowd-pleasing "Bituing Walang Ningning," adapted from the Sharon Cuneta-Cherie Gil classic.

More than anything, "Mundong Entablado" was a splendid reminder of where the original Filipino musical is right now: front and center of our stages. May it never leave that spot, and may it rain trophies on anyone who's doing his or her share to help it live on forever.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

PDI Review: 'South Pacific in Concert' by Resorts World Manila

What do Ballet Philippines' "Manhid," Upstart Productions' "Into the Woods," Resorts World's "Bituing Walang Ningning," and PETA's revival of "Noli and Fili Dekada Dos Mil" have in common? I shall speak no further.

Anyway, I'm back in the papers after almost two months (thank you, Internal Medicine!). My review of Resorts World's "South Pacific in Concert," which plays its second and final show tonight, is in today's Inquirer--here.

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An enchanting 'South Pacific in Concert,' thanks to an enchanting leading lady

She has dreamed a dream in time gone by as a prostitute in 19th-century France; climbed trees, scraped her knee and torn her dress as a freewheeling nun in Salzburg, Austria; and danced on the last night of the world with her American GI in wartime Saigon.

Now she's on an island in the Pacific, "a cockeyed optimist, immature and incurably green," and don't be surprised if you find yourself falling in love with this wonderful gal as the night wears on.

Such is the sweeping charm of Joanna Ampil, eminent star of the West End's "Miss Saigon" and "Les Miserables," who gives a performance of crystalline delicacy and unbridled buoyancy in Resorts World Manila's concert presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning "South Pacific," directed by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.

The musical, last staged in Manila in 1997 by Repertory Philippines, is a map of two love stories on a South Pacific island in the midst of the Second World War: that of Nellie Forbush, a self-confessed hick of a US Navy nurse, with the French plantation owner Emile de Becque; and that of Lt. Cable with the virginal islander Liat, who is disturbingly paired with the former by her scheming mother Bloody Mary.

Deeply humanizing

For two nights only (it plays its second and final show tonight), Ampil sings the part of Nellie. Yet, not for a minute does she make it seem as if she's only there to hit those notes. Employing the most convincing Southern accent we've heard in the theater of late, Ampil locates a deeply humanizing core in the character, and the result is a perceptively shaded portrait of a woman who can be schmaltzy lover, animated friend and prejudiced stranger all at the same time.

It is largely to Ampil's credit that this discreetly abridged staging of "South Pacific" feels as if it were the real thing. Her Nellie is all flesh and burbling blood, and the subtly lacerating work she puts into the first act's final scene, when Nellie discovers Emile's past relationship with a Polynesian woman and her bigoted side surfaces ("Colored," she exclaims), erases any sliver of doubt that somebody else could possibly do the role, should the producers decide to put on the real thing.

Ampil finds an able match in opera singer Jon Meer Vera Perez as Emile. Though he tends to scrunch his face too much to convey expression--unfortunately captured all too clearly by the tawdry video projections on both sides of the stage--Vera Perez is nonetheless a commanding presence, alluring and faintly vulnerable.

And boy, does the music soar with his voice; his "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine" are two of the show's genuinely thrilling numbers.


Meanwhile, Ima Castro cuts a voluptuous, if slightly youthful, figure as Bloody Mary. But her performance makes you wonder at the possibilities that the likes of Sheila Francisco (who played the role to acclaim in London's National Theatre in the early 2000s, and can be heard in that production's cast recording) could have realized.

Castro is not at all inadequate; she's just underwhelming, lacking in heft and power, and while she exudes the character's air of lecherous mystery--a trait that could imaginably work to her advantage in a full-on staging--her remarkably high vocal range never really finds complete comfort in the score.

It's this same problem with low notes that hounded her otherwise busty portrayal of the beachside siren Saraghina--Bloody Mary's long-lost Italian relative, if you may--in Atlantis Productions' "Nine" three years ago.

It isn't any better for Mark Bautista as Lt. Cable. A pop star by nature, he was a dashing delight in Resorts World's "Bituing Walang Ningning," one of the few pleasures to be had in that otherwise deeply problematic production (but let's not get carried away now).

But here, where the score leans towards traditional Broadway and, occasionally, the near-operatic, Bautista is visibly uneasy with the sustained notes, the lack of wiggle room for riffs and bends, and sadly, yes, even his character's few high notes.

Sumptuous playing

That is unfortunate, because Rogers' music has never sounded richer, more luscious, more alive, than in the sumptuous playing by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Rodel Colmenar. A particularly ingenious moment during the overture hints at the dark underbelly of this deceptively sunny musical, when the lilting strains of "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" are contrasted with images of skyrocketing bombs and mushroom clouds on the LED screens onstage.

The ensemble, too, does fine vocal work (and curiously enough, they seem to have crossed over en masse from Dalanghita Productions' earlier smash musical "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady").

If there's any displeasure to be had in this concert, it is the sound. You'd think, given that this is only a two-night affair--and a concert at that, where the voices, the singing and the sound should be the focus--that they'd have somehow perfected all the acoustic elements.

Yet, opening night was marred by mic scratches and irritating reverb and infuriating audio feedback. Ampil even had to do her first scene with a handheld microphone, which came several inaudible lines too late. But this seasoned pro carried on as if nothing were wrong and never once struck a false note.

If this "South Pacific" makes for an enchanting evening in the too-capacious Newport Performing Arts Theater, it is, for the most part, thanks to its enchanting leading lady.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lovely Month of July

Pretty bad last two days. We're in Internal Medicine now, and I received this patient who almost bled to death. End-stage kidney failure, and she developed uremia, a condition in which all the vile nitrogenous waste in your blood can't be excreted by your kidneys (because they're too damaged to function), so your body essentially goes nuts--one manifestation of which is developing ulcers that can and will bleed terribly. Woman's in the ICU now (we really thought she wouldn't last the night, which came as quite a heavenly surprise that I woke up the following morning without a text message declaring her demise). Don't get me wrong, though: I love Internal Medicine. It's one of my three choices for residency (along with psychiatry and ophthalmology). There, now you know.

REAL-TIME UPDATE: We just coded/CPR-ed a patient. He died.

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Internship really is the best year. July for our block was a vacation, a time when I'd catch myself thinking, Hey, your mind ain't thinkin' nothin'. Just... zen. 

It started with us decorating our big-assed friend Justin's car.

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We went to Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo City, and the best thing about it is that it's right along the path of NAIA's departures and arrivals. I saw Eva Air's A330, for one.

This is Pia, being a pabebe.

Pinto is pretty big, and we realized you need an entire day to really appreciate everything (we only allotted three hours, and then we were hypoglycemic and were racing to Capitolyo and landed in Poco Deli). 

So much of Pinto seems inspired by Santorini, the most hackneyed place in Greece. 

My favorite exhibits:

"Quiapo Ibabaw," oil on canvas by Emmanuel Garibay, 1993.  

"Prusisyon," acrylic on canvas by Neil Manalo, 2011.

A taxidermy of something.

"The Hollow Man," wire and resin by Alab Pagarigan, 2013.

Pia completing Daniel dela Cruz's "Pilgrimage."

Church in a slanted world.

UST overrun by rats.

Carmela playing Joan of Arc/Disney's Esmeralda. 

I recreated a scene from John Logan's "Red"--the painter Mark Rothko, with his back to the audience, in front of a bloody red canvas. Unfortunately, few people got the reference when I posted this in Facebook. I was embarrassed on their behalf.

We had our graduation photo shoot. Can you believe it's been almost seven years?

The House of Yu in Café Chosun, Adriatico cor. Pedro Gil St., Malate, Manila.

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Carmela and I went to Avilon Zoo on a Thursday. (The psychiatrists had their convention, so the out-patient clinics got cancelled for that day.) Apart from us, there were only two other visitors in that 7.5-hectare slice of paradise, where sagely hornbills and hungry arapaimas greeted you at the entrance.


African leopard.

A fat, extremely cuddly black bear.

This sun bear was so smart, it managed to get itself on that ledge but couldn't figure out how to get down.

Blackbuck antelopes.


Two pairs of mating tortoises. I have a video--complete with sound effects!--that has the potential to go viral.

A huge-ass Burmese python.

A huge-ass king cobra.

Monocled spitting cobra.


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Then there was this Sunday when I went to the book sale of one Jason Moss, son of the eminent copywriter Arnold Moss. 15 titles for P300! After that, I went to the PETA Theater Center for the January-June deliberations of the Gawad Buhay! Awards. Yes, am now a member of the jury starting this year. So far, a terrific year for straight plays, and a lousy one for musicals.

Sister Vibered this photo of mother during her birthday.