Monday, April 28, 2014

The Extended Summer, Week 2 (Graduation)

A weeklong return to Manila for a special day for Intarmed Class of 2016, plus lots of eating.

Books Abandoned: 1

I couldn't take Kerouac's "On the Road" anymore, could no longer bear to keep up with this traveling lost soul's ramblings, so I just... dropped it.

Interesting Planes Seen: 8

China Airlines A330-300, because I've only seen the A340 and B737 in Manila.

Philippine Airlines A321, simply because.

Cathay Pacific B777-300. Not really a special case, but who can resist these beauties.

Cathay Pacific B777-300ER in OneWorld livery!

China Southern Airlines Embraer E-190LR!

Singapore Airlines A330!

This was soooo weird: Uzbekistan Airways B767-300ER!!!

KLM B777-300ER, or the current sole representative of European carriers in Manila. (I've seen Lufthansa A340-600 and B747, Air France A340, and Swissair MD-11).

Shows Watched: 2

My review of "Games People Play" was in last Saturday's Inquirer (see previous post). That afternoon, went with fellow theater loyalist Tricia Isada to see Atlantis Productions' "Ghost the Musical" at the RCBC Theater; my review will be in the coming Saturday's paper. Also, "Games" will have its sixth run at the PETA Theater this August/September, so they said during press night, so do try - really try - to catch it.

The team behind "Games" during the post-show Q&A: (L-R) actors Kalil Almonte, Thea Yrastorza, and Abner Delina Jr.; Ed Lacson Jr., director; Glenn Sevilla Mas, playwright; Teresa Barrozo, sound designer. 

Sunsets Captured: 2

1. Manila Bay, Saturday. Checked out the Aliwan Festival parade along Roxas Boulevard while waiting for Malate Church's 6PM service.

2. Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, Sunday. Because our flight was delayed for an hour.

Mountains Appreciated: 2

Aside from being the best place for plane spotting in the airport, the NAIA Terminal 2 domestic pre-departure area also affords a view of both Mt. Banahaw (left in photo below) and Mt. Makiling on a clear day.

Graduations Attended: 1

Because yes, I finally have an undergraduate degree, even though it's sort of a fake one. After their fifth year (or third year medicine proper), the Intarmeds receive their B.S. Basic Medical Sciences degree to account for the first four years. This year's ceremony - because we get the degree during the UP Manila university graduation - was at the Philippine International Convention Center.

My original IPC group during first year pre-med, minus the newlywed Vince Severino.

Iloilo Team, Sembreak 2012.

Five cum laudes from our class. Guess who?

The guest speaker was Cardinal Tagle. "You're a fake. You're all fake!"

And so it happened that the ceremony felt way too long and boring, and so I had to get out and run into these girls and have this mirror selfie.

This year's student speaker was the summa cum laude from Biochemistry. After his speech came the requisite lightning rally.

BONUS: Father napping in style at the airport.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

PDI Review: 'Games People Play' at the Ateneo Blackbox Theater

My review of the fifth run of "Games People Play," an eighty-minute, two-act play that started out as director Ed Lacson, Jr.'s final exam for his Master's degree at UP Diliman last year, is in today's Inquirer - here. If it runs again - and yes, it will, later this year - do try to catch it. 

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'Games People Play': Power in simplicity

Remember that story about the fair-skinned, virginal girl with the evil stepmother whose talking mirror has dreams of becoming a Miss Universe pageant judge? How about the one with the girl in supposedly eternal sleep, who can be awakened only by the kiss of a stranger? And the farm boy who scales a beanstalk and earns the ire of a giant apparently living in the stratosphere?

Familiar tales, all of them, even as the current generation's ever-increasing reliance on 21st-century gadgetry threatens to wipe the trusty, hardbound storybook off the map.

But how about the tale of the children ruined by their own home - a story, it should be noted, without the sanitized, glamorized Disney happy ending?

Such is the conceit of "Games People Play," a tender, oftentimes hilarious, ultimately disturbing account of the many ways family and environment can horribly twist the process of growing up for a child.


"Games are not supposed to be boring," one character proclaims, and as directed by Ed Lacson, Jr., this Palanca-winning play by Glenn Sevilla Mas has been transformed into an electrifying example of simplicity as power onstage. (It ends the fifth of its unjustly brief runs Saturday night at the Ateneo Blackbox Theater.)

The stage is essentially bare. Cardboard cutouts of a castle, a church facade, and trees are the only design elements, set against a stark blackness that works like an invitation to the audience to fill all that space with imagination.

The lighting design is testament to this production's inventiveness. "Games" does not make use of any of the theater's available implements - apparently the challenge imposed on Lacson during his directing finals for his Master's degree at the University of the Philippines Diliman last year, when this production was first seen.

All the better, then, to highlight the achingly beautiful storytelling that is this play's most potent feature, set to music by Teresa Barrozo.

Mas, a native of Antique province, weaves snippets of world-famous fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm into the story of three children growing up in an unspecified rural Visayan town. Here, the establishment of context is first-rate, as Mas infuses the play with a distinctly provincial feel. The school festival with an emcee speaking in English rife with mispronunciations is spot-on.

Games that define childhood in wide open spaces under the sun are used as devices to signify and explore chapters in the characters' lives, which makes for a rather unconventional, nonlinear plot.

Julio is the archetypal confused boy on the verge of discovering his sexual identity; Luna is the innocent girl with a drunkard father and a mother who prays to a hundred saints every day and has sex with her husband twice a year; and Diego is the typical rough-playing boy, except that he struggles with parental neglect and abandonment issues.

Coming of age

"Games" tracks the lives of these friends from childhood to the fringes of early puberty. It's a coming-of-age story in this way, but one defined by an atmosphere of awkwardness and sadness masquerading as humor.

Witness Diego, prior to a game of bahay-bahayan, laughingly deliver what may perhaps go down as the year's most heartbreaking line: "I played tatay, and I didn't know how to play one because I never had one."

But it is also through this faultless provincial setting that "Games" becomes a commentary on rural Filipino life, where Catholic sensibilities pervade the air, where homosexuality largely remains a stigma, where masturbation is a sin and sex an embarrassment, if not a reason for a trip to the confessional.

The second act, in particular, can almost pass for a treatise on sexual repression as a poison that lasts into adulthood, exemplified by that perfectly staged final scene, where the characters meet again in their late-20s and find themselves still unable to express their innermost selves.

Centuries-old social constructs, too, are presented, then covertly challenged. The enduring notions of masculinity, for example, are capsulized by Julio's mother telling her secretly gay son, "Boys need to go out and sweat; that's how they develop muscles."

The subtlety with which these issues are treated is admirable, thanks in part to its seen-from-the-eyes-of-a-child perspective. Age the characters a bit more, and it becomes quite irresistible to call "Games" a "Spring Awakening" for provincial Pinoy puberty.

Delicious performance

The three actors - Kalil Almonte as Diego, Abner Delina Jr. as Julio and Thea Yrastorza as Luna - beguilingly inhabit their roles, convincingly playing kids without the jarring effect that usually comes with adults pretending to be 6-year-olds.

They speak the mostly English dialogue with a Hiligaynon accent - an artistic decision that came up only during rehearsals, we heard. They also portray a myriad of other roles. Almonte, in particular, gives a delicious "doble-kara" performance of Julio's two sisters, the brassy one and the catatonic one, rapidly alternating between the two characters during a particular scene, while Delina provides a riotous portrayal of Luna's outrageously prayerful mother.

On occasion, "Games" strays into far-too-literary ground. "Playing with marbles has become predictable," mumbles Diego - and off the bat, you wonder: Are children ever this eloquent?

Maybe, if reared through the proper means. This play, after all, is also about a balancing act - brash sexuality vis-a-vis gentle, child-like fragility.

In this sense, "Games" tries to pass itself off as merely a cautionary fairy tale, even though it really is a tragedy - and in the hands of Lacson and his team, a magnificent, marvelously realized one.

 The team behind "Games People Play": (Seated, L-R) Almonte, Yrastorza, and Delina; (Back, L-R) Barrozo, Mas, and Lacson. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Extended Summer, Week 1 (Holy Week)

These days, I've been sleeping a lot. Way to start the epic extended summer vacation. Also, where are all these mosquitoes coming from?!

Church Visits: 10

Holy Week is a huge thing in the family, and not because it means getting the trusty passports out (because that would just be so not Catholic). We take our Visita Iglesia seriously; Iloilo province, after all, has some of the country's finest selection of churches. And to the three psalmists of this year's Santa Maria Parish Easter Vigil, you were disasters. What a shame.

 In the town of Janiuay, Iloilo, ruins of the old church and the staircase leading to the new structure beside it.

Books Started: 1
  • On the Road (by Jack Kerouac)
Two weeks ago, watched "Kill Your Darlings" - a severely underrated movie directed by John Krokidas and featuring an atrociously underrated performance by rising star (and new favorite actor) Dane DeHaan - which reignited pretentious quasi-obsession over The Beats, hence, this choice for a first non-academic book since David Mitchell's "number9dream" back in October, I think. Said "obsession" started with the puzzling movie "Howl," starring pre-Instagram-ranting, Ben Brantley-hating James Franco as Allen Ginsberg; in "Darlings," Ginsberg is played by Daniel Radcliffe (good) and the controversial Lucien Carr is played by DeHaan (exceptional).

But the book, which just had a movie adaptation (two years ago, was it?) starring actress with palsied face, more famous as girl who played Bella Swan, is beginning to feel like a chore. The protagonist, Sal, keeps going places yet doesn't seem to know where he really wants to get to - a tiring charade, really, almost like he's goading the reader to scream what the author could barely mumble, which is, "Settle down!" 

Aerial view: The CCP area, Harrison Plaza, the green of Manila Zoo, Quirino Avenue, Malate. Taken during my flight home last Tuesday.  

Films Watched: 9
  • Blue Is the Warmest Colour (France, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)
  • Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuaron) - second viewing 
  • Enough Said (dir. Nicole Holofcener) - second viewing
  • In the House (France, dir. Francois Ozon)
  • Ilo Ilo (Singapore, dir. Anthony Chen)
Tempted to call this a miracle, if only because the simplicity of the filmmaking conjures a whole universe of unspoken emotions.  
  • Metro Manila (UK, dir. Sean Ellis)
To borrow from "August: Osage County," what a load of horseshit! Clearly, Ellis has a very poor understanding of the Philippines and its people. He's obviously intoxicated by the land - witness no less than eight frames of the famed Rice Terraces during the opening sequence - that the finished product reeks of a foreigner's clumsy, barely studied take on this country. Plus, sloppy dialogue! And tons of continuity issues (one moment, they're in Balintawak; the next, they're in Recto)! The saving grace of this disgusting poverty porn is John Arcilla; Ana Abad Santos and Mailes Kanapi are great too (Kanapi's the best character in Lav Diaz's "Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan").
  • Neighboring Sounds (Brazil, dir. Kleber Mendonca Filho)
Loved this film, its slow unfurling perfectly capturing the way we spend much of our time observing others. Nothing much happens here - the highlight has to be Maeve Jinkings' bored housewife making a vibrator out of the washing machine - but then, so is the case with real life.
  • Rio 2 (dir. Carlos Saldanha)
This was fun - totally bought the auditions shtick, overdrawn as it is (but who can possibly refuse a baby capybara belting out "Memory"?). However, lacks the novelty and huzzah! factor of its predecessor, which is to say, "Shrek 2" remains the only animated feature to have bettered its original. 
  • Two Lives (Germany, dir. Georg Maas)
You gotta love how the Germans make their movies: As with last year's "Barbara," so much subtlety, without ever letting the suspense dip.  

Watermelon shack along the national highway, Oton, Iloilo.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Climbing Mt. Maculot

This happened on January 9 - three months ago - but then a lot of other stuff got in the way, like reviewing shows (yey!) and studying (ugh.) and pretending to like babies in Pediatrics. It was Quiapo Day, or the Feast of the Black Nazarene, when we did this climb. And since this was officially my first "real" mountain (I'd gone on two pseudo-mountaineering trips back in high school, but they were really more of wilderness trekking), I thought I'd just dump all my unedited photos in this post. 

Mt. Maculot is officially part of Cuenca, Batangas; on a map, it stands on the southern border of Taal Lake. Much of what you need to know about the mountain and organizing hikes (day hikes!) can be found in Pinoy Mountaineer, which is run by Gideon Lasco, a fellow Intarmed.

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The view from the Buendia LRT station at 6:30AM.

During the tricycle ride to camp, first proper glimpse of Mt. Maculot.


Starting the trek.

Bamboo, which used to be my frustrated-horticulturist father's favorite plant. (Now it's orchids.)

Our first glimpse of Taal Lake.

Trail marker.

Hike member Josh.

Rest stop 1, featuring Hike leader Sgt. Sexylegs (a.k.a. Terence) in white shirt. His thighs are so much bigger now, thanks to CrossFit.

Hike member Orly, who loves to dance.

The Plains below.

Rest stop near the top!
The Mt. Maculot Rockies

The summit.

Mt. Makiling in the distance.

Hike member/mother Hannah having lunch.

Hike member Madison being... silly.


Hike member Samuel Antoine.


Hike members Jim (left) and Orly.

Taal Volcano.

Sgt. Sexylegs and I. Seriously, the man has no body hair.

Lunch break.

A leaf insect!

Men being adventurous. Upper right of set features Hike member Jom and his swanky camera.

The group before the descent.

Saying goodbye to Cuenca, Batangas.