Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best of Manila Theater 2014

On the last Saturday of the year, my final article for the Philippine Daily Inquirer-Lifestyle Theater section for 2014 - here.

SEE ALSO:
1. The Best of Manila Theater 2013
2. Compilation of links to my theater reviews

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'Little wonders': More of the year's best in theater


Remember that time back in March when a sizable closing-night crowd congregated at the CCP stage door and serenaded the cast of the Asia-Pacific touring production of "Wicked" with the musical's undying friendship anthem "For Good"?

Viral online videos exist as proof of this strange manifestation of separation anxiety.

Makes one wish something like that would happen also to one of our own--because while that imported blockbuster was unquestionably superlative in every aspect, there were actually 10, 15 times the number of equally terrific homegrown productions that graced our stages this year.

By now, this statement is already at risk of becoming cliché, but it just has to be said: Local theater has never been more alive. Seeing four, sometimes five, shows in a single weekend is becoming a more frequent occurrence, and it's not only the quantity, but more importantly, the quality of shows that's remarkable.

Most standing ovations used to feel forced; now, it's a race to be the first to get up and applaud. Exciting times, indeed!

Before anything else, it should be noted that what I consider to be the biggest shortcoming of this roundup is the non-inclusion of The Necessary Theatre's "Venus in Fur"--a formidable production, I was told, anchored by husband-and-wife tandem David and Jennifer Bianco, but which I failed to catch during its one-weekend run. As fellow theater reviewer Cora Llamas wrote, it "demands a rerun."

Second, this roundup also excludes the 10th year of the Virgin Labfest, the CCP's annual festival of new plays--again, because I missed it. A terrible shame because it was in the Labfest that I spent two of my most enthralling hours in the theater: Two years ago, the set of one-act plays that consisted of Floy Quintos' "Evening at the Opera" (starring the regal Ana Abad Santos), the revisionist "Kafatiran," and what I consider to this day as a benchmark for situational comedy, Rae Red's "Kawala" (with a star performance from Cris Pasturan).

And so, in what has been a most prolific year of theatergoing, here's a rundown of the best of 'em, in (sort of) ordered lists.

Productions

None of the year's five best productions came from the established or big-name companies, as opposed to last year, when Atlantis Productions' "Carrie" and "The Addams Family" emerged on top, or the year before, with Repertory Philippines' "Jekyll and Hyde" and Tanghalang Pilipino's "Stageshow."

Instead, 2014 saw the reign of the "little wonders"--the small shows that could, in a manner of speaking, by either fledgling companies or university-based theater organizations. Each one proved that craft and talent, and not size or repute, are what truly matter.

And a second observation: This felt like one of musical theater's weaker years, vis-à-vis the smorgasbord of polished and well-crafted straight plays that played the season. (Expanding the selection to 12, the list would immediately include TP's "Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" and Rep's "Wait Until Dark.")

The ten best productions of 2014:


1. "Cock" (Red Turnip Theater): Diminutive in scale and devoid of decoration, this 90-minute play helmed by Rem Zamora was a surprisingly spellbinding experience that raged with explosive power, thanks to a superb four-person cast that fully inhabited their roles and their lines.

2. "Dani Girl" (The Sandbox Collective): It had the three things every stage production should aspire to have--imagination, innovation and inspiration. Thus, it made something utterly sincere and beautiful out of a young girl's deceptively sentimental quest to defeat cancer.

3. "Games People Play": It's tempting to hail this year's Aliw Award winner for Best Non-Musical Production as a miracle, but that's exactly what it was: a marvelously realized tragedy about twisted childhoods masquerading as a cautionary fairytale. That Aliw Award for ensemble acting for Kalil Almonte, Thea Yrastorza and Abner Delina Jr. was thoroughly well-deserved.

4. "Middle Finger" (Tanghalang Ateneo): An absorbing, affectingly fleshed out production of Han Ong's play about adolescent turmoil, told in the eyes of a pair of tormented Filipino teenagers in a (sexually) repressive America. But even with this foreign setting, everything and everyone felt uncannily familiar.

5. "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" (Dulaang UP): In this condensed retelling of the Indian epic "Mahabharata," director Dexter Santos' extraordinarily agile and talented corps of mostly student-actors executed his dizzying, bone-breaking choreography quite spectacularly to produce the year's best and most complex dancing.

6. "August: Osage County" (Repertory Philippines): A deafening three-act Grand Guignol whose terrors took the form of vicious wordplay and frayed relationships, and marked by so many stellar turns that all coalesced to produce a harrowing, oftentimes hilarious portrait of familial dysfunction.

7. "Rabbit Hole" (Red Turnip Theater): In the frigid landscape of this Pulitzer Prize winner about a grieving family, nothing was ever as it seemed; everything was "fine" and everyone acted "okay." Yet, every scene bore astounding emotional clarity and rang with the cold, unforgiving truth.

8. "Rak of Aegis" (Peta): This two-act jukebox musical had a rather spotty book, but at its best, it was a downright accurate illustration of how that distinctly Pinoy spirit weathers and eventually overcomes a deluge. And what an ensemble, who not only sang gloriously, but also crafted such entertainingly idiosyncratic characters.

9. "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" (Resorts World Manila): An exuberant, freewheeling joyride saturated in pink and feathers about drag queens journeying across the Australian outback. It was fun, fab and foolish, but also had the class and depth care of the peerless Jon Santos.

10. "Rite of Passage" (Tanghalang Ateneo): A coming-of-age story about a hapless boy, his unhappy aunt and the hopeless rural outpost they call home. As directed by Ron Capinding, it unspooled as a simmering, slow-burn tale of regret, ruin and longing.

Performances

There were so many excellent performances this year that trimming this list down suddenly felt as stressful as Christmas shopping.

Just to cite a few that could easily fit in a longer selection: the breakout turns of Deli del Rosario in "FnL," Rebecca Coates and Mitzie Lao in "Dani Girl," and Cholo Ledesma in "Rite of Passage"; Baby Barredo and Pinky Amador tearing the house down in "August: Osage County"; Cris Villonco and her heartbreaking rendition of "With You" in "Ghost The Musical."

Also, Topper Fabregas as the frustratingly indecisive unnamed protagonist in "Cock"; Celeste Legaspi throwing shade in "Mga Ama, Mga Anak"; Che Ramos-Cosio as the devil-may-care sister in "Rabbit Hole"; George de Jesus as the king of dry humor in "Ang Misis Kong Promdi"; and Jimmy Marquez in a role that finally made full use of his fabulous talents in "Rak of Aegis."

But the ones that, to paraphrase Kylie, just won't get outta my head:


1. Reb Atadero ("Dani Girl"): A shape-shifting performance that's without equal in this or any other year, as he juggled about a dozen characters, including a show-stopping, rapping Latino drug dealer, through the most seamless of transformations.

2. Pepe Herrera ("Rak of Aegis" and "FnL"): 2014's breakout actor was quite the revelation as an expert at playing "kanto boys": sensational as the boatman Tolits in "Rak," but even better--and absolutely believable--as the jologs cousin in "FnL."

3. Jenny Jamora and Niccolo Manahan ("Cock"): As a pair of disparate personalities fighting for the love of one man, they also just as much fought for our attention and allegiance. She was grace personified; he was the cattiest bitch in town.

4. Agot Isidro ("Rabbit Hole"): This screen actress rendered herself completely vulnerable as a mother unable to move past the accidental death of her son, a haunting, no-holds-barred portrayal that left the audience just as wrecked as the character.

5. Liesl Batucan ("Wait Until Dark" and "August: Osage County"): This year was but another showcase for Batucan's versatility, as she added a blind woman squaring off against home robbers and the narcissistic sister in a family under fire to her already-crowded list of first-rate performances.

6. Joaquin Valdes ("The Last Five Years"): In a span of 90 minutes, Valdes literally and wrenchingly grew before our eyes, from a bright, promising young man to one hardened by the darker facts of life.

7. Sheila Valderrama-Martinez ("Shrek The Musical"): She was subtly funny in Rep's "Noises Off" and devastating as the mom of a cancer-stricken child in "Dani Girl," but it was as the bipolar, tap-dancing Princess Fiona that Valderrama-Martinez showed the world just what an indomitable triple threat she really is.

8. Guelan Luarca and Joe-Nel Garcia ("Middle Finger"): They made for a compelling and ultimately sympathetic pair of powerless adolescents dealing with, among others, hormones and societal hypocrisy, just like the lead characters in Frank Wedekind's "Spring Awakening."

9. Yul Servo, Marco Viaña and Gina Pareño ("Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente"): In this Filipino adaptation of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," Servo and Viaña, as alternating Biff Lomans, and Pareño as their mother Linda, more than helped steer this epic of shattered dreams and fractured futures; they were its emotional core.

10. Sheila Francisco ("Rabbit Hole" and "August: Osage County"): In these two shows, she established herself as the go-to actress for matronly characters with a talent for landing acerbic zingers.

11. Poppert Bernadas ("Ang Huling Lagda ni Apolinario Mabini"): This contender in the current season of "The Voice of the Philippines" virtually set the stage ablaze and stole the show with his fiery interpretation of the (historical) political firebrand Artemio Ricarte. He also sang the hell out of the part, but you probably already knew that.

12. Frances Makil-Ignacio ("Rite of Passage"): In this Palanca-winning Glenn Sevilla Mas play, her powerful portrayal of the ill-tempered spinster aunt was a mirror of misery and a stormy reminder that the past will forever haunt the present.

13. JC Santos and Justine Peña ("The Glass Menagerie"): As Jim O'Connor and Laura Wingfield, respectively--the two supporting roles in this four-character Tennessee Williams classic--they provided much needed light and life to an otherwise elegiac affair.

Direction


Upon exiting the theater, you usually hear something along the lines of "The show was great!" or "That actor was really good!"

But directors, the puppeteers who see all, know all, and yet remain invisible behind the scenes, deserve just as much recognition, if not visibility.

This year, there were four men who really distinguished themselves in this field. Only one of them is a veteran--Jaime del Mundo, in whose hands "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" acquired some semblance of soul despite its excessive, overly flamboyant nature.

Toff de Venecia and Topper Fabregas hardly came across as debuting directors, the way they made uncompromising, stirringly acted tearjerkers out of "Dani Girl" and "Rabbit Hole," respectively.

But the one name every honest-to-goodness local theatergoer should know by now: Ed Lacson Jr., who, in three productions--"Games People Play," "Middle Finger" and Sandbox's staged reading of "The Pillowman"--proved himself a master of transforming the small and obscure into the dazzling and electrifying.

Technicals



Otherwise known as the categories that don't make the full telecast of the Tony Awards. Which is such a shame, for what's a show without the designers, orchestrators, writers and composers?

The six most noteworthy achievements in this vast arena, apart from Dexter Santos' choreography for "Ang Nawalang Kapatid":

Joey Mendoza's strikingly red set design, flooded with flowers, vases and posh furniture, was fully responsible for giving "Full Gallop," starring Cherie Gil as fashion icon Diana Vreeland, its air of class and opulence.

Gwyn Guanzon's persuasive transformation of the stage of the Ateneo Rizal Theater into a nipa hut in Antique province for "Rite of Passage."

John Batalla's lights, the instigator of suspense in "Wait Until Dark."

Myke Salomon's orchestrations for "Rak of Aegis," which succeeded in reworking and revitalizing the seminal rock band's songs.

Ejay Yatco's making a name for himself in the realm of musical composition through Ateneo Blue Repertory's "Toilet: The Musical" and his original song cycle "Real-Life Fairytales."

Finally, Jethro Joaquin, who deserves to be cited for best use of music in a play. Who could've guessed that the requiem classic "Pie Jesu" could make the ending to "Rite of Passage" such a cathartic high point.

Special events


Lastly, 2014 would have been only half as exciting without these two defining theatrical events:

"Everything in Bituin"--or the concert-to-end-all-concerts--showcased Bituin Escalante in magnificent vocal form, capping the CCP's Triple Threats concert series with a stratospheric belt and a deafening roar. The highlight, of course, was her earth-shaking, sea-parting rendition of "Heaven on Their Minds" from "Jesus Christ Superstar."

And the staged reading of "The Pillowman," with a sensational cast composed of Audie Gemora, Robie Zialcita, Niccolo Manahan and the endlessly hilarious Richard Cunanan. Hands down, the year's most entrancing piece of theater. So before we ring in the new year, allow me to make one last appeal: A fully staged production, please!

Friday, December 19, 2014

PDI Review: 'Chicago' - The US National Tour in Manila

My review of the touring production of "Chicago" at The Theater at Solaire is in today's Inquirer - here. It closes Sunday night, so hurry! And two things: One, this is the first time I'm appearing in the Friday issue, instead of the usual Saturday theater section - because tomorrow is that which every honest-to-goodness local theatergoer anticipates every year: our editor Gibbs Cadiz's annual theater roundup! Two, this review caps my theatergoing for 2014. What a year this has truly been.

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The dancing is the star in 'Chicago'

Is it mere coincidence that "Chicago," the Tony Award-winning musical centered on celebrity criminals, should end its 23-performance run in Manila on the same week that the country is rattled by the mind-blowing exposé that high-profile crooks in the New Bilibid Prison are living in sickening luxury?

Or is this a case of what Oscar Wilde called "life imitating art?" It's irresistible to think that perhaps this is just the universe once more playing a cruel joke on the weather-beaten, notoriously optimistic Filipino people.

One would do well, however, to try and forget for a couple of hours the disheartening goings-on in the real world once one steps foot inside The Theater at Solaire, where "Chicago" closes Sunday night.

First-rate

This production--the first to play the casino complex's spanking-new, state-of-the-art theater--is nothing if not first-rate, and not the least bit dispiriting.

That is, in a sense, to be expected, given that this "Chicago" is a re-creation by director David Hyslop and choreographer David Bushman of the version currently running on Broadway. Now the second longest-running show in the Great White Way, this version was directed and choreographed to critical acclaim by Walter Bobbie and Ann Reinking, respectively. (It arrived in Manila for a three-week holiday of sorts before returning stateside as the musical's 16th national tour.)

The first thing one should know about this production is that, as far as design elements are concerned, it is as stark and somber as they come. The orchestra is planted right smack in the middle of the barren stage, where the only inanimate objects are a couple of ladders and some chairs; where Ken Billington's lights evoke the bleak atmosphere of prison; and where the performers, garbed (some of them barely) in William Ivey Long's all-black costumes, roam predatorily.

Festive life

But don't be fooled by this seeming absence of splash and glitter. This production is a bewitching, scintillating experience, all thanks to its top-flight cast of triple-threats, in whose hands, feet and deliciously flexible bodies the story of murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in 1920s Chicago comes to festive, farcical life.

Bianca Marroquin and Terra MacLeod, as Roxie and Velma, respectively, are an evenly matched pair. Both alumni of the Broadway production, they bring grit, spunk and masked despair to their roles so effectively, even if they don't exactly possess the kind of singing voices that could make radio hits out of John Kander and Fred Ebb's songs.

Their interpretations border on caricature--more so with Marroquin, who sing-speaks like Minnie Mouse in a femme fatale's clothing--which is just right for a show that glamorizes deceit and murder. (One of the production's highlights is a number called "Cell Block Tango," where six of the murderesses, including MacLeod's steamy Velma, engage in a tell-all dance-off that can be alternately titled "Variations on Killing Your Philandering Lover.")

A corrupt prison matron (the brassy Roz Ryan), a smooth-talking, manipulative lawyer (Jeff McCarthy, excellent), and Roxie's vacuous husband Amos (Jacob Keith Watson, in a standout supporting turn) are the other characters that lend "Chicago" a more familiar, realer-than-real air.

Apt finish

It's the dancing, however, that ultimately makes the price of admission worth it--an apt finish to a year that also saw Dexter Santos' insanely talented, ballistic corps of university students in the "Mahabharata" adaptation "Ang Nawalang Kapatid," and the disco gay fantasia in overflowing pink and feathers, otherwise known as Resorts World Manila's "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Here in "Chicago," it is an endless barrage of thrusting pelvises, swiveling hips, snapping fingers, angled limbs and high kicks--a testament to unwavering devotion to craft, polished in the style of the venerable Bob Fosse.

All this takes place on a seemingly cramped rectangular space, and the sass and sultriness spill over, seeping into every seat and grabbing the viewer by surprise with that tingling sensation that can only be the result of the most sensual non-R-rated viewing experiences.

Oh, if life were only this preposterously fun--where criminals are worth rooting for, and all one needs to do is dance a storm out of the ordinary. But to quote the musical, "that's showbiz."

 Terrible photo of the cast during curtain call.

Not a bad seat in this theater, I tell you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Elective in the Rice Paddies

Some of the Atis I "worked" with.

Here are some reasons why, four months ago, I chose "Traditional Medicine" with a community rotation as my clerkship elective:

1. It sounded lighter. Unlike some of my classmates, I do not see an elective that includes 24-hour duties as a particularly appetizing adventure.

2. I'd been told that last year, the student who took the same elective tagged along with the all-powerful elective coordinator (who's also a former DOH secretary) to a conference in Brunei.

3. "Community" is code for "place of your choice." Regular electives don't really give you that option; you more or less have to do it in PGH, unlike the summer elective and its limitless, borderless possibilities.

4. There was that faint glimmer on the horizon that told me I could somehow tweak the details and do my elective in Iloilo.

The main roads of Pototan, Iloilo are lined with mahogany trees painted white round the bases.

Now here are some "reasons" that have absolutely nothing to do with that choice:

1. To have a "chill" time. That's lazy, mind you.

2. To be able to go home for the Christmas break earlier than most everybody else. 

3. To go to Baguio with my blockmates on the first official week of my elective.

The Atis of Barangay Ubang.

And here's a quick rundown of the details of my elective:

1. Interviewing Ati healers in a municipality in Iloilo. (Yes, the stars somehow aligned and made it possible for me to do my elective in my hometown. Or as kids would say these days, 'chos.)

2. Writing a paper about it. (Which, some people have told me, I'm rather skilled at.)

Yeah, rice paddy goodness.

Finally, here's what has actually happened:

1. Two-day field work in the town of Pototan, around 30km north of Iloilo City.

2. A fifteen-minute ride via the rural health unit's ambulance to Barangay Ubang, where an official settlement of some 50 Atis can be found.

3. Interviewing the one and only healer of the Atis of Ubang. She's a forty-something farmer who's an all-in-one package: midwife, "taga-luy-a," etc.

4. Said interview took place under the shade of a tree just off a rice paddy that we had to traverse (I'm quite good at doing this walk-dance-ballet across woods and nature-y stuff, mind you, thanks to my high school adventures with the school paper).

5. The above happened because the Ati that we told the day before to inform Manang Healer of the interview did not do as instructed.

6. Helping Manong Joey and Manang Barbara, the nurses who served as my official companions, administer flu vaccines to some Atis while we were figuring out how to get to Manang Healer.

7. Free lunch and use of laptop and internet, courtesy of the office of Dr. Mondragon, municipal health officer of Pototan, who also drove me to and from the city for those two days. If you get to read this, thank you a million times over! 

8. Zero progress on the paper. Merry Christmas!

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The road to Pototan.

Pototan rural health unit.

Across the rural health unit, goats.

Furniture for sale at the RHU.

The lobby also has some medical stuff.

The entrance to Barangay Ubang.

Dirt road to the barangay.

Aftermath of the sugarcane harvest.

Traveling in style with Manong Cleo.

Entrance to the Ati settlement.

Outside an Ati's house.

Drying the harvest.

Vaccination.

Snacks for the kids.

The communal "toilet."

Into the rice field! Enlarge the photo to see the white dots in the distance - the Ati farmers, one of whom was the healer I had to interview.  

Leaving.

 Reflections. 

My team: (Seated) Dr. Mondragon; (Standing, L-R) Nong Joey and Nang Barbara.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

PDI Review: 'Scrooge the Musical' by Repertory Philippines; 'Songs of an Electric Soul' at Sev's Café

My reviews of "Scrooge the Musical," Repertory Philippines' "big musical" for the year, and "Songs of an Electric Soul," an independently produced one-man show by Christopher Aronson, are in today's Inquirer - here. If anything, this only strengthens my suspicion that 2014 will go down as a relatively kebs year for musical theater.

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A barren 'Scrooge,' a berserk--but in a good way--'Electric Soul'

Why, indeed, do we go to the theater?

That's one trite thought worth revisiting as Repertory Philippines' "Scrooge the Musical" and Christopher Aronson's "Songs of an Electric Soul"--two shows that are poles apart in terms of subject and staging--both play their final weekends.

'Scrooge'

The German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote that "from the first, it has been the theater's business to entertain people."

If so, then "Scrooge" fails the test--and this, we write with sincere sadness, for the performance we saw simply felt beneath the repute and purported standards of the trailblazing theater company.

This disappointment is magnified by the fact that "Scrooge" is supposed to be Rep's season closer, and one that comes at the heels of its three outstandingly staged straight plays this year--the suspenseful "Wait Until Dark," the master class in ensemble work that was "August: Osage County," and the uproarious comedy "Noises Off."

Yet, for a show that's peddled by the company as its "big musical" for the year, there's hardly a smidgen of excitement coursing through its dreary two-and-a-half-hour running time.

To be fair, director Baby Barredo and her team really don't have much to work with in the first place, as writer and composer Leslie Bricusse has left them with mediocre songs and an overwrought story that's essentially a superficial lift out of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

It should also be pointed out that "Scrooge" conspicuously bears two of Rep's trademarks: a terrific ensemble (an assembly of veterans and unfamiliar names) and a clean staging. All the scenes are excellently blocked and choreographed; the singing and dancing are technically spot on, and not a hair out of place.

John Batalla's lighting design also does the trick of giving life, pun intended, to the famed ghosts of the story, and Miguel Faustmann's set ingeniously resembles a gingerbread town.

Letdown

All the more reason, then, why this production is such a letdown, for never does it rise above the limitations of its source material. Instead, this "Scrooge" has a mechanical feel to it, an over-sanitized, almost antiseptic sheen, as if the performers were only trying to make the most out of each forgettable scene.

The skill is there, but the heart, and more so the passion that has come to define the best of Rep (think "Little Women," "The Producers") is nowhere to be found.

As a Christmas treat, this production barely bursts with the excitement of holiday cheer. Even the final scene featuring Scrooge dressed up as Santa and spreading the love to the whole town wasn't enough to stop the kids in front of us from prematurely rushing to the bathroom.

And as a children's show, it is devoid of innovation, the kind that made similarly banal material sparkle and soar in Trumpets' "The Bluebird of Happiness" last year.

It also hurts to mention that Faustmann, as the titular character, is half a misfire in this production. As an actor, he can impressively juggle grumpy, scheming, heartless and frightened all at once. But a singer he is not, and so he resorts to (painfully) bellowing his songs, most of which are way beyond his range.

'Songs of an Electric Soul'

At the other end of the spectrum is Aronson's one-man show, "Songs of an Electric Soul," which is unquestionably the year's weirdest, craziest and most unpredictable piece of theater. It evades structure, hardly makes conventional sense, and expects unmitigated indulgence from its audience.

To paraphrase the playwright, it is a "mind-expansion ritual" that aims to imagine how the practices of the ancients would fit in the technological age. Picture a babaylan gathering the hunter-gatherers round a midnight fire and screaming her chants to the heavens with the aid of a Macbook, speakers and synthesizers.

Here, Aronson becomes the babylan (and more!), opening by instructing the audience to stop believing that this is just a show and he is a performer. After an hour, two questions demand answering. One: Is the man sick in the head? And two: How much of this self-proclaimed "ritual" is unscripted?

The first question is the result of watching Aronson bare the most insane and vulnerable parts of him, as he dances and contorts his body, spouts hummable songs in made-up foreign tongues, dramatizes tales of the Creation, and discusses his spirit guides residing in, um, wands.

"You may find it hard to believe, but this wand is inhabited by Robin Williams," he says, before explaining how, one time, he heard a "Yawp!" behind him--the cry Williams makes in the movie "Dead Poets Society"--and knew it was the late actor calling to him (or something).

The next question is just a nicer and printable way of saying, Is this man sh***ing us? For "Songs" has the feel of an improv routine, but without the adherence to meaning, clarity or coherence. It's as if Aronson is only thinking up and dishing out shenanigan after shenanigan as he goes along.

There is a script, of course, and it is all an act--no matter how much he tries to convince us that neither exists.

Remarkable

But what is most remarkable about "Songs"is the amount of bravery involved in putting it up. For isn't great theater all about shedding off facades, about becoming as transparent, and therefore real, as possible?

That the most fitting word to describe Aronson in this show is "berserk" may just be the best compliment "Songs" can possibly receive.

With a voice harmony recorder in hand (he literally creates the music on the spot) and almost the entire control booth on the table in the performance space, Aronson single-handedly manipulates the technical elements of "Songs," most of the time while talking or singing.

This is a man of overflowing charisma with an air of mystery about him, who can easily command our attention despite the absurdity he's shoving down our throats. So when he asks us to emit animal sounds at the signal he'll provide (in a segment that will be hilariously familiar to those who've seen Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar"), we gamely respond, if only to see what will happen next.

A word of caution: This show is not for the uptight, and definitely not for those who want their evenings at the theater neatly packaged in the familiar Broadway gift box.

But in Brechtian terms, "Songs" more than entertains; it shocks, startles, surprises--precisely why this little ritual is an experience that demands to be seen.

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Remaining performances:

"Scrooge" - today at 3:30PM and 8PM, tomorrow at 3:30PM
Onstage Greenbelt 1, Makati City
Tickets: (02) 571-6926/-4941

"Songs" - today and tomorrow at 8PM
Sev's Café, Legaspi Tower (across CCP) 
Ocampo St. cor. Roxas Blvd., Malate, Manila
Tickets: 0917-825-3067

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Quick Update in the Midst of Ruby

The view at Mines View Park, Baguio City. 
(From my Instagram account: vincengyu)

It's 1AM. My flight back to Iloilo is in 7 hours, which means I have to be at the airport in 5, which means I have to leave the condo in 4, which means I'll only get to sleep for, like, 3. The thought horrifies me, yet the prospect of leaving Manila in a few hours is literally pumping adrenaline into my bloodstream. 

Oh, and there's a storm outside. Ruby is her name, and bitch is what we call her timing.

But first: Yes, I'm alive. The blog is alive. (You should be tired of reading this proclamation by now.) No, it is not just a place to stuff my theater reviews (speaking of which, I should be writing the one for the terribly boring "Scrooge the Musical" by Repertory Philippines).

Last week, the block and I went to Baguio - my first time. A separate blog post or two for this, but right now I want to thank Eliza Victoria for introducing me (through her blog) to heaven in Benguet that is Mt. Cloud Bookshop. Also, the weather was Victoria Peak at night in April, which is code between my brother and I for "beautiful" (if the word is even appropriate to describe weather). 

Mostly, we ate. Walked a lot. Did some touristy stuff. Drank a bit. And some other stuff that shall remain in the past (No, nobody got pregnant, or had wild inebriate sex).

Yesterday (because I still think it's Monday), I watched my last two shows for the year: Dulaang UP's "Ang Misis Kong Promdi" with George de Jesus, master of dry humor; and the US touring production of "Chicago" currently playing The Theater at Solaire. I find it amusing that my first ("Wicked") and last shows for 2014 are imports, but this is no place for discussions on colonial mentality.

I shall sleep now. This post was written only to reassure the lot of you (but also myself) that this blog still has some smidgen of life to it.