Saturday, October 29, 2016

PDI Review: 'Distrito de Molo' by UP Playwrights' Theatre; 'Boy' by Tanghalang Ateneo

By all means, go catch "Boy" at the Ateneo. Performances until Nov. 10, Tue-Sat at 7:30PM with Saturday matinees at 2:30PM. My review of this beautiful show, along with "Distrito de Molo"--by far the most disappointing thing I've seen in UP Diliman's Guerrero Theater--is in today's paper.

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'Distrito de Molo' and 'Boy': Why it all starts with the material

"Boy" (L-R): Mayen Estañero, Guelan Luarca, Glenn Mas, Teroy Guzman, Cholo Ledesma, Camille Abaya, Juliene Mendoza, Ed Lacson Jr.

Trust between an author and his potential audience is paramount.

Consider UP Playwrights' Theatre's "Distrito de Molo," composed of three vignettes, all set in the Molo district of Iloilo City but in different time periods. The first story sounds like your typical period piece, while the other two merge the real with the mythical.

On paper, this production reads like a team made in heaven. It is written by Palanca Hall of Famer Leoncio Deriada, with a Filipino translation by Allan Palileo. The director is Tony Mabesa, and the cast includes some of the most reliable names in the industry: Frances Makil-Ignacio, Adriana Agcaoili, Dolly de Leon, Neil Ryan Sese, Missy Maramara, to name a few.

Not up to scratch

But what happens when the material is not up to scratch to begin with?

Throughout this play, one gets the impression of a writer who does not trust his audience enough to be able to get his story's milieu. Place names are repeated again and again; the dialogue becomes lectures; and the characters, instead of showing, tell and tell and tell their histories and situations.

It's hard to acquire some semblance of dramatic traction when even the characters' emotions are spelled out down to the final teardrop, when whichever direction the plot might be headed is verbalized instead of illustrated.

Is it any wonder, then, that the direction seems unable to find its footing? What is this play going for exactly: Period drama? Farce? Light comedy? This confusion also trickles down to the actors. And, heck, even the set and costumes seem undecided on the look they are meant to achieve.

Prevailing desire

Across the street, in Tanghalang Ateneo's "Boy," there is none of that doubt--whether about what the author is going for, or, soon enough into the play, whether the viewer is game enough to go along for the ride.

Guelan Luarca translates Anna Ziegler's play based on a real-life case of a Canadian boy whose penis was mutilated as a baby and, under a psychologist's watch, was raised as a girl. But Luarca knows better than to make the foreign setting consequential, a sentiment obviously shared by director Ed Lacson Jr.

The prevailing desire here is to tell a story regardless of origin: to tell it right, in a way that hits the heart in all the right spots.

And that, this small production does quite astoundingly.

There is Teresa Barrozo's topnotch sound design. There is Lacson's set and Barbie Tan-Tiongco's lights cohering into a functional whole in such a small space.

There are the actors, especially Cholo Ledesma, as the titular boy, and Camille Abaya, as the girl he falls for, turning in performances of astonishing maturity; and Mayen Estañero, who, as the boy's mother, simply grabs your soul out of nowhere.

Great unhappiness

In fact, one wouldn't be faulted for thinking this business of grabbing the soul is what this production is really after.

Sadness, after all, is a difficult thing to get right onstage. The temptation towards hysterics is strong, but the pull towards cold-heartedness is just as tough. That point in between--the one that renders sadness as neither exaggeration nor frailty, but simply an all too human attribute--is the hardest to get to.

"Boy" effortlessly eases the viewers into that spot, and before long, the audience no longer just sees the play, but understands the great unhappiness pervading it. It's the audience trusting the play, and the play giving generously in return.

Friday, October 28, 2016

One Week in Taipei, 2016, DIY, Day 1

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

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We landed on Runway 5 at 5:59AM. As an aviation enthusiast, our landing route was perfect for me. Most of EVA Air's flights use Concourse C, which was on the other side of the airport, meaning we had to make a U-turn and pass all four aprons.

Terminal 1's iconic wave-shaped roof, plus a flock of China Airlines.

The north side of the airport consists of aprons A and D, and is dominated by China Airlines.

A pair of Vietnam Airlines A321.

Our plane used a remote parking stand, so we had to take a bus to get to the terminal. Immigration took almost an hour, as there were a lot of early morning arrivals. By 7:30AM, we had retrieved our luggage and were headed for the buses.

Terminal 2 arrivals immigration.

Terminal 2 arrivals hall.

Now getting to the city center is the tricky part. There are several options, and it all really depends on your schedule and budget. (Note as well that from a Filipino's perspective, Taipei's transportation system is already heaven.) 

The cheapest option is to take a regular bus. Both terminals of Taoyuan Airport have mini-bus stations, so it's all really convenient. The journey from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station, which is the de facto transportation hub of Taipei, supposedly takes around an hour and costs a little over 100NTD. 

The most convenient option, of course, is to take a taxi. The trip supposedly takes around 40-50 minutes and the fare costs around 1000NTD. 

The third option, which was the one we took, is the high speed rail (HSR). From the airport, there is a shuttle bus (the one we took was U-Bus) that costs 30NTD and takes you to Taoyuan Station in 10 minutes. At Taoyuan Station, the HSR to Taipei Main Station costs 160 NTD and the trip takes just under thirty minutes.

So if you're on a budget and have ample time to spare, take the regular bus. if there are four of you traveling together, it would probably be more convenient to take a taxi than the HSR. (It would be more or less the same price individually.) As for us, we took the HSR for the novelty of it. 

Terminal 1 exterior.

China Airlines B747-400 from the U-Bus.

We arrived in Taipei Main Station at 8:29AM, and that was where we got our Easy Card, which is basically the one must-have for getting around Taipei. It is the equivalent to Hong Kong's Octopus, or Manila's Beep Card (though I feel the latter is a bit too stretched an analogy). The Easy Card can be used for the Taipei MRT, TRA (the national trains), buses and convenience stores like 7-11, among others. We would have bought our Easy Cards at the airport, but the counter was still closed at 7:30AM.

Taipei Main Station can be disorienting. It's massive. It has several entrances, has its own food court, is connected to a bus station and several malls, and has separate areas for the MRT, TRA and HSR (this is very important to note).

In all honesty, Taipei's MRT is very efficient. Taipei itself is a very walkable city, with its wide sidewalks and tree-lined avenues. A ride on the MRT starts at 16NTD, if I'm not mistaken, and that is already considerably cheap. The MRT website is pretty helpful in planning your trip ahead of time.

Taipei Main Station atrium.

Since our check-in time at the AirBnB unit wasn't until 3PM, we had to proceed to our first destination, so as animal lovers, we decided to pay Taipei Zoo a visit. (This was also the week that a typhoon threatened to wreck Taiwan for the second time in a matter of weeks, but instead went to the Philippines; nevertheless, we had to take advantage of the good weather.) The train ride took around 30 minutes, and we were at the zoo by 10AM. 

Both Singapore and Taipei claim to have the largest zoos in Asia. Now I don't know who's telling the truth here, but Taipei Zoo is massive. The attractions are spaced far apart, and the enclosures themselves are pretty spacious. The main attraction for the hordes of Chinese tourists, of course, was the pandas. 

It took us 3 hours to cover the zoo, and the only disappointment was the lack of crocodiles. (There's a gharial exhibit, plus the Chinese alligator, but whatever.) On the plus side, however, there were a lot of White Rhinoceroses and Nile hippos, and I couldn't have been happier.

I also have to mention that they have a pair of malnourished-looking African elephants, so maybe somebody should look into this.

Also, the entrance fee is only 60NTD!!! (And if you have your luggage with you, you can store them in lockers at 50NTD for an unlimited time.)

Taipei Zoo exterior.



Nile hippos.

White rhinos.

African elephant.

This disgusting excuse of a waffle in the zoo was the worst thing I ate in Taipei.

We left the zoo at 1PM and rode all the way to Ximen station, where we had lunch at this ramen place along Chengdu Street. (Hey, we were already a bit tired--we'd been up since 1AM, remember?--and it was the first appetizing shop to come our way.)

Taipei MRT life at 2PM.

Ramen lunch. Pretty okay.

After a bit of miscommunication with the landlord, we finally checked in at a little past 3PM. For 2400PHP a night, this place was a pretty great find. It is located along Kunming Street, a couple of blocks away from the Ximen Pedestrian Area (where it all happens in the evening). The only cons were probably the railless stairs (definitely not for the elderly) that led to the low-ceilinged loft, where I bumped my head once. Also, the instruction manual provided by the host was all in Chinese, as was the remote control to the air conditioner. (And Jacky the landlord had this habit of replying to my English messages in Chinese.)

After a late-afternoon nap, we headed for Gongguan Night Market near Taipei University. Gongguan is definitely one of the lesser known night markets, to judge by the crowd and the number of food stalls. However, the shoe stores there have unwittingly prepared quite a bargain for someone from the Philippines.

Ximending, night.

Ximending crossing.

Gongguan Night Market.

What we had for dinner (L-R): some kind of chicken sausage, goat meat xiaolongbao, some sort of seafood gratin in a shell.

Ximending crossing at 11PM on a Saturday night.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready embrace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

One Week in Taipei, 2016, DIY, Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAIA Terminal 1 check-in hall.

 EVA Air check-in counters.

 Terminal 1 departures board.

Departures immigration.

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

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

 Hallway to our pre-departure area.

 Air China B737-800 at Gate 2.

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

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

Legroom at Seat 26K!

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

"Fish rice." 


EVA Air B777-300ER greeting us upon arrival.