Saturday, May 6, 2017

PDI Review: 'Angry Christ' by UP Playwrights' Theatre

Short of calling this the best play I've so far seen this year--the online version of the review here. For tickets, contact 0917-967-3616 or 0916-555-2782. Shows from Tue-Fri at 7PM and Sat-Sun at 10AM and 3PM, until May 14 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2/F Palma Hall, UP Diliman.

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'Angry Christ' is a masterpiece

 Opening night curtain call.

One thing nearly a decade of conscientious theatergoing can teach is that very few productions have the capacity to leave you completely stunned and searching for words, just as the lights finally dim and the curtain falls. True masterpieces are certainly not a dime a dozen.

We should consider ourselves blessed, then, that this rare experience of witnessing a work of such superlative, gratifying quality is currently attainable, albeit for a very limited time, at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, University of the Philippines Diliman, where UP Playwrights' Theatre's "Angry Christ" runs until May 14.

This nearly three-hour production of Floy Quintos' newest original piece is simply an occasion of pure theatrical joy. The text itself is an enthralling display of the author's unparalleled skill at deftly filling a relatively empty canvass drawn from a point in history with cogent conversation, scenery and flesh-and-blood characters--the result a wholly believable, if not more memorable, version of the original.

In "Angry Christ," Quintos allows his audience access into the Filipino painter Alfonso Ossorio's brief time in Victorias, Negros Occidental, during the creation of the local chapel's controversial sanctuary mural--dominated by a frowning Jesus, hence the play's title.

The production Dexter Santos directs and choreographs is an entirely satisfying realization of Quintos' reimagination. No moment ever feels forced or fake; the scenes all bear the touch of careful, thoughtful composition.

Here, Ossorio's struggle to reconcile the demonic and the divine is captured beautifully. Against the backdrop of a rustic, close-knit community where word gets around easily and where traditions and the old guard still hold sway, there is his earthly existence of excess and homosexual guilt, on one hand, and his devotion to a God all-knowing and all-powerful, on the other.

Unique restraint

It's an internal tug-of-war that materializes quite persuasively because of the perfect rendering of time, place and local texture, thanks to Gino Gonzales' spare, unobtrusive set and costumes, Monino Duque's pitch-perfect atmospheric lights, Krina Cayabyab's sound design, and Steven Tansiongco and Josef Garcia's video design.

This unique restraint also appears to be the first-rate cast's watchword. The performances, led by Nel Gomez as Ossorio and Kalil Almonte as his fictional assistant, ripple with convincing ordinariness that only adds both life and dimension to these imagined beings.

Gomez--barely three months ago, the extraordinary anchor to Twin Bill Theater's "My Name Is Asher Lev"--captures with unflinching precision a man of many demons, bleeding from so many unseen corners within. Almonte provides a grounding heart to the play, the much-welcome quotidian yang to all its grandiloquent yin.

In their scenes together, Gomez and Almonte even provide a subtle portrait of that centuries-old white master-brown boy dynamic, their pairing inviting conversations that go beyond the realm of simple artistic merit.

Piercing exploration

Such is the overall effect of "Angry Christ." Long after you've exited the theater, and for days on end, it leaves you talking about it, and wanting to talk about it even more. Its piercing exploration of human frailty clings to your brain, begging for repeat viewings.

The consummately crafted finale, which harnesses light, darkness, sound, dialogue, graphics, gesture and physical timing into a resplendent whole as it virtually transforms the stage into the sanctuary of the aforementioned Victorias chapel, is a feat of stagecraft unlikely to find many peers in this or any other year.

In such instances, when every element onstage works so convincingly to suspend your disbelief and create a world that looks, sounds and feels more real than the mundane--when you find yourself thoroughly swept away by the storytelling--it's best to just let the piece consume you and be consumed.

Such moments of complete abandon in the theater are not a dime a dozen. There, right there, is the mark of a true masterpiece.

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