Saturday, January 28, 2017

PDI Review: 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' by Repertory Philippines

First review of the year is in today's paper--the online version here! The show runs until Feb. 12 at Onstage Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Buy tickets here.

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'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' is a winsome foursome

Mica Pineda (left) and Joaquin Valdes.

A working knowledge of Anton Chekov's oeuvre is not a prerequisite for having a ball at Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," which opens Repertory Philippines' 50th anniversary.

Theatergoers who know their stuff may have the added benefit of getting the references to "Uncle Vanya" or "The Cherry Orchard" or "The Seagull," but Durang's transposition alone of some of Chekov's best-known characters into 21st-century America proves to be sufficient comedic fodder.

The siblings Vanya and Sonia are now middle-aged, jobless and have spent their whole lives in the family home sustained financially by their Hollywood-elite sister Masha. When Masha arrives one weekend with her latest boy toy Spike, old wounds are reopened alongside new ones, and insecurities reexamined.

The play's very DNA is obviously the domestic drama: the absurd and the real meeting in a house in the country (a setup itself very Chekovian). But in its best moments, "Vanya and Sonia..." plays out like a writer's dare gone nuts, a small joke that's allowed to go on and on and expand and soar to hysterical heights.

In on the joke

And, anyway, the characters themselves make darn sure everyone in the audience is always in on the joke. Many times, though, this self-conscious loquaciousness only undermines the play's status as a winner of the Tony Award for Best Play.

When Vanya, for example, points out that Sonia's attraction to him "comes from our living together, [because] there's no one else in the house ever since mother and father died...," one is made aware of an ungraceful quality haunting the expository parts of the writing. 

It speaks much of a production's virtues, then, when even the speechifying parts become less annoying and more, well, funny. This Rep staging, which unfolds on Miguel Faustmann's ornately designed sitting-room set (with convincing rustic exteriors), strikes a fine balance between pathos and all-stops-out comedy.

More than anything, it's the casting that does wonders to this production.

Everybody fits his or her role to a tee: Cherie Gil, who effortlessly supplies a surplus of glamour to Masha while capturing her fame- and age-driven anxieties; Michael Williams as Vanya, always vaguely aware of the things he could have but have not done; even Natalie Everett as the maid Cassandra, who, like her mythological namesake, has the tendency to spout seemingly nonsensical prophecies.

Gag pieces

But in terms of bringing something new to the table, this show belongs to Roselyn Perez, who lands punch line after punch line as the self-pitying Sonia while still giving us a woman who is more than just her frustrations or inferior self-image; and Joaquin Valdes, clearly having a delightful time playing Spike as an all-abs-and-pecs male bimbo.

Directed by Bart Guingona, this production unfolds like a series of gag pieces that aim to elicit not so much sustained guffaws as bursts of laughter. It knows when to hold back, and when to give its all.

And when Maggie Smith and Snow White finally enter the mix (in ways that must be seen to be understood), it's the absurd and the real becoming one, and you stop thinking of the hows and whys. You simply surrender to the charm and skill of this terrific ensemble and proceed to have a ball at the theater.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I'm going to Silliman!

I'm over the moon! This is like the Tony Awards of writing workshops in the country. You can't claim to be a serious Filipino writer if you haven't once thought of applying here. My first try was three years ago, and that was for poetry, which is like the most random field there is. (Obviously I didn't get in.) So now you guys know where to find me in May.

Still have six weeks left before the board exams, but right now it feels like I've already passed.

"In time, we might learn that any gesture
is a kind of displacement, that geography
is as near and small as our birthmarks. If you happen
to remember anything at all, that is because it is hard
to forgive the world's loveliness--the quick shape
of movement, repetition, each fierce

--from Allan Pastrana's "Geography," from the anthology "The Dumaguete We Know" (edited by Merlie Alunan), which I bought in Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio City three Decembers ago.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Year in Film (2016)

Same personal system as the previous years: My longlist included films from this and last year that I saw this year (oh hello there, "Apocalypse Child"). So here's me once more playing favorites.

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1. Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)
This is why journalism--the truth and its telling--matters.

2. The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Seals the case, once and for all, for Farhadi as one of our modern masters.

3. Apocalypse Child (dir. Mario Cornejo)
Drama with a capital D. Drama that actually makes sense and moves with a believably human brain and knows which wounds to poke and sores to reopen on your puny mortal soul.

4. Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (dir. Lav Diaz)
In a year partly defined by the devil's conscious effort to revise our nation's history, this eight-hour Lav Diaz could not have been timelier.

5. Pamilya Ordinaryo (dir. Eduardo Roy Jr.)
Richard Bolisay for CNN Philippines: "Poverty always needs to be told, especially if it's as effectively worrying as this."

6. Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)
Just plain saksak-puso beautiful.

7. Hail, Caesar! (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
"Would that it were so simple."

8. Your Name (dir. Makoto Shinkai)
Once, you were young, and love could bend time and space and the laws of nature.

9. Oro (dir. Alvin Yapan)
If everybody outraged by that scene with the dog were as outraged by the murder of those four miners, I suspect we'd be a much better country.

10. Graduation (dir. Cristian Mungiu)
Small-town dynamics compellingly brought to life.

And ten more titles that genuinely made my year at the movies, in alphabetical order: Ang Babaeng Humayo (dir. Lav Diaz); Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven); Everybody Wants Some!! (dir. Richard Linklater); Ma' Rosa (dir. Brillante Mendoza); Midnight Special (dir. Jeff Nichols); Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach); A Monster Calls (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona); The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black); Sing Street (dir. John Carney); Sunday Beauty Queen (dir. Baby Ruth Villarama). 

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No shit: My favorite piece of acting in 2016 is MOIRA LANG as Ertha a.k.a. Baby Arjan's abductor in "Pamilya Ordinaryo." Here are 19 more noteworthy performances:
  • Irma Adlawan (Oro)
  • Paolo Ballesteros (Die Beautiful)
  • Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship)
  • Paula Beer (Frantz)
  • Emory Cohen (Brooklyn)
  • Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!)
  • Barbie Forteza (Tuos)
  • Joshua Garcia (Vince & Kath & James)
  • Tom Hanks (Sully)
  • Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  • Jaclyn Jose (Ma' Rosa)
  • Hasmine Kilip (Pamilya Ordinaryo)
  • Rooney Mara (Carol)
  • Khalil Ramos (2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
  • Charo Santos-Concio (Ang Babaeng Humayo)
  • Kristen Stewart (Café Society)
  • Laila Ulao (Women of the Weeping River)
And the pitch-perfect ensemble of "Apocalypse Child."

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