From stage to page: re/viewing the views of reviewers

This is a shortened version of the paper I prepared for
Tanghalan: Preparatory Consultation and Research on Regional Theater Aesthetics project
(held from late 2009 till early 2010).

It will be presented in this year's
Tanghalin ang Tanghalan: National Conference on Theater Aesthetics
on Sept. 28-29, 2011.

To acquire the full version, for republishing permission and/or citation clarifications,
please contact:
Glecy Atienza
Conference Director
Tanghalin ang Tanghalan: National Conference on Theater Aesthetics (Philippines)
tanghalinangtanghalan@yahoo.com


From stage to page: re/viewing the views of reviewers
By Walter Ang
January 12, 2010

Part of the rationale of the Tanghalan! Preparatory Consultation and Research on Regional Theater Aesthetics project states, "A regular audience would have a feel of the qualities they look for when they watch a theater performance.  However, these qualities have to be processed and integrated into the theater artists' experience so that Philippine theater can be marked and appraised not only from the scholars point of view, but more so, from the theater artists' eye."

From this statement emerged the idea of asking what role audiences actually play in the process of developing or maintaining a particular aesthetic: how they acknowledge, process, accept/reject, and even legitimize a production and the aesthetic it embodies or espouses.

The idea grew to mining the thoughts of theater reviewers who are published in newspapers-the reviewers, in this case, partly representing the points of view of audiences: how they become interested in theater to begin with, what they look for in a production, how they evaluate a production, and what opinions, if any, are formed after watching a production.

Partial view
Charged with the task of reviewing theater productions, theater reviewers hold a unique perspective on the landscape of Philippine theater in that they are able to watch much more productions than the average theater audience (or even the average theater practitioner) and are able to survey the various offerings of different theater groups.

Interview questions were prepared in hopes of having the reviewers themselves reveal their personal workings instead of gleaning it from an analysis of their published works.

Given the conference's objectives and its pioneering efforts, the matters discussed here hope to raise more questions than they answer.  Writers, researchers, academics, and theater practitioners will hopefully be spurred to further develop and refine the ideas that are presented here.

Due to time and resource limitations, only the reviewers of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) were interviewed.  The reviewers included would have either written or are still currently writing reviews on plays and musicals, excluding music and dance productions, with a minimum of ten published reviews in the Arts and Books subsection of the newspaper's Lifestyle section.

The cast
Amadis Maria Guerrero (b. 1941) started contributing to PDI in December 1991.  He eventually started writing "capsule reviews of plays" that became integrated into his quarterly "report cards" on the performing arts.

Cora Llamas (b. 1966) shares how full-length theater reviews began being published more regularly in the newspaper's Arts and Books subsection, "Around 1999, several leaders of the theater community, including Audie Gemora, Luna Inocian, Rody Vera, and Bart Guingona approached PDI's Lifestyle section editor Thelma San Juan to propose having a regular theater section in PDI with themselves as active columnists."

"I got a call from Luna who said Thelma wanted to have an exploratory meeting with me regarding my doing regular reviewing for PDI. I wrote reviews regularly until around 2005."

It was around the time of Llamas' departure as a contributing writer for PDI when Gibbs Cadiz (b. 1970) observed that, "no one was covering theater anymore. I volunteered for it, and from writing advance features of theater productions, graduated to writing reviews about them."

Foils
To manage the expectations of those who read newspaper theater reviews, it should be noted that reviewing theater productions for a newspaper has certain parameters.

There are format issues such as limited page space, and thus, limited word counts for each article.  There is also the issue of form.  A review is not an academic critique.  While reviewers sometimes touch on theories (performance, literary, etc.), a newspaper is not the venue for that particular kind of discourse.

Nonetheless, with the exclusion of online blog entries written by non-reviewers, it can be argued that this kind of "popular criticism" is one of the closest documented indicators of how and what audiences feel and think.

There are deadlines vis-à-vis short performance runs.  Productions usually run for only three to four weekends.  "Which often means when the review comes out, the play's gone," says Cadiz.

"Because of this, I consciously don't try to make my review as some sort of 'consumer guide' but something a bit higher-a discussion of more salient points other than whether the production deserved a thumbs-up, thumbs-down rating," he adds.

It should also be noted that, unlike newspapers in other countries such as the USA that have resident or in-house theater reviewers, Guerrero, Llamas and Cadiz are not full-time staff reporters for PDI.  This kind of set-up presumes that writing reviews may not always be the priority (whether by circumstance or by choice) for these writers.

Cadiz shares another limitation, "The Arts and Books subsection comes out only once a week, and theater has to fight for space with visual arts, the classical performing arts, heritage issues, books, etc.  Theater can't always be front and center of every issue."  Therefore, not every production ever staged can feasibly be reviewed, and reviewed extensively, even if we assume the reviewers and editors would want to.

It should also be noted that most of PDI's theater reviewers are based in Metro Manila and cover mostly Manila-based productions.

Method
Their statements on how they evaluate productions reveal common thought processes.  Unlike average audience members who do not usually or can opt not to do any type of research prior to watching a show, these reviewers make it a point to learn about a production before they watch it.  They use whatever information they are able to gather as a basis to gauge their reactions and to inform their opinions.

Llamas says, "[Even though] I knew some of the basics of theater arts because of my college theater experience and appreciated the devotion that the practitioners pour into their craft, as soon as I started to write, as much as possible, I studied the background of the play I was reviewing-the context, the history, the social significance, the various interpretations over the years.

"Basically I need to know the material, what the play is about.  There were times when some theater companies offered me a copy of the script prior to the review, and that helped.  Second, I'd research on the art form that would interpret that material.  Then, of course, based on the theater groups' own pre-opening press releases, I'd get a sense of what the director wants to achieve with that particular piece.

"And that would be my beginning criterion:  how faithful was the director in executing that piece according to his vision (and not someone else's)?  How was the audience reaction? (If it was a children's play, I'd bring actual kids to the production and see how they reacted.)  How did all the elements come into play to fulfill or negate that vision?  Which contributed to its success, for example, the musicality, the art design?  Which brought it down, for example, miscast actors?"

Cadiz says, "Mostly, I look for an inner logic or consistency-how 'plausible' the material is, and not necessarily only on the realistic, naturalistic, slice-of-life level. Even farces, fantasies, expressionistic plays should operate on inner logic-the truth of what it's trying to say.

"I suppose I operate by instinct when it comes to what works for me-how well does the acting square with the material's requirements?, how is the direction able to bring to life the play?, etc. I always go back to my visceral reaction to it as I am watching the show. That becomes the scaffolding for whatever intellectual fleshing out I would do in my review-why did the play affect me the way it did, what elements helped bring about that which affected me or didn't, etc."

Awareness
Beyond their basic evaluative process, all three reviewers articulate that they are aware of certain elements that influence and inform their ways of thinking and reviewing.

Guerrero points to his age and how it imbues his appreciation of what he sees on stage. "I'm 68 years old and, in some ways, very conservative in taste."

Llamas shares that there was a time when she had thought of attending "some kind of formal class on theater reviewing."  She says, "But what ultimately stopped me was the question of impartiality.  If I were to take up a course on theater criticism from this particular university, and this university happened to have a its own theater company, how much of my learning from their course might influence me later on to give them a more favorable review as opposed to reviewing another theater company whose inclinations may be different?  Or for example, if I took dramatic criticism from a mentor with very intense nationalistic leanings, would not his teachings influence my views when I review a Broadway musical?"

Cadiz has internal safeguards that constantly remind him of the place of local theater in relation to foreign practices and his own state of readiness when watching productions.  He says, "When appraising local works, I am cognizant of several facts: one, we can never approximate the production values of Broadway/West End productions, which means having to consider scaled-down works for what they are, and not in useless comparison with their counterparts in other countries. Two, we don't have extensive tryouts here, unlike abroad where shows are fine-tuned through weeks of out-of-town tryouts and previews before opening night. Here, the economy is much more severe: 2-3 months of rehearsal, 2-3 weekends of performance. Thus, I don't review preview performances, preferring instead to see the production when it has settled into its groove during the run, to give it a better chance. Three, whenever a production strikes me as bad, I make it a point to watch it again-because my negative reaction in the beginning might be attributable to outside factors like fatigue, unpreparedness, etc.

"In short, I am willing to give productions a long leash to prove themselves. I try not to write reviews to feel clever about myself or to bitch and nitpick; I come from a place of friendship, incongruous as that may sound. I am passionate about Philippine theater, and I want it to succeed. Whatever criticism I direct its way is the tough talk of a friend."

From these initial efforts at understanding the material as well as being aware of and analyzing their own reactions, these reviewers note that they extend the reach of their learning and research.  Llamas says, "I touched base with others who had gone ahead of me like Nicanor Tiongson or the late Doreen Fernandez and asked how they did it.  During the interviews with the theater people, I'd try to understand as best as I could how they approached their own craft and how they married their unique vision with that particular piece they were performing."

Cadiz says, "Before my professional stint reviewing theater I had spent about half my lifetime watching plays and musicals from the time I came to Manila City after college. I now view those endless voluntary nights spent theater-going as my preparation for this job. I supplement whatever knowledge I have through assiduous reading, research, familiarizing myself with the material, familiarizing myself with the theater companies behind the productions, doing close observation of the theater scene, etc. In short, never allowing myself to be out of the loop when it comes to this field."

Being
Having seen as many productions as they have (easily at least 150 each) and having been involved in the enterprise of evaluating these productions beyond the level of what a "regular" audience might engage in, how do these reviewers perceive what "Filipino theater" or a "Filipino theater aesthetic" to be?

Guerrero puts it simply, "For me, a play about the Philippines or with Filipino characters, and written by a Filipino, whether in English, Filipino or in a regional language, is Filipino."

Llamas says, "The Filipino style of theater could refer to original material conceptualized and mounted by Filipino theater companies, or Philippine-centric interpretations given to foreign work like the way Rolando Tinio would deconstruct Macbeth, for example.

"That's one view, and chances are, the more Western-centric theater companies would take issue with it because aside from the usual Broadway musicals, there are original musicals in English written by Filipino authors like Trumpets' The Little Mermaid"

Cadiz says, "The 'Filipino' style of theater-I wouldn't know at this point since I haven't had extensive experience watching theater abroad. But I notice that Filipino performances have a very heart-on-sleeve style.  The sentiment is clear and clearly enunciated.  Strong emotions characterize most Pinoy plays I've seen. "

Where do we go from here?
As the Tanghalan! Conference aims to answer the question of what "Filipino theater aesthetic" is (and documenting these answers), these reviewers share their sentiments on the current state of reviewing in the country (in Metro Manila at least) and where they hope it will go.

Guerrero says, "Plays will come and go, a few becoming classics, and critics will come and go, reviewing, analyzing and interpreting each production based on their own perceptions."

Llamas says, "One thing that reviewers can use to augment their discipline is a formal course on dramatic criticism given by an organization that is not affiliated with any theater company in the Philippines.  Another would be scholarships that would give them exposure to the various theater industries in other countries, from Broadway, the West End, to the ASEAN countries.  We have to be able to see what's happening in the greater world to understand and see the place of our own theater community in it.  I'd probably recommend taking courses on dramatic courses outside the country and not just one but probably two-from two alternative schools of thought just to get a balance.

"In the absence of a formal theater course, a theater reviewer would simply have to rely on his own passion, diligence, and professionalism to survive and succeed.  At the same time, though, a theater reviewer's growth would also correlate with that of the community he reviews.  What makes theater exciting to review, at least for me, are the things one learns.  However, if for example, theater company A has been producing the same kind of plays and applying the same kind of interpretation in the past decade, and the only difference being the change in cast members, a theater reviewer would get the sense that he's just writing about the 'same-old' stuff.  And in that scene, the excitement can dissipate, and the growth in terms of learning does not happen."

Cadiz says, "The state of theater reviewing in the Philippines is woefully inadequate and inconsistent, both in terms of quality and regularity of appearance. No tradition of useful criticism so far.  I'd like to see more intelligent, engaged theater criticism to happen in the Philippines, and along with it, increased patronage by a thinking audience responding to such reviews--whether they agree with them or not."

Retrospective trilogy of Tony Perez plays opens Sept 30, 2011

Retrospective trilogy of Tony Perez plays opens Sept 30
By Walter Ang
Sept. 26, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tony Perez
Tanghalang Pilipino will stage "Tatlong Tabing: Three Plays by Tony Perez," which includes "Sierra Lakes;" "Bombita;" and "Nobyembre, Noong Akala Ko'y Mahal Kita."

"Perez has spent over two decades eloquently dissecting the Filipino psyche," says TP artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef.

"He's an important and prolific playwright in contemporary Philippine drama. His plays deal with adult themes such as intense love, betrayal, separation, compassion, poverty, hunger, marriage, birth, and death."

The plays featured in this trilogy trace the artistic development of Perez as a playwright.

"It was a consensus: three plays from three significant stages in my career as a playwright," says Perez. "'Sierra Lakes' from my early works, 'Bombita' from my first major trilogy of full-length plays dubbed 'Tatlong Paglalakbay;' and 'Nobyembre …' from my second major trilogy of full-length plays dubbed 'Indakan Ng Mga Puso.'"

Cast and collaborators
Cast of "Nobyembre..."
"Sierra Lakes" explores issues among four people caught in a complicated web of love and desire.

"Bombita" is a black comedy which questions the blind obedience and subservience of young rookies in the military.

"Nobyembre …" is a case study of the absence of love in an average, middle-class male in contemporary Philippine society.

"Sierra Lakes" and "Bombita" will be shown in a twinbill.  The twinbill will rotate in showing schedules with "Nobyembre …"

The three plays will feature TP's Actors Company, its pool of actors, both current members and several alumni.  TP subsidizes the training of all AC scholars, apprentices and members in acting, movement, dance, voice, script analysis, improvisation, directing and other related courses.

All three plays share collaborators: Tuxqs Rutaquio as production designer, Dennis Marasigan as lighting designer, and TJ Ramos as sound designer.  However, each play will have its own director: former Actors Company member Tess Jamias (Sierra), former TP artistic director Marasigan (Bombita), and Rutaquio (Nobyembre).

Painter, too
An exhibit of Tony Perez's paintings will also be mounted at the lobby of Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater), titled "Tony Perez: A Playwright Who Paints."

"They are also chronological and retrospective," says Perez.  "It includes chronological photo-portraits of me by Hedwig de Leon, a professional photographer. I will also include eight original manuscripts to be displayed in glass cases."

UST Publishing House has released several titles under the series "The Collected Works of Tony Perez," which compiles Perez's plays, essays, etc. and will reach 40 volumes.  Among those that have been released, volumes 1 to 4, 7 and 9 contain his plays.

Volume 2 includes "Sierra Lakes," volume 4 has the Tagalog version of "Bombita," and volume 9 has the English translation of "Bombita."

"Tatlong Tabing" runs from Sept. 30-Oct 23, 2011.  "Nobyembre …" runs Sept 30-Oct. 2 and Oct 15-2. The "Sierra Lakes/Bombita" twinbill runs Oct. 7-9 and 14-23. Call ahead to confirm at 0917-750-0107, 0918-959-3949, 218-3791, 832-3661, 832-1125 loc. 162. Rows of seats and entire shows can be bought at discount. Visit www.tanghalangpilipino.org.ph

Also published online:
http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/15715/retrospective-trilogy-of-tony-perez-plays-opens-sept-30

"Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure" opens on Sept. 29, 2011

"Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure" opens on Sept. 29, 2011
By Walter Ang
Sept. 26, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sam Concepcion as Peter Pan
The Asian premier of a new musical version of "Peter Pan" will be staged by Repertory Philippines and Stages Production Specialists starting Sept. 29.

Based on J.M. Barrie's book, "Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure" will feature Sam Concepcion in the title role and Michael Williams as Captain Hook.

The story revolves around the boy who refuses to grow up, his visit to the home of the Darling siblings Wendy, Michael and John; and how he takes them to Never Land.  There they have adventures with Tinkerbell the fairy, the Lost Boys, Indian sqaw Tiger Lily and her braves, mermaids, and Captain Hook's pirates.

The musical's book is by Willis Hall; music and lyrics are by award-winning duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe ("Honk!" and the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh "Mary Poppins").

Co-directors Jaime Del Mundo and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo have assembled a design team to bring the show to life.

Set design
Set design sketch by Gino Gonzales
The production will be using Flying by Foy flying systems.  The company is based in the US and its technicians will come to Manila to train the cast and crew on how to use and operate its systems.

Set designer Gino Gonzales knew from the get go that flying would be involved.  Since he's designed past productions that have involved flying, such as Ballet Philippines' "Darna," his first consideration was that he couldn't design pieces that were too high.

"Also, the set has to be many different locations," he says.  "From the nursery in the Darling family's home in London to many different places for Never Land's many inhabitants."

Michael Williams as Captain Hook
"Everything has to happen in one space," he says.  Given these parameters, Gonzales has created a "box made of shutters" for the all the action to happen in. He's also "adjusted" the very long length of the Meralco Theater's stage by adding legs (theater term for curtains or set pieces at the sides of a stage) to focus the action towards the center.

"When I studied the musical's script, I noted that there were very many transitions from one scene to another.  The way the music is written makes all the scene shifts very short.  So this kind of set design allows for suggestive props and scenic elements to convey the different locations.  Color will be conveyed through the costumes.  All the scene changes will also be done in front of the audience.  Part of the fun of watching this show is to allow your imagination to supplement what you see onstage."

Costume design
Raven Ong's sketches for pirate costumes
Populating Gonzales' set are the actors who will be dressed in costumes by Raven Ong.  Ong was recruited by Lauchengco-Yulo earlier this year when he did the costumes for Rep's "Shakespeare in Hollywood."

"Both directors were very specific with the look and approach that they want for the costumes," he says. "They gave me their directorial concept, ideas and adjectives for the feel that they want to achieve.  It's important to absorb and have the same vision as theirs.  I then balance off their considerations with the way how I want to attack it as the designer."

Ong relies heavily on research, using reference books he's acquired abroad.  He also watched existing Peter Pan films, both live action and animated.  "I needed to review what had already been done, to see different takes on these characters.  Part of it is to analyze why the designers came up with their particular designs."

Raven Ong's sketches
for Lost Boys costumes
"That's the challenge, how to re-create a classic. Something that you attempt to break but still needs to be acceptable to the audience.  People are familiar with the story, especially the cartoon version, so the costume designs cannot be too unfamiliar either."

Ong has created color-coded costumes for the characters "to make it easier for the audience to recognize characters."

"We are using seven sets of costume suppliers, each focusing on each character groups. One supplier focuses on the Londoner costumes; another on the Lost Boys costumes; another only on Mrs. Darling's Edwardian evening gown; another only on Captain Hook's full Baroque costume, and so on. I did this because each character group has its own feel."

Musical direction is by Jojo Malferrari; he will also conduct the live music for all performances.  Choreography is by Deana Aquino and lighting design is by John Batalla.

"Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure" runs Sept 29-Oct 30, 2011 at Meralco Theater, Ortigas Ave., Pasig City. Rows of seats or entire shows can be bought at discount. Contact 571-6926, 571-4941 or info@repertory.ph. Tickets are also available at Ticketworld at 891-9999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph. Visit www.repertory.ph, subscribe to youtube.com/repertoryphils, and add "Rep Phils" in Facebook.

Also published online:
http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/15785/peter-pan-a-musical-adventure-opens-sept-29

ERRATUM: My apologies, Gonzales did not design for Ballet Philippines' "Darna." The set designer was Boni Juan.

Novy Bereber choreographs for Ballet Philippines' 'Inamorata'

Novy Bereber choreographs for Ballet Philippines' 'Inamorata'
By Walter Ang
September 2011

Novy Bereber choreographs for
Ballet Philippines' "Inamorata"
Former Ballet Philippines choreographer and company member Novy Bereber is returning to choreograph a new piece for the company's production this September.

He will stage "Nanay" for "Inamorata," (Italian for "the beloved") a showcase of "classic and contemporary works about the women we love, presenting the many their facets" with works by different choreographers.

The production is part of BP's 42nd season (2010-2011) dubbed "The Faces of Eve," a celebration of the centennial of International Women's Day.

Other new works are choreographed by BP artistic director Paul Alexander Morales, BP resident choreographer Alden Lugnasin, and former BP artistic director Denisa Reyes.

Also choregraphing are Dance=Pull Dance Company artistic director Dwight Rodrigazo; Hong Kong-based choreographer and 2010 Gawad Buhay winner for Outstanding Choreography ("Shifting Wait") Carlo Pacis; and winner of BP's 2011 Choreographer's Cup, Don Adrian Obviar.

Each one will render a dance sketch of their muse, accompanied by sopranos Rachelle Gerodias and Camille Lopez-Molina, among others.

The show will feature costumes designed by top Filipino fashion designers Rajo Laurel, Lulu Tan Gan, Ito Curata and Jojie Lloren.

Teaching 
Despite the company's name, BP doesn't just focus on classical ballet; its dancers are trained in different forms.  Just last month, it restaged Agnes Locsin's neo-ethnic "Encantada," allowing the old work to be seen by new audiences and to be learned by younger dancers.

This notion of "passing on" is mirrored in Bereber's own revisiting to BP.  With his more than a decade's worth of experience as dancer, choreographer and teacher, he is sharing his exposure with the dancers via a dance style he's developed which he coins "Asian contemporary."

"As with all my pieces, style is dictated by subject matter; style and subject can never be separated. The OFW situation is a contemporary issue; the style of the dance is therefore contemporary. At the same time, this is an Asian issue.  I'm incorporating many gestures and movements from all the Asian genres: from folkloric Filipino traditions to Bollywood, from Thai classical dance to the constantly changing dance genres of Beijing Opera."

Personal
"'Nanay' is about all Filipino mothers who leave their children with their families as overseas workers. It's about the many levels of suffering caused by the OFW experience: the suffering of a mother who has to abandon her children; and the pain of the children."

Bereber's own mother was an OFW and left him to the care of his grandmother.  "This piece has so much emotional resonance for me; the passing earlier this year of my dear grandmother, who brought me up, has made it very emotional for me," he says.

"In addition, my piece is also about the 'nanay' of the mothers-they have to bring their grandchildren up, substituting as their mother.  She is burdened with having to explain to the children why their mother, her own daughter, is not there for them."

Around the world
Ironically, Bereber has not been able to pursue his career in dance without having to leave the country himself.

"I think it's incredibly sad that the enormously skilled and talented dancers produced by the Philippines find it difficult to work locally. They have to work in cruise ships or theme parks abroad.  Having lived and worked in Canada and Australia, I never cease to be amazed by how much support, financial and otherwise, is given to dancers by the government."

Born in Capiz, Bereber started out with Dagyaw dance company in his native Visayas region.  He later joined Ballet Philippines and has since worked in countries all over the world.  He performed in the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Vancouver, Canada and recently choreographed "Black Swan Apotheosis!" for the 2011 Sydney Mardi Gras.

Even as he dances his way around the world, he still consistently returns to Manila to create works for all the major dance companies including Ballet Manila and Philippines Ballet Theatre.  He's also done work for Dagyaw and contemporary dance company Airdance.

Other works
Hareliquinade
The classic pieces included in the show are from different ballets, all restaged by Victor Ursabia.

"The Dying Swan," choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for ballerina Anna Pavlova, set to the music of Camille Saint-Saens' "Le Cygne."

The comedic love pas de deux from "Harlequinade," to show women's wit and whimsy, choreographed by Marius Petipa with music by Riccardo Drigo.

The bravura pas de deux from "Flames of Paris," a ballet set in the French Revolution, choreographed by Vasily Vainonen with music by Boris Asafiev.

"Inamorata" runs for one weekend only, Sept 23-25, 2011, at Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater), Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd., Pasay City. Call 551-1003, 345-6601, 832-3704 or Ticketworld 891-9999. Visit balletphilippines.org.

Rizal’s dream life, other Rizaliana at Yuchengco Museum

Rizal’s dream life, other Rizaliana at Yuchengco Museum
By Walter Ang
Sept. 19, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In the first public forum of its kind, Jose Rizal's astrological birth chart was discussed at the Yuchengco Museum.

Astrologer Resti Santiago created a birth chart for the country's national hero, using an estimated birth time gleaned from researched documents.

Santiago proceeded to show how the planetary positions in Rizal's chart overlaid with the people in his life, his time abroad, and his return to the Philippines.

The talk was part of the museum's series of activities under its "RIZALizing the Future" exhibit, mounted to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Jose P. Rizal and the 100th anniversary of the Yuchengco Group of Companies-the holdings company that owns and operates the museum and whose Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation is named after the national hero.

On September 24, dream-work counselor Lucito de Jesus will discuss "Jose Rizal and His Dreams: A Look at the National Hero's Dreams and Their Meanings."

Previous speakers were Inquirer columnist and editor John Nery discussing the influence of Rizal in Southeast Asia; Justice Justo Torres on the Knights of Rizal; and dramatist-scholar Paul Dumol on  "Rizal and Nationhood."

Pop exhibit
To bring Rizal closer range to a general audience, "RIZALizing the Future" uses a wide range of paintings, memorabilia, popular icons, books, illustrations, contemporary artwork, archival photographs, costumes and fashion.

Visitors to the exhibit can explore sections on the different ways Filipinos have paid tribute to Rizal-whether it is through spiritualizing him; honoring him with a monument; institutionalizing an organization in his name; collecting memorabilia with his likeness; portraying him in art, popularizing him in mass culture; branding a campaign of his values; or falling in love with the women in his life.

Notable objects on display include sketches by Rizal; jewelry worn by Rizal's childhood sweetheart Leonor Rivera; art by Team Manila graphic design studio; and banknotes and coins bearing Rizal's image.

Other highlights are a short video looking into Rizal's essay "Filipinas dentro de Cien Años" (The Philippines a Century Hence); and "He Ain't Perfect," a special gallery drawing attention to Rizal's strengths and weaknesses.

The exhibit caps off with an installation featuring a circular, walking area of meditation. Visitors are encouraged to walk around a floating garden, and ponder on excerpts from Rizal's letters, novel and poems reflecting his values.

Events
The  museum also has "Nights of Rizal" events lined up.

Upcoming events include Rizal chill-out tapas nights; fundraising dinners; performances of excerpts from the musical "Noli Me Tangere" by Tanghalang Pilipino; book launches and other collaborative events with embassies of countries Rizal set foot on; historical storytelling and lectures; and a fashion show of contemporary apparel inspired by Rizal.

All talks are free with museum admission and begin at 3 p.m. "RIZALizing the Future" runs until Oct 29 at Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza Bldg., Ayala Ave. cor. Gil Puyat Ave. (formerly Buendia), Makati; Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Call 8891234, e-mail info@yuchengcomuseum.org or visit www.yuchengcomuseum.org.

Also published online:
http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/14731/rizal%e2%80%99s-dream-life-other-rizaliana-at-yuchengco-museum

REVIEW: Theaterbatoring DUP's "Titus Andronicus"

thoughts on dup's "titus andronicus"
by walter ang
sept. 18, 2011
theaterbator.blogspot.com
http://theaterbator.blogspot.com/2011/09/theaterbatoring-dups-titus-andronicus.html 

the bucoy-rutaquio adaptation/staging of "titus andronicus" is brilliant.

in its announcements, the show is described thus: "titus is now a hitman named carding and the play is set 'two weeks before the elections, where political chaos and religious frenzy intertwine in a world where politics, showbiz and a town feast drown the people in murky violence.'" its staging follows through, and then some.

with the production's layers upon layers of meaning, symbol, metaphor and sass, it's able to interweave quintessential pinoy ethos/pathos/bathos into shakespeare's text/plot in a way that works amazingly well. the production creates theater that is, with its staging choices, exciting and rousing, and, ultimately, theater that is, with its recontextualization of the source material and metaphors, astute, poignant and meaningful.

familiar and unfamiliar
bucoy's adaptation choices are clever and thoughtful.  they show a keen eye and accurate finger on the pulse of current filipino society's many ills and a sharp understanding of the inner workings of pinoy humor.

her provocative use of politics and its related shenanigans (dynasties, deception, distraction, delusion, all around debauchery and devolution, etc.) as the milieu and satirical use of showbusiness and local community pageantry resonate forcefully.

feudalism, impunity, corruption, violence, death resulting from several possible iterations (assassinations, murders, executions, etc.): the production forces your brain to loop into itself as it recognizes all this violence that real life desensitizes--the violence is reframed as it unfolds onstage, becoming strikingly (re)familiar.

half of your brain is amazed at how well these "local" and "modern" themes/scenarios fit so well into such an old text/plot; the other half of your brain is appalled at how much of these "fictive" themes/scenarios hew so closely to real life and how, apparently, human nature hasn't/doesn't change at all.

(and when you realize that this play's original setting is set in ancient rome prior to its fall and how this modernized version fits so well into its plot, you wonder what it tells us about our own country.)

merciless cutting
bucoy's imbibed the spirit of the play's numerous dismemberments and mercilessly cut shakepeare's text.

her large risks have paid off handsomely. her bold reshaping of the second act, reconfiguring the nurse's revelation of chua/aaron's affair/baby (semi-combining it with the whistleblowing/public shaming that titus does to saturninus), and finding a new way to get clarissa/lavinia's sons to carding/titus's home, is genius.

(though, i have to point out: her omission of the behanding of carding/titus asks interesting questions on why she chose to remove it.  that incident would have cast colorful symbolic shadows on carding's occupation as a hitman and, of course, it denies the audience that iconic scene of him putting his severed hand in salve/lavinia's tongueless mouth.)

laughter and horror
rutaquio has tasked most of the characters to react to the violence around them with such deadpan casualness that it layers an eerie feeling to the proceedings. onlookers immediately text each other about a shooting, deaths are not met with grief but instant alibis to cover up the guilty parties--violence as part of everyday life, so common that it's a source of entertainment or nuisance, rather than something that should be causing grief and horror.

a consciously deliberate preemptive strike against its own awareness of how excessive violence can turn absurdly ridiculous, the production achieves a delicate balance between delivering violent scenes and evoking dark humor. before your defense mechanisms can kick in with nervous laughter at the horrors onstage, the production cuts you off with its manipulative punchlines.

in one of her adapator's conceits, bucoy expands/transforms shakespeare's clown into a clown of death (instead of an angel of death). this creepy clown who comes, with his funky dance moves, to collect the souls of the victims, innocent or not.

there are also tv variety shows/game shows music interludes as scenes change, transforming these otherwise harmless happy tunes into creepy ominous tones.

this curious mix, these humor devices that build on this gruesome carnival that bucoy and rutaquio have created, makes the scenes that much darker, that much more real, that much more disturbing.

visual attacks
rutaquio also designed the set with a sly visual metaphor: a row of lamps staring at the audience, evoking disembodied breasts (or mute cyclops eyes, or both), that soon transform into string lights that punctuate scenes, a reminder of the carnivalesque world we have been thrown into/are trapped in.

animal-print blouses for tamora/clarissa symbolize, of course, of the wild and brutal animalism running through her veins.

the effects team does effective work with blood spurting and spraying liberally throughout the show, with cooking pots smoking menacingly. john batalla's dark lighting adds dread, though, as is his usual style, is sometimes so dark we can hardly see the actors' faces.

not just decorative, the use of video shorts works well and ties in with the goings on: it's a shrewd way to let us into the absurdities in this microcosm: from the prologue close up shots of meat being butchered, the opening video of a news report of a massacre scene that introduces armando/saturninus in a clown costume, to a climactic clip that's used as a blackmailing tool, and the concluding cautionary speech.

(and placing the screen on top of the audience is an interesting choice that works, obliterating the usual problems with projections getting washed out in a battle with stage lights.)

leeroy new's realistic-looking butchered pigs (you can almost smell the rancid meat) add a wonderful heft and visceralness to a crucial scene. from a symbolic/metaphorical viewpoint, those pigs are, in many ways, the whole point of this staging: kababuyan ng bayan.

intense suspense
the violence is the thing. and staging violence is always tenuous, what with the risk of it devolving into melodrama or camp, or both. there is none of that here.

the killings are cold, unflinching and brutal. and there is a wonderfully gruesome death-by-remote-control scene in the second act (which i think is the best murder scene onstage i have ever seen, at par with another death scene also crafted by bucoy--how does she come up with these ideas? she's like the stephen king/clive barker of filipino playwrights).

bucoy and rutaquio have pulled off a staging coup in their crafting of the mutilation scene of salve/lavinia. the actors' intensity combined with timing, black-outs, and a loud, roaring prop provokes intense menacing suspense and a frightening, thrilling wallop that ends the first act.

ensemble 
the actors navigate this complicated script/plot/adaptation/staging with aplomb. they are not swallowed by the complexity; instead, they give it its nuanced life and hurtle it inexorably to its conclusion.

hilarious are paolo cabanero as potty-mouth villain armando/bassianus and paolo o'hara as an almost endearingly charming chua/aaron.

nicco manalo and cris pasturan bring their usual powerful cackling electricity to their roles. they alternate as clown and nomer/demetrius. in the performance i saw, manalo played the clown and pasturan played nomer/demetrius, both are funny, creepy and intense.

shamaine centenera-buencamino plays clarissa/lavinia with a seriousness that adds a realistic gravitas to the character; you believe that this person exists in real life. [if i get a chance to catch alternate mailes kanapi, i will add my thoughts here.]

poignant
pockets of humanity attempt to break out in this relentless parade of gore: watch out for a sincere declaration of love staged together, in sharp contrast, to a marriage of convenience.

another conceit that bucoy adds is a dialogue between carding/titus and his son ryan/lucius where father contemplates the finer points of revenge to his son, using the cooking of dinuguan as metaphor.

it's easy to see the thought behind the construction of this scene: it's a poetic marker and foreshadowing of action, it's a poignant (if amoral) turning point for carding/titus, it's the audience's chance to peek into the insides of carding's/titus' mind.

unfortunately in the show that i caught, bembol roco buckled in his lines and failed to provide the cold intensity needed to make this potentially powerful scene fly.

the mystery
there are no attempts at lyricism in bucoy's translation (in relation to rhyming verses and iambic pentameters), because the poetry lies in her spot-on rhythms of the coarseness in her characters' vocabulary for its adapted setting.

so, i wonder, who decided to drop the originally proposed translated title of "tinarantadong asintado" when it fits so well for this staging and provides an apt introduction to the arching filipino flair that overflows from the work? (and in any case, isn't this the translator's prerogative?) bring it back.

another mystery is, why does one get so hungry after watching this show?  when there is this much onstage display of pigs and talk of dinuguan, what else is there to do after the show but order lechon paksiw for dinner? enjoy digesting this show. kekeke.

Crafting plays about Rizal and Shakespeare

Crafting plays about Rizal and Shakespeare
By Walter Ang
Sept. 12, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ron Capinding
Theatergoers are familiar with Ronan "Ron" Capinding as an actor.  He's been in productions for Tanghalang Ateneo (Iago in "Othello"), Dulaang UP (Mary Stuart) and Virgin Labfest (Suor Clara).

What they may not know is that he's also a playwright.  Capinding has devised two productions that aim to make two different "classic" figures and their work more accessible to younger audiences: Philippine Educational Theater Association's "William" and Tanghalang Ateneo's "Para Los Jovenes: Mga Kuwentong Pangkabataan ng Nakatatandang Rizal."

Rap, hip-hop
Capinding is no stranger to Shakespeare's work as he's played lead characters from Romeo to Shylock.  For Peta's 44th season opener, he uses this experience to craft a play that uses rap, hip-hop and fliptop to introduce the Bard's immortal characters to young audiences.

"William" (referencing Shakespeare's name) is about a group of high school students who are forced to study the Bard and later realize the beauty of his works while discovering themselves through his characters.

"Rap is one of the closest simulation of delivered poetry," he says.  "Fliptop, a fiery debate in rap, is the modern version of Balagtasan (verse duels), and it's very popular with teenagers, as revealed by the hits in You Tube."

"One of the main objectives of the play is to present how these Filipino-speaking youngsters reconcile with Shakespeare's English.  It also touches on themes of adolescence, parents' unconditional love, and friendship. It advocates a love for reading and appreciating literature - Shakespeare or otherwise."

Video games, mixed martial arts
For his "home" theater group, Tanghalang Ateneo, he's written (in a similar vein to Wiliam) about a group of college students who start off complaining about having had to study Rizal's novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in high school, which they contend are not for young readers.

They then present four of Rizal's children's stories and execute them "in forms that appeal to the young of today like game shows, talk shows, reality shows, mixed martial arts, anime, video games, sexy scenes, violent scenes, musical a la-Glee, etc."

The title Capinding has coined is deliberate in its contradictory stance of using a foreign language to describe "stories (that are supposed to be accessible by and) for the youth" and serves as an overview of how his play questions preconceived notions of Rizal's stories.

"I'll be staging the stories in a way that aims to disturb and provoke teenagers and young adults.  Hopefully, the styles of presentation will most likely rouse audience's appreciation for Rizal. And, also, their guilt of needing to be babied."

Eschewing labels
Because of his long-term involvement with TA (where he is resident director, actor, translator, choreographer and workshop instructor), Capinding has had more experience in translation of classic plays.  He notes that his work in translation has helped him "significantly in understanding how the classic and celebrated plays work."

He's written several one-act plays that have been performed in-campus, though not yet staged commercially/professionally.  He has devised the scripts, in both English and Filipino, of "Recoged Esta Voz (Tipunin Itong Taghoy)," a play that used Miguel Hernandez's poems, and "Sepharad: Voces de Exilio," a play inspired by the novel by Antonio Munoz Molina.

"I've always been a 'deviser'--devised plays being ones that owe most of their lines to other previously existing texts; scripts that need to cite many sources," he says.

"Devising is more in the realm of directing, when a director uses a non-play text to come up with something dramatic and worth watching. The director can use and translate into performance the text of a telephone directory, a cook book or a lab report, and, by his capacity to bring out the irony, organic unity, dramatic arch in the performance of these texts, he produces a play."

"But this doesn't mean that the authors of those non-play texts have accidentally and unwittingly become playwrights or play devisers.  Those who intend to write plays for directors to stage, whether they use existing sources or just their intuition, are playwrights."

Process
"I just write plays.  I bring out things that I've gathered through experiences, conversations, studying, and/or research. With my experience as an actor, I see and hear the characters as I am writing them.  I also know what lines roll well in the tongue.  With my experience as a teacher, I am very conscious of my audience.  I know what line or picture or action will move them, make them laugh, make them think.

"I usually write my thoughts randomly until I feel irritated by the mess and organize them into cohesive scenes.  Then I set a whole day or night to complete a first draft.  Then I'll read it again and again, put improvements here and there, as long as I am allowed to.  I think I can forever improve a play; it's only the deadline that makes me stop.

"I always print hard copies so I can write notes in the margins, underline things, encircle parts, transfer portions with arrows, revise word choices, anytime, anywhere. Then I print the revised version, and the process goes on.  I love 'interacting' with hard copies."

For both these plays, Capinding added a step to his usual writing process: testing it on his own children.  "The stories I used for 'Para Los Jovenes' are stories that my kids loved.  My 11-year old daughter loved 'William' when she read it but my seven year old son still would rather play with his toy cars."

Peta's "William" runs until Sept 25, 2011 at Peta Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. Contact 725-6244 or 410-0821, 0917-5765400 or petatheater@gmail.com. 

Tanghalang Ateneo's "Para Los Jovenes" runs Sept 21-24, 2011 at the 3rd floor of Gonzaga Hall, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Contact 0927-752-2027.

Also published online:

New and different ways to illuminate the home

New and different ways to illuminate the home
By Walter Ang
Sept. 7, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"There is nothing more special than a well-lit home," said Rico Gonzales, CEO and country manager of Philips Philippines. "Lighting adds drama and beauty; it can change the entire feel of your home."

To provide more choices in lighting design for Filipino home owners, Gonzales led the launch of a new range of home lighting solutions from Philips Lighting and Electronics.

The company's new collections combine energy-efficient lighting technology with designs that appeal to different lifestyles and can be used to create different moods and atmospheres.

"Through 'Philips Home Lighting Solutions Made Simple' showrooms in different home supplies stores like Wilcon Filinvest, you can shop in realistic home environments and be easily guided through different options. We aim to enhance Filipinos' lives with light.  We want to help you see your homes in a new light."

Tips
If given the opportunity to create a room's lighting plan from scratch, ensure plenty of electrical outlets in each room to prevent future need for unsightly and accident-causing extension cords.

Place wall switches at the entrance of each room for accessibility and group them together in a general switch for easy operation of all of the room's lights from one place.

When selecting lighting fixtures, note that functions can be divided into general, task and accent.

General lighting allows for even illumination throughout the home. Task lighting is essential for specific tasks like reading or cooking.

Accent lighting, usually three times brighter than the room's general lighting, draws attention to prized possessions like paintings or a showcase.

Aside from functional purposes, light can also be used to affect intangibles inside a home. Dining rooms and bedrooms can be equipped with dimmers or colored lights for creating different moods.

Wall-mounted lamps that throw beams of light onto the ceiling can create an illusion of expanse, making a narrow corridor feel wider.

Set the mood
The EcoMoods line uses T5 fluorescent lamps and consumes 20-percent less energy than conventional T12 lamps.  The EcoMoods floor light has an integrated dimmer for flexibility in setting different ambiences, while the EcoMoods ceiling light has special color filters such as white, red or blue.

The Ledino line features energy-efficient indoor lighting options: ceiling, pendant, spot, wall and desk lights. This line uses light emitting diodes (LED), providing gentle, natural lighting comparable with a typical 40-watt halogen light bulb, yet consuming only 7.5 watts, therefore saving 80 percent of energy consumption. The minimum lifespan of Philips Ledino is at least 20 years.

The LivingColors lamp can be used to shine colored light onto a wall or corner of a room. It has a built-in dimmer and can produce up to 16 million colors with the use of a remote control.

"It puts endless colors at your fingertips through its touch-sensitive color wheel, personalizing your immediate surroundings in any color you want, when you want, and as often as you want," Gonzales said.  The LivingColors lamp comes in a sculptural semi-spherical case in four colors: copper-gold, silver, glossy black and glossy white.

Decorative
A room's visual motifs, such as shapes, colors and textures, can be tied together or complimented by decorative lighting.

The Roomstylers line has fixtures and free-standing units in coordinated sets of ceiling, floor, table and wall lights, all using energy-saving CFL lamps.

Its Decorative category features solid, geometric lines with a sleek industrial feel. Its Classic category has warm colors (rust, brushed bronze, gold), soft silhouettes and ornamental patterns.

The Kidsplace line uses non-toxic materials that are safe for children and comes in a variety of whimsical and colorful designs such as sunbursts, flowers, caterpillars, honeybees, airplanes and rocketships. One model features tiny mice propped out of the holes of a Swiss cheese lamp cover.

This line comes with child-specific features, including switches that are easily accessible and operated by little hands, construction that withstands rough handling, high insulation, no small removable parts, and well-secured covers.

Waterproof
Outdoor lights can be used for both security (illuminating the perimeter of the home) or for atmosphere (creating pools of light in the garden, perhaps spotlighting a water feature such as a fountain).

The OuterStylers line is designed to endure all weather conditions. Most varieties use powder-coated technology to ensure that paint does not corrode when exposed to weather elements.

The Aquafit bathroom collection is specifically made for the dampest rooms in the house.  The line strictly follows safety standards of water resistance.

The line includes wall-mounted lighting that illuminates the face evenly and provides crisp, glare-free, virtually shadowless light suited for delicate tasks such as shaving and applying makeup.

"There are also fixtures for indirect lighting to soften the ambiance for the times you want a relaxing soak in a hot bath tub," he said.

Also published online:
http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/12625/new-and-different-ways-to-illuminate-the-home

Bembol Roco is Filipino Titus Andronicus

Bembol Roco is Filipino Titus Andronicus
By Walter Ang
Sept. 5, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Bembol Roco
While his sons Felix and Dominic have been in the limelight lately due to their various appearances in film and TV, Bembol Roco is still recognized by audiences.

He's been building a theater audience, too.  He's been in Tanghalang Pilipino's "American Hwangap," Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Ang Post Office," and Virgin Labfest's "Balun-balunan."

This month, he's set to play the titular role in Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' staging of "Titus Andronicus," the third offering for its 36th season (2011-2012).

Considered William Shakespeare's bloodiest and goriest play, this tale of ancient Roman general Titus Andronicus, his capture of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and their ensuing episodes of revenge against each other has been translated into Tagalog and adapted to a Filipino milieu by playwright Layeta Bucoy and director Tuxqs Rutaquio.

Filipino counterpart
"We were really trying to look for a perfect equivalent set here in the Philippines," says Rutaquio.  The pair have been working and developing their ideas since early this year.  There was an initial idea of setting the play against the violent Muslim rido (clan wars) as a backdrop.

"We concluded that Muslim rido simply couldn't be equated for some of the crucial scenes from the original text of Shakespeare.  We wanted to trace the source of the violence in the play.  The play is set in ancient Rome where that kind of violence was commonplace and even allowed by law.  Sacrificing children to the gods was also part of their culture."

Setting the play in a pre-Spanish colonial Philippines was also considered, but concerns about it being too far removed from modern-day reality and distilling the immediacy of the violence steered both Rutaquio and Bucoy to end up with "a contemporary version set in a fictitious province."

Familiar
Titus is now a hitman named Carding and the play is set "two weeks before the elections, where political chaos and religious frenzy intertwine in a world where politics, showbiz and a town feast drown the people in murky violence."

Roco says he forayed into theater acting "almost at the same time" he started his film and TV career.  "The last play I did, I think, was in 1984," he says, referring to Dulaang UP's staging of "Lihis," (Tagalog translation of Martin Sherman's "Bent") where he co-starred with Ricky Davao.

He says that the discipline of doing stage work has stayed with him and spurred his decision to return.  "I just wanted to see if I could do it and enjoy the same way I did it in the first time," he says.

He was initially apprehensive in taking the role, this being his first Shakespearean play.  "I'm not very familiar with Shakespeare. But when I found out it would be translated into Tagalog, it made a difference.  Now I'm happy that I was chosen to do this play. I'm glad and excited."

"The play is very violent and full of anger and revenge which are all very familiar to Filipinos," he says.  "It's good that it's been adapted to a Filipino setting because it will be easier for Filipinos to relate and understand what the play wants to say."

Father figure
Being a father, he finds the killing of progeny in the play "totally unacceptable, but as an actor, I need to go out there and do my role."

"I've seen part of the film starring Anthony Hopkins as Titus, so more or less, I have an idea of what kind of person Titus is. But I'm trying to create my own character of Titus."

"Stage acting is totally different from film or TV.  I love theater because of the things an actor can express only in theater. I really consider theater as an actor's medium simply because it gives you the chance to be creative enough to create your own character and style," he says.  "Among the three mediums, I consider stage acting the hardest."

Roco is happy to be working with younger thespians.  "I can share with them my personal experiences. I know that the students will learn a bit from me. Being a veteran actor, I can share with them the passion, the craft and many other things I have learned. But I'm also learning a lot from them.  Their ideas come from different places. Some have ideas that I haven't thought of. It's nice to see them come up with their own thoughts."

Cast
Mailes Kanapi  and Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino alternate as Tamora (Clarissa).  Olive Nieto and Buencamino's daughter, Delphine, alternate as Lavinia (Salve).

Rolando Inocencio plays Titus' brother Marcus (Berting) and Paolo O'Hara plays Tamora's lover, Aaron (Chua).  Paolo Cabañero plays son of the late emperor, Saturninus (Armando).

GMA-7 actor Mike Tan and Zaf Masahud alternate as Saturninus' brother Bassianus (Antonio).  The Dulaang UP Ensemble, Dulaang UP's pool of actors composed of students enrolled in the university's degree and certificate theater programs, are also part of the cast.

Video direction is by Jobin Ballesteros; costume design by Santi Obcena; lighting design by John Neil Ilao Batalla and sound design by Jethro Joaquin.

"Titus Andronicus" runs Sept 14-Oct 2, 2011. Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, 2nd floor, Palma Hall Bldg., University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Contact 0917-750-0107, 981-8500 loc. 2449, 926-1349, and 433-7840.

Also published online:

Review of PETA's "Care Divas" in Journal of Asian Perspectives in the Arts and Humanities

Art reviews: Care Divas by Peta
By Walter Ang
September 1, 2011
Vol. 1, No. 2
Asian Perspectives in the Arts and Humanities
http://www.philjol.info/philjol/index.php/APAH/article/view/2374/2036

Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Care Divas," a musical that revolves around the friendship/s between Filipino contract care givers in intifada-infested Israel, wraps heavy themes of displacement, frustration and loss with song-and-dance.  And with sauciness, thanks to the five protagonists who moonlight as drag queens.

These relationships are anchored by the story of Chelsea (played by Melvin Lee) as she navigates her own relationships: with her care diva friends, with her employer/patient and, of course, with her love interest. Two other care divas (Ricci Chan alternating with Jerald Napoles) and Shai (Vince De Jesus) provide somewhat major subplots while the last two, Thalia (Jason Barcial, Dudz Teraña) and Jonee (Buddy Caramat, Phil Noble), are mostly for comic relief.

On the whole breezy and fun, the musical alternates light scenes with heavier, dramatic episodes, interspersed throughout with music and lyrics by De Jesus and choreography by Carlon Matobato.  It ends with, expectedly, a big glamorous production number, feathers and all.  Some staging and narrative choices, however, create runs in this production's stockings.

Identity
In this story by playwright Liza Magtoto, we have men-who-identify-as-women who are strange strangers in a strange land.  Director Maribel Legarda has one actor (Paul Holme) portraying all the Israeli patients of most of the care divas and a few other actors doing double roles of Israeli characters.

It's theatrical and fun, we get to see actors switching several characters on and off.  It also serves to say that this story is not so much about "them"/"the other" (the Israeli employers/patients) than it is about the care divas, who, in turn, are the ones regarded by the majority as "them"/"the other."

That even if these care divas use gender-bending make-up and costume, they have more solid and fully formed identities than "the other" characters around them.

One has to wonder, then, what the production is trying to say by having only one Caucasian actor in the cast and relegating all other non-Filipino roles to Filipino actors. Obviously, it's not easy to cast Caucasians in Manila, but the color-blind-save-for-one-actor set-up seems a little off-kilter visually, especially when, in this world that Magtoto presents, notions of appearance-as-part-of-identity (and the illusions that are related to and a result of it) is such an integral component.

Demonizing gender
Contingent to the issue of identity, in this case, are gender and sexuality. Refreshingly, Magtoto places the characters directly right in the middle of the action, without stereotypical, melodramatic, and trite back stories of attempting to explain/justify the hows and whys of the homosexuality and/or the cross-dressing.

Surprisingly, however, given the self-identification of the lead characters as women, the text harbors a misogynistic streak. The care divas' sole female friend Nonah (Angeli Bayani), is, at one point, considered a traitor to their cause. And then there are the mothers: Israeli mother and Shai's off-stage voice-over mother are both demonized as the enemy.

The men, in general, are there in a heroic capacity: the supportive boyfriend, the understanding patient, the love interest. The care divas are brave enough to cross oceans to find work and to cross-dress in this far away city, but perhaps deep down, beneath the glitter, they are still simply barrio lasses who dream of the macho (and if we want to split hairs: also, feudal/upper class and foreign/colonial) knight to come and save them?

Slow, unwieldy
Legarda's direction is even-handed though the pacing is slow. The material doesn't seem like it should take more than two hours to unfold.  The first act scenes seem to start in fits, though the interweaving expository monologues introducing the care divas as they pass on their patient/s to one another is clever.

Some scenes, like whenever the care divas are in their friend Nonah's flat, seem to be written and staged in a way that have slow lingering starts similar to sequences for TV or film, you can almost feel (and have to wait for) the invisible camera panning for an establishing shot before someone starts talking.

The sculptural set design by Leo Abaya is unwieldy. Though it has a crafty carved-out seating area that doubles as a patient's bathtub, the downstage cross-inclined ramps could have been omitted to concentrate the action onto a more focused space.

The unwieldiness is highlighted by Legarda's blocking a majority of the scenes to the sides and downstage.  While this can be construed as a symbolic use of space to bring our attention to the marginalized existence of the care divas, it also leaves us feeling puzzled as to why the center area seems left unused for large portions of the performance.

And while drag performances naturally involve superfluous showboating, perhaps that's where it should stay, and not conveyed via descending lampposts from the rafters, even if they can be construed as metaphors for phallic symbols piercing into the care divas' lives.

Awkward
Magtoto's text leans on recurring awkward endings to problems, as a marker for the way the characters need to bank on acceptance and resignation as they struggle through their fleeting, unstable, risk-filled, oppressive world.

Shai's backstory showcasing her strained relationship with her mother is left unresolved; she simply leaves for work in another country. Adding to the awkwardness is the way the mother is never seen on stage-merely channeled by Shai's patient and by the care divas-as-greek-chorus-as-mother-as-a-monster.

The device used to present this absent character is good for laughs, but doesn't really seem to serve a point. It feels trite in that it's used to explain some of Shai's caustic personality, but why is she the only character whose personality has to be explained? And why explained in this mother-as-monster manner-a deviation from the mostly "realistic" approach for everything else?

Kayla is deported and her subplot ends there. The other care divas are unable to help her and they move on.  Even when they are double-crossed by the bar owner who hires them, the care divas march on.

When Chelsea discovers a considerably large kink in her potential love relationship (a wonderful twist that layers further and skewers notions of truth / identity / costume / appearance / deceit), she pushes forward.

Kindness
Magtoto's use of awkward endings and numerous subplots create a sense of unease.  There are points in the production when one wants to ask "Whose story is this really?"  But perhaps her point is to reinforce the one other trait the characters bank on: hope. That their minds and hearts instinctively grasp at all and any chance at it, real or illusory.

At least there is hope that stems from the kindness of strangers (Israeli or otherwise) and friends (Filipinos or otherwise) in the strange land. And the care divas respond in kind.

The care divas sing about being bad girls, use snarky put-down punchlines with each other, and kvetch about their employers and their jobs and their lives, but Magtoto's dialogue and De Jesus' songs allow audiences to see that these divas really do care: about each other, the people they have to care for, and the people they want to care for.  That they care is the reason audiences can relate enough to care about these characters as well, but just so.

Note: This essay was developed from a post in Theaterbator Blog by Walter Ang that was written earlier in the year.