|Curtain calls |
DOGBERRY By Exie Abola Updated January 26, 2009 12:00 AM
Finally: here is a belated list of what I thought was the best of the 2008 theater season. But first, a digression: My attempt at being a theater critic proved to be more trying than I had imagined. I caught 65 performances of more than 50 productions but still ended up missing significant ones: Cinderella by Broadway Asia Entertainment; A Christmas Carol by Repertory Philippines, the only Rep show I missed; Atlantis Productions’ Hairspray as well as their restaging of Avenue Q (though I caught last year’s show); Gantimpala Theater Foundation’s Hiblang Abo, Kanser, El Filibusterismo, and Ang Pagong at ang Matsing; and the majority of the plays at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s annual festival of new work, the Virgin Labfest (I saw the three best plays from 2007 as well as four new ones out of the 20 or so that were staged). Naturally, these productions won’t show up in my list below. The omissions represent the shortcomings not of these shows but of me as a critic.
Again I am reminded of an essential quality of the performing arts: live performance. This is its strength and its weakness. To the viewer the most important requirement is this: You need to bethere. Several times this year, I was not. My apologies to the concerned companies.
With these gaps noted, here are my thoughts on the best of theater in the year just passed:
Outstanding Play: Tanghalang Pilipino’s Golden Child (by David Henry Hwang, dir. Loy Arcenas) was a wonderful production where everything went right: an excellent script, astute direction and staging, and a rousing ensemble performance. Other notables: Atang (Dulaang UP; by Floy Quintos, dir. Alexander Cortez); Kudeta! (Tanghalang Pilipino; by Mustapha Matura, trans. George de Jesus III, dir. Floy Quintos); Master Class (Philippine Opera Company; by Terence McNally, dir. Michael Williams); Batang Rizal (PETA, by Christine Bellen, dir. Dudz Teraña); ? Two by Ionesco (Tanghalang Ateneo; by Eugene Ionesco, adapted and directed by Ricardo Abad and Baby Jay Crisostomo);Slipped Disc: A Study of the Upright Walk (Goethe-Institut Manila; by Ingrid Lausund, trans. Henning Bochert, dir. Lito Casaje).
Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play (Female): In Master Class, Cherie Gil played legendary opera diva Maria Callas with the supreme confidence of someone who knows no one has ever been better than her. Last year, no one was. Three came close, though: Irma Adlawan-Marasigan as the intransigent first wife in Golden Child; Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino as the old Atang in Atang;and Mailes Kanapi as the wandering soul in Marisol, a project of the Philippine–American Education Foundation and UP–Diliman. Other notables: Kanapi again, in Slipped Disc; Wenah Nagales (“The Lover” [one act], Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company); Tina Chilip (Golden Child); Ayen Munji-Laurel(Atang).
Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play (Male): The first major production of the year, Tuesdays with Morrieby Repertory Philippines, gave us the performance of the year: José Mari Avellana rendered the terminally ill professor’s increasing physical decrepitude with dignity, humor, and gentle humanity. Mario O’Hara’s turn as the brash dictator in Kudeta! was a close second. Other notables: Richard Cunanan (Slipped Disc); Nonie Buencamino (Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia, Tanghalang Ateneo); Joe Gruta, Dido dela Paz, Lou Veloso (Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street, Tanghalang Pilipino); Art Acuña (Golden Child); Jonathan Tadioan (“Antigone” [one act]; Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company).
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Play (Female): Cris Villonco’s haunting Ophelia was the emotional heart of Repertory Philippines’s modernized Hamlet. Other notables: Bituin Escalante (Atang).
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Play (Male): Bong Cabrera’s naive but well-meaning jail guard played perfectly against O’Hara’s deposed dictator in Kudeta!. Other notables: Nicco Manalo(Marisol); Nor Domingo and Raffy Tejada (Tosca, PETA); Wylie Casero (Batang Rizal).
Outstanding Musical: Dulaang UP’s Orosman at Zafira (by Francisco Baltazar, adapted by Anril Tiatco, dir. Dexter Santos, music by Carol Bello) demonstrated what good may come from the fusion of old and new in words, costume, dance, and music. A visceral and thrilling meditation on love and war, by a first-time director no less, this thoroughly original work is my pick for overall production of the year. Other notables: Altar Boyz (Repertory Philippines); Bat Boy (BlueRepertory).
Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical (Female): The year’s best musical featured the year’s best performance: Cris Villonco gleamed in her turn as the delicate but ferocious warrior-princess Zafira. Other notables: Joanna Ampil (West Side Story, Stages); May Bayot (Skin-Deep, PETA); Naomi Emmerson (Piaf: Love Conquers All, MusicArtes), Laura Cabochan (Bat Boy); Nica Reynoso (Summer of ’42, BlueRepertory).
Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical (Male): This is a category in which I can’t point to any one performer who stood out from the rest, so here are those I found remarkable: Red Concepcion(Altar Boyz); Onyl Torres (Isang Panaginip na Fili, Dulaang UP); Robert Seña (Skin-Deep); Jett Pangan (EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson, Tanghalang Pilipino); Marvin Ong (Bat Boy).
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical (Female): Only one person appears in this category, but it was for a fabulous performance. Rowena Vilar stole West Side Story from her fellows, making her Anita the character we cared about most. She was the show’s foremost triple-threat: singer, dancer, actor. Here’s hoping the Australia-based Pinay keeps coming back.
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical (Male): It was a nonsinging role, but Ricky Ibe’s smoldering Boulasem in Orosman at Zafira was exactly the seriously nasty villain the story needed. Other notables: Roeder Camañag (Ibong Adarna, Gantimpala Theater Foundation); Jake Macapagal(West Side Story); Bodjie Pascua (The Magic Flute, Philippine Opera Company); Reb Atadero (Summer of ’42).
Outstanding Production for Children: PETA’s Batang Rizal spoke to both children and grownups and kept both marvelously entertained. Other notables: Ibong Adarna (dir. Roobak Valle); Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (PETA; adapted by Christine Bellen, dir. Phil Noble).
Other Achievements in Stage Direction: Two full-blown opera productions came onstage last year, both directed by Floy Quintos. For the CCP and UST Conservatory of Music, Quintos tarted up Strauss’s Die Fledermaus deliciously. The opera goes by in a bubbly and naughty blur, and you leave the theater giddy. For the Philippine Opera Company, he moved Puccini’s La Boheme to contemporary Manila and gave the love story set among struggling artists a new poignance.
Achievements in Translation and Adaptation: For Orosman at Zafira, Anril Tiatco turned the sprawling text of Balagtas into the base for a compellingly modern music drama. The bewildering nonsense of Ionesco’s “Bald Soprano” became, in the hands of Ricardo Abad and Baby Jay Crisostomo (Tanghalang Ateneo), a heady brew of hilarious, euphonious blather that mocked Pinoy middle-class pretensions. Jerry Respeto brought Alberto Florentino’s now-quaint English adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve (Tanghalang Ateneo) into a familiar Filipino without losing any of its stateliness. Rogelio Sicat and Luna Sicat-Cleto’s Filipino translation of Shakespeare’s Othello(Tanghalang Ateneo) made the Bard’s poetry contemporary and accessible without sacrificing its poetry and power.
* * *
Afinal curtain call: this is the first and last of my yearend theater round-ups. I began the year wondering if watching plays and writing about them was something I could pursue along with my full-time academic and erratic creative-writing careers. One year later, I realize that I can’t pursue this without institutional support, something I am finding difficult to obtain. So my short, happy life as a wannabe theater critic ends here.
My thanks goes to the many companies that graciously allowed me to watch their shows. And thanks, too, to the multitude who toiled in front of the lights or in the shadows to affirm the importance of “giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” The year is over, and so are the shows. The rest is gratitude.
* * *
As for 2009: Dulaang UP’s Atang, easily one of the best productions of 2008, returns to the stage for a brief return engagement from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City. A story based on the life of sarswela star and singer Atang dela Rama, the play features Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Ayen Munji-Laurel, and Kalila Aguilos. Call or SMS 0917-6206224, 0922-8206224, 981-8500 local 2449, 926-1349, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Repertory Philippines kicks off its 2009 season with a Nick Joaquin classic, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. Set in prewar Manila, it tells of two spinster sisters who stay on in their ancestral home with their frail artist father, despite pressure from relatives to abandon the old house. Portrait is directed by Jose Mari Avellana, the son of Daisy Avellana, who starred in the first staging of the play in 1955. The cast includes a bevy of stage luminaries such as Irma Adlawan, Ana Abad Santos, Liesl Batucan, Jay Glorioso, Dido de la Paz, Baby Barredo, and Chinggoy Alonso. The play runs until Feb. 8 at Onstage Greenbelt One Theater, Makati City. Call 887-0710 or 891-9999 (Ticketworld).
The Philippine Education Theater Association, or PETA, stages Tony Perez’s Saan Ba Tayo Ihahatid ng Disyembre? Directed by Nonon Padilla, the play centers on a simple love story complicated by betrayal, anger, and jealousy. The run begins Feb. 6 and ends March 15 at the PETA Theater Center, Quezon City. Call 410-0821 or 0917-8154567, or email email@example.com.
Tanghalang Pilipino begins the year by restaging Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street, the story of Filipino war veterans hoping for a better life in San Francisco. Adapted by Rody Vera from the novel by Benjamin Pimentel, the play is directed by Chris Millado and runs from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1 at the CCP Tanghalang Huseng Batute. Then comes the return of the popular musical ZsaZsa Zaturnnah. The hit show runs from Feb. 6 to March 8 at the CCP Little Theater. Call Lorelei or Paolo at 832-1125 local 1620 or 1621, 832-3661, or SMS 0928-5518645.
* * *