Just to continue with the other half:
SET D: THE FAMILY THAT ___S TOGETHER
“Maliw” by Reuel Aguila (Playwright) and Edna Vida Froilan (Director)
First impression: You can never go wrong with Bembol Roco. Past that, the play delves into another desaparecidos-laced theme on longing and moving on. It’s about a couple who is passing through a difficult tunnel that eventually leads them to a light of acceptance. Staging-wise, everything went into place except for having Bembol Roco sleep on a couch for almost the entirety of the second half.
“Boy-Gel ang Gelpren ni Mommy” by Sheilfa Alojamiento (Playwright) and Carlo Garcia (Director)
An all-female cast led this gender-bender story on how adoloscent kids, a boy and a girl, were introduced with their mother’s lesbian relationship. Everything was dynamic in the play, from the colors of the costumes down to the juice drink in a pitcher. The staging boasts of great acting, too. That’s from the kids, who, at their age, already know the concept of good timing and ad-libs, down to Che Ramos, the mother, who underplays the delivery without sacrificing artistry.
“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by George Vail Kabristante (Playwright) and Paul Santiago (Director)
This third play for the set tackles the predicament of deported Filipino workers in Japan. The characters in spotlight are a couple; both attached to their Japanese partners but are forced to continue their lives in the Philippines. In their search for comfort, they found destruction that eventually led them to a certainty that is either dark or blinding. I appreciate that even the play is written as something eventful, the direction tightens it and produces a pragmatic staging.
SET B: IT’S COMPLICATED
“Ang Mamanugangin ni Rez” Clarissa Estuar (Playwright) and Paolo O’Hara (Director)
This set promises to be an understudy of the trappings of love. To start with, the first play intoduces a set of characters, all of them working in a mall and anchored by a certain “manunugangin ni Rez”. He is being paired with another girl, named Anne Cortez, who is jokingly marked as Rez Cortez’ daughter (hence the title). Another girl, a co-worker in a shoe repair shop is also in love with this “mamanugangin ni Rez”. All is not well as the object of the two girls’ affection is later on fetched by the wife. Occasionally funny and the turn of events is very in-your-face.
“Salise” by J. Dennis Teodosio (Playwright) and Roobak Valle (Director)
I remember big time that I particulary singled out J. Dennis Teodosio’s “Gee-gee at Waterina” from the very first Virgin Labfest. I liked the humor and the right mix of social relevance and drama rolled into one. His play for this year’s Virgin Labfest did not disappoint. It tells a bittersweet confrontation between a gay writer and the family of his young boytoy who stole his laptop. Underneath the outwitting and acceptance is a reminder that every relationship is a masked robbery. It steals a part of us, be it time, personality or even life itself. “Salise” takes this path in a very literal but equally engaging and contemplative way. That’s the charm on most of Mr. Teodosio’s works. It allows the viewers to enjoy a realistic modern-day setting, with a promise that an insight is impregnated on it. Acting may not be at its prime, but still serviceable, just the same.
“So Sangibo a Ranon na Piyatay o Satiman a Tadman” by Rogelio Braga (Playwright) and Riki Benedicto (Director)
This is the third of Ogie Braga’s trilogy on Bangsa Moro. As compared to “Ang Pagdating ng Barbaro” and “Ang Bayot, ang Meranao, at ang Habal-Habal sa Isang Nakababagot na Paghihintay sa Kanto ng Lanao del Norte”, this play doesn’t have a stranger who arrives in a town in Lanao and then later leaves. But it’s also a about goodbyes. It’s about freedom from the dark past and the amount of sacrifices it needs to liberate us from something we’ve become out of fear. Judging from the sincerity of the material, I see a distinctly Pinoy originality in it. First time Virgin Labfest director Riki Benedicto lived up with the challenge on the play’s intertwining past and present. The compound storytelling between the young and present-day female characters is clearly told. In one sequence, the lights were out and only two characters holding a flashlight ran through and across the stage, giving a sense of being trapped and helplessness. To seal the notion that this play is one of the best stagings for this year, a live music is being rendered by Bailan to accentuate the main character’s love, loss and her constant search for “maratabat”.
SET A: SCHOOL OF LIFE
“Isang Mukha ng Pandaraya” by Oggie Arcenas (Playwright) and Roli Inocencio (Director)
The play reminds me of Malou Jacob’s “Anatomiya ng Korupsyon”. It tackles how a small unit of the society, the university to be exact, deals with dishonesty, power and social injustice. Two students face a “hearing” as one summoned the other for cheating in an exam. The witness happens to be poor and is assumed to be a prostitute while the other is a summa cum laude contender and a Starbucks addict. Sequences and dialogues remind the audience that the scenarios are real and happening in the university right next to you. Staging-wise, the direction sets a mood that the rest of the play is intense and can be taken as it is, no double-meaning whatsoever.
“Ang Huling Lektyur ni Mrs. Reyes” by Tim Dacanay (Playwright) and Hazel Gutierrez (Director)
This one’s probably the weakest among the lot for me. It’s a monologue by a teacher who is having her last day in a nun-managed school. She interacts with the audience as her class and discusses extreme topics like dissonance in music and birth control. The devise used is a bit similar to Terrence McNally’s “Master Class”. Acting and direction may be good but the material itself has no sense of direction. I can’t guess what the play is really all about and where it is heading. Is it about suppression? Minutes before the end of the lecture, she closes the door and changes her topic from music to sex. Is it supposed to promote the bill that’s being discussed in the senate/congress a few months ago? From time to time, the teacher is distracted by some snippets of her life that tend to be the cause of what she has become. I still don’t get it. Just the same, the staging is interactive, often times funny but that’s about it. I’d rather see this in a lounge or a comedy bar than at Tanghalang Huseng Batute. On second thought, Virgin Labfest is ideally a borderless space for something experimental and this somewhat salvages the play.
“Mababang Paaralan ng Caniogan” by Job Pagsibigan (Playwright) and Sipat Lawin Ensemble (Director)
There’s something cute about this memoir play about spending one stormy day in a Grade 6 class with a terror teacher. It could be the multihued props, costume, characters or simply the production number of “The People in Your Neighborhood”. Audio-visual is an added treat, compounding the already eye candy set. The honesty is there, from the script down to its magnificent actors.