Monday, March 12, 2007

Inspired reinventions

REVIEW: Belong Puti / Forever-Call Me Flory / Sandaang Panaginip / Basilia ng Malolos
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 03.12.2007

Five plays show how thoughtful tweaking can reinvigorate stale works and art forms

The zarzuela, the comedia, the stage melodrama--or, for that matter, Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero and the theater he represented--they’re all dead, passe, finis, right?

Wrong. Creative sorcery of the kind that could resurrect dead plays and electrify moribund art forms was on display in Manila’s stages in the last few weeks, offering a burst of exciting theater-making before the lull of the summer months.

Ateneo’s Entablado reworked the comedia in “Sandaang Panaginip,” the University of the Philippines Playwrights Theater’s “Basilia ng Malolos” reinvented the zarzuela, and Guerrero’s works enjoyed reconfigurations both sensitive--Gantimpala Theater’s ‘Forever/Call Me Flory’--and rousingly radical--Peta’s “Belong Puti.”

Guerrero has been dead for 12 years, but for four recent weekends at the Peta Phinma Theater, he was a palpable presence--a bright life force stroked to lush theatrical dimensions in Nonon Padilla’s riff on the life and art of the late National Artist for Theater.

“Belong Puti” itself would hardly be recognizable to Guerrero. Padilla took the dramatist’s last play, “The Woman with a White Veil,” rewrote it, tacked on an excerpted version of the playwright’s first one-act play, “Half an Hour in a Convent” (in a new Spanish translation at that), and wove through them all his own self-reflexive, metaphoric ruminations on identity, illusion, death and decay, the self-immolation that artists must endure to give life to their art.

Such high-minded terms do a poor job of capturing the messy, sprawling, but also visceral and thrillingly ambitious experience that “Belong Puti” proved to be. More here...

Tony Espejo, artistic director of Gantimpala Theater, had more modest aims for his twinbill production of Guerrero’s “Forever” and “Call Me Flory.” He wanted to introduce the National Artist’s works to students who had become Gantimpala’s natural constituency via its regular staging of “Ibong Adarna,” “Florante at Laura,” “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.”

It was a breath of fresh air to see Espejo tackle two one-act plays of more recent provenance and bring a quiet, current touch to both.

“Forever,” set in the 1950s, and “Call Me Flory,” in the 1970s, are plays in danger of betraying their dated origins without any contemporary sensibility informing their staging in the present. Espejo’s restrained direction ensured that they came out brisk and fresh. More here...

Rejuvenation also came to mind with Entablado’s spry staging of Rene Villanueva’s “Sandaang Panaginip,” directed by Jerry Respeto, to mark the Ateneo theater group’s 25th year.

Villanueva’s play was written nearly 30 years ago, but you wouldn’t know it from the enjoyably impish manner by which the Entablado ensemble performed it using traditional comedia tropes bent out of shape.

This was no longer the usual tiff between Christians and Muslims. The story--about a kingdom gone to waste through the machinations of a queen and her two daughters--had become a commentary on the misuse of power. In places, it even antedated “Ever After,” the movie starring Drew Barrymore that itself recast the Cinderella legend.

In Respeto’s staging, the comedia's trademark martial music and stylized choreography were kept intact, but much of the rest were dragged to the 21st century. More here...

If “Sandaang Panaginip” retooled the comedia, the UP Playwrights Theater’s “Basilia ng Malolos,’ with libretto by Nicanor Tiongson, music by Joy Marfil and direction by Jose Estrella, set its sights on overhauling another venerable art form: the zarzuela.

“Basilia,” a musical adaptation of the life of Basilia Tantoco who, in the 1880s, led an unprecedented campaign by some 20 young Bulakenas to open a night school for girls in their area, represented top-drawer research by Tiongson.

His libretto offered sweep and breadth--a forceful clarity in presenting Basilia as a woman ahead of her time. The overt undermining of zarzuela conventions--the lack of a romantic high, the feistiness and verbal acuity of the women, the undisguised feminist spirit of the entire enterprise--bore scrutiny because of the pleasures and pitfalls it offered.

The play could have easily dissolved into a talky puddle, but Estrella’s direction assured continuous movement onstage, the costumes (by John Abul) and choreography (by Dexter Santos) intensely engaged the eye, and the actors, led by the lovely trio of Jenny Jamora (as Basilia), Nathasia Garrucha and Nikki Ventosa--with the sharp Diana Alferez as comic foil--were up to the task of summoning, with some adjustments, the feel of a vanished era.

Having said these, the drawn-out, piecemeal unfolding of history leached out some of the vigor and snap that by right should have accrued to this epic zarzuela. A “Basilia” tighter than its two hours and 45 minutes’ running time would not have felt, at least in parts, an imposition. More here...

PLUS: By the way, it's my sixth month of blogging today. Gracias!


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petite said...

gibbs, thanks for blogging about philippine glad to see that it's alive and well.

btw, happy six months of blogging! :-)

gibbs cadiz said...

hi PETITE, thanks for the visit and the encouragement! :)

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