The allure of any festival for me, be it the annual Cine Europa at the Shangri-La Plaza in years past, or Cinemalaya, or the Virgin Labfest for new plays at the CCP, is that, well, I've no idea what to expect from it. Or, as Forrest Gump would put it, "You never know what you're gonna get."
That's why it's always best to keep an open mind when watching fresh, never-before-seen plays like what the Virgin Labfest is offering. Park your expectations at the lobby, enter the theater relaxed and ready, and if you're lucky, you're in for an evening of unexpected pleasures, or even better, perhaps a provocative piece of theater that would have you in deep thought all the way home.
In last year's Labfest, I bent my own rules only once. That was when I watched the last featured play, "Hubad," by Liza Magtoto. It was impossible for me not to have any expectations about the play, because two of the country's finest actors, Nonie Buencamino and Irma Adlawan, were starring in it.
Rather incredibly, they were working together onstage only for the first time in their long and illustrious careers in Philippine theater. So "Hubad," staged by choreographer Denisa Reyes (also making her debut as a theater director), was no ordinary play. In my book, it was an event.
The material was explosive enough: about a bored middle-class couple who've begun playing sexual games to add some fizz to their bedroom tussles. The scenes called for talk and action of extraordinary intimacy. Within the in-your-face confines of Tanghalang Huseng Batute, the hot, sweaty, sad and funny exertions of the husband and wife as they tried to recapture the lost spark of their connection could actually make you blush.
While I thought the play itself ended rather abruptly and could stand more fleshing out, Nonie and Irma were magnificent--two fearless actors simply at the height of their mature powers. "They were a wonder to watch--nothing less than master classes on the use of body, voice, mind and experience to create tactile characters onstage," I said in my subsequent review.
So many other people apparently thought likewise, because "Hubad's" two shows were so jampacked that many theatergoers had to be turned away. Those who followed Pinoy theater knew that something special was bound to happen with Nonie Buencamino and Irma Adlawan acting together for the first time. The lucky ones who got in invariably rewarded the two thespians with thunderous cheers.
Well, if you're quick enough, you might get the chance to cheer for Nonie and Irma, too, one more time. This year's Virgin Labfest is bringing back the best of last year's edition by presenting "Hubad" in a twinbill with Job Pagsibigan's Palanca award-winning "The Palanca On My Mind" (how's that for self-fulfilling prophecy?) on July 3-4, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., again at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute.
Irma and Nonie are reprising their roles, as is the large, energetic cast of "Palanca" ("a diverting [if sitcom-ish] stab at the stuffed, geriatric image of the Palanca Awards, the country’s premier literary competition... directed with mock-Brechtian flair by Roobak Valle," was how I described it).
Not having seen any of the 18 new plays in the festival, I can only recommend watching them with the same caveat I drum on myself: keep an open mind, expect the unexpected.
But with the "Hubad/Palanca" twinbill, I say: Don't you dare miss it.
(Call 8323661, 8323704 or 8919999 for tickets. The Virgin Labfest's complete schedule here.)