Here’s the cream of the crop of Manila theater in 2007--shows and performances worth celebrating any time
BY RIGHT, 2007 should have been a red-letter year for local theater.
Repertory Philippines and the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), the two most established and consistent professional drama companies in the country, marked their 40th anniversary this year. Between them, they have racked up a staggering, unbroken resumé of plays and performances that defines, to a large extent, the history and trajectory of modern Philippine theater.
But they’re not the only ones to feel a sense of accomplishment this year. Gantimpala Theater also celebrated its 30th anniversary, while Tanghalang Pilipino notched its 20th birthday in the business.
Milestones all, but the theater companies by and large held back on the self-congratulations--no grand fetes or nostalgic tributes--and just went about what they did best: mount plays.
The recent passing of esteemed playwright Rene Villanueva also cast a pall on the closing weeks of what has been another challenging but fecund year for the country’s drama companies. Villanueva played a valuable part in the development of Filipino-language theater, working ceaselessly through often-lonely decades to write, teach and open minds through drama.
As with Villanueva’s quiet example, Rep and Peta and their younger counterparts have dispensed with the frills even in this, their banner year, to carry on with the business of show.
Here’s the cream of the crop of Manila theater in 2007--productions and performances worth celebrating any time.
Best Play (one act)
“Ellas Inocentes” (Layeta Bucoy, writer; Tuxqs Rutaquio, dir.). A hypnotic, heartbreaking portrait of a pair of warped childhoods, featuring astonishing performances and astute direction. Simply the most compelling entry in this year’s Virgin Labfest.
Honorable mentions: “Three Sisters” (Yoji Sakate; José Estrella, dir.); “Mga Obra ni Maestra” (Niel de Mesa, writer/director); “Ang Unang Aswang” (Rody Vera) and “Walang Iwanan” (Rene Villanueva) from “Philippine Bedtime Stories” (Toshihisa Yoshida, dir.); “Forever” (Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero; Tony Espejo, dir.)
Best Play (full-length)
“Insiang” (Mario O’ Hara; Chris Millado, dir.) Brocka’s classic film reworked as a brilliant piece of contemporary social realist theater, redolent of the fetid air of lives trapped in shantytown hell. A definitive production, and a triumph for everyone concerned.
Honorable mentions: “Art” (Yasmina Reza’s “Art,” translated by Lito Abaño; Bart Guingona, dir.); “Belong Puti” (Nonon Padilla, writer/director); “Romulus D’ Grayt” (Friedrich Durenmatt’s “Romulus the Great,” translated by Jerry Respeto; Maribel Legarda, dir.); “Sa Ngalan ng Anak” (Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” translated by Jerry Respeto; Amiel Leonardia, dir.); “Fluid” (Floy Quintos, writer/director); “As You Like It” (William Shakespeare; Jose Estrella, dir.); “Sandaang Panaginip” (Rene Villanueva; Jerry Respeto, dir.)
Ricky Davao (“Art”). His part as a corrupt, violent henchman in “Insiang” was splashier, but Davao’s weakling of a character in “Art” offered a fuller dramatic arc—one that he scaled fearlessly, hilariously, with pitch-perfect skill.
Honorable mentions: Mario O’Hara (“Belong Puti”); Dido de la Paz (“Romulus D’ Grayt”); Teroy Guzman and Mario Magallona (“Sa Ngalan ng Anak”); Michael de Mesa and Jett Pangan (“Art”); Rem Zamora (“Glorious”); Ricky Davao (“Insiang”); Andoy Ranay (“Dogeaters”); Rody Vera (“Philippine Bedtime Stories”); Oliver Usison (“Gaybirds”); Niccolo Manahan (“Love’s Labour’s Lost”); Ricky Rivero and Riki Benedicto (“My Padir Is an OFW”)
Mailes Kanapi (“Insiang”). A tour de force. Playing a woman numbed beyond measure and aged beyond her years, Kanapi refused to play her character for sympathy, thereby drawing more of ours with her sensual, bone-chilling performance.
Honorable mentions: CB Garrucho (“Belong Puti”); Sheenly Vee Gener (“Insiang”); Joy Virata (“Glorious”); Laurice Guillen (“The Glass Menagerie”); Lovely Balili and Ness Roque (“Ellas Inocentes”); Frances Makil-Ignacio (“Sa Ngalan ng Anak”); Kalila Aguilos (“Ang Mga Huwad”); Trency Caga-anan and Missy Maramara (“Fluid”); Nathasia Garrucha (“As You Like It”); Jenny Jamora (“Love’s Labour’s Lost”); Abbey Gonzales (“Mga Obra ni Maestra”)
Best Featured Actor-Play
Paolo O’Hara (“As You Like It”). Shakespearean whimsy found its ribald Pinoy embodiment in O’Hara, whose unabashed take on the throwaway part of a jester gave this play’s rather knotty proceedings an air of slap-happy buoyancy.
Honorable mentions: Lou Veloso (“Belong Puti”); Jejie Esguerra (“Gaybirds”); Paolo Rodriguez and Rez Cortez (“Dogeaters”); Paolo O’Hara (“Ang Mga Huwad”); Melvin Lee and Jeff Henson Dy (“Romulus D’ Grayt”)
Best Featured Actress-Play
Mae Paner (“Insiang”). A gale force of gritty, artless acting, Paner delivered her opening monologue with the grace of a sonic boom, and from there never let go of the audience until the bloody finale.
Honorable mentions: Peewee O’Hara (“Insiang”); Chari Arespacochaga (“Dogeaters”); Sherry Lara (“Belong Puti”); Diana Malahay (“Sa Ngalan ng Anak”)
“Avenue Q” (music by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty; Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga, dirs.). Garcia’s comeback to the Philippine stage after his HK Disneyland stint proved to be an exceedingly entertaining and polished show. He would stumble with a stolid, antiseptic, ploddingly literal “Dogeaters,” but with “Avenue Q,” he was on fine footing.
“Into the Woods” (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine; Rito Asilo, dir.). “Tremendous verve, expressiveness and artistry,” we wrote in our review of this ambitious, adventurous production. We’re not taking our words back.
Honorable mentions: “High School Musical” (music adaptation by Bryan Louiselle, book by David Simpatico; Audie Gemora, dir.); “Children’s Letters to God” (music by David Evans, lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen; Bart Guingona, dir.); “Pilipinas Circa 1907” (musical direction by Chino Toledo, libretto by Nicanor Tiongson; Dennis Marasigan, dir.); “Fiddler on the Roof” (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Baby Barredo and Robbie Guevara, dirs.); “Song & Dance” (music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Don Black; Joy Virata, dir.)
Felix Rivera (“Avenue Q”). A breakthrough performance of winning charm, energy and sensitivity. Playgoers, say hello to your newest musical-theater leading man.
Honorable mentions: Michael Williams (“Into the Woods”); Tyler Alan Strand and Miguel Faustmann (“Fiddler on the Roof”); Nar Cabico (“ZsaZsa Zaturnnah”); Miguel Castro (“Pilipinas Circa 1907”); Sam Concepcion (“High School Musical”); Nacho Tambunting (“Children’s Letters to God”)
Rachel Alejandro (“Avenue Q”). The best word for her turn here is exquisite, if not awesome. Among the many pleasures of this musical, Alejandro’s aching rendition of “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” will be remembered for some time.
Honorable mentions: Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Cathy Azanza and Lynn Sherman (“Into the Woods”); Carla Guevara-Laforteza (“Song & Dance”); Ana Feleo and Lani Ligot (“Pilipinas Circa 1907”); Joy Virata (“Fiddler on the Roof”); Natasha Cabrera (“The Silent Soprano”); Nathasia Garrucha (“Basilia ng Malolos”); Cheska Ortega (“High School Musical”); Julia Abueva (“Children’s Letters to God”)
Best Featured Actor-Musical
Joaqui Valdes (“Into the Woods”). The boy who played Edmund in Trumpets’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” many years back is now a strapping young man, and in “Into the Woods” he would serve up an endearingly bittersweet, warm-blooded character in Jack.
Honorable mentions: Joel Trinidad (“Avenue Q”); Onyl Torres (“The Silent Soprano”); Nazer Salcedo and Bong Cabrera (“Pilipinas Circa 1907”); PJ Valerio (“High School Musical”)
Best Featured Actress-Musical
Julia Abueva (“Into the Woods”). Frighteningly talented at 12 years old, with a strong, lovely voice and a transfixing sense of self-assurance, Abueva is bound to be the next big thing in musicals, if she isn’t already. Watch out for her.
Honorable mentions: Sheila Francisco (“High School Musical”); Frenchie Dy (“Avenue Q”); Cris Villonco (“Fiddler on the Roof”); Crisel Consunji (“Into the Woods”); Diana Alferez and Nikki Ventosa (“Basilia ng Malolos”); Jing Reyna, Wenah Nagales and Mia Bolaños (“Pilipinas Circa 1907”)
PLUS: “Best of Theater” 2005 and 2006.