Friday, June 06, 2008

Three plays and a reading

Reviewing last year's edition of Virgin Labfest, I made mention of three plays as the festival's strongest entries: Layeta Bucoy's Ellas Inocentes, directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio; Yoji Sakate's Three Sisters, directed by Jose Estrella; and Mga Obra ni Maestra, written and directed by Niel De Mesa.

I'm happy to report that those three plays are being re-staged in the forthcoming Virgin Labfest 4, opening June 25 at the CCP, under the program “Virgin Labfest 3 Revisited.” (Call it “The Best of Virgin Labfest 3” and I'd be happy to go along.) They go onstage on Wednesday, 25 June (3 p.m./8 p.m.), Friday, 4 July (8 p.m.) and Saturday, 5 July (3 p.m.) Mark those dates--or you'd miss three original one-act plays of exceptional merit. Here's what I said about them:

In “Ellas Inocentes,” family stayed in the background, but its pernicious claws remained front and center as two girls traded trivial stories that, little by little, revealed the abusive circumstances they were in.

With the slow accretion of horrifying details, culminating in the girls innocently play-acting their parents’ perverse lives, “Ellas Inocentes” acquired a mesmerizing power. The accomplished writing (by Layeta Bucoy), directing (by Tuxqs Rutaquio) and acting (by Lovely Balili and Ness Roque) stamped this play as the Labfest’s best entry.

Layeta Bucoy's “Ellas Inocentes,” directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio

Two other plays could compete for that honor, give or take a few points. Niel de Mesa’s children’s play, “Mga Obra ni Maestra,” which he also directed, was a terrific blend of sassy theater and video and animé elements--a way forward, if you will, for a new generation of audiences weaned on MTV and Japanese manga.

“Mga Obra ni Maestra,” written and directed by Niel de Mesa

This fully realized concoction of outrageous costumes, earnest dialogue and wide-ranging imagination engaged the senses from beginning to end, with 10-year-old Abbey Gonzalez stealing the show with her precocious self-assurance.

At the polar end of “Mga Obra ni Maestra” was Japanese playwright Yoji Sakate’s Noh play “Three Sisters,” about shell-shocked soldiers returning from a war and encountering actors rehearsing a play in a devastated town.

Yoji Sakate's “Three Sisters,” directed by Jose Estrella

A kind of elegiac fugue on the civilizing power of art over barbarity, Sakate’s dream-like work found a great ally in José Estrella, who, with atmospheric direction and the intense acting of her cast led by Mailes Kanapi, created a theatrical piece of sweeping emotional liberation dipped in autumnal colors.

Another important event you have to catch: the staged reading of excerpts from Savage Stage, an anthology of nine plays developed and mounted by the New York-based Ma-Yi Theater Company, on Thursday, July 3, 6:30 p.m.

Ma-Yi's artistic director, Ralph Pena, is himself flying to Manila to direct the reading and launch the book. Among the plays are Han Ong's Middle Finger, Pena's Flipzoids, Chris Millado's PeregriNasyon and Lonnie Carter's The Romance of Magno Rubio (2003 special Obie awardee).

If all that still leaves you unconvinced, check out the first-rate cast: Irma Adlawan-Marasigan, Shamaine Centenera Buencamino, Nonie Buencamino, Joel Torre, JJ Ignacio, Red Concepcion, JM de Guzman and Nar Cabico. Hebigat!

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