Monday, January 19, 2009

Best of Theater 2008, by the Philippine Star's Exie Abola

It's out at last (here), but with a sad caveat: “This is the first and last of my yearend theater roundups. I began the year wondering if watching plays and writing about them was something I could pursue along with my full-time academic and erratic creative-writing careers. One year later, I realize that I can’t pursue this without institutional support, something I am finding difficult to obtain. So my short, happy life as a wannabe theater critic ends here.” Say it isn't so, Exie.

His honor roll:

OUTSTANDING PLAY: Tanghalang Pilipino’s Golden Child (by David Henry Hwang, dir. Loy Arcenas) was a wonderful production where everything went right: an excellent script, astute direction and staging, and a rousing ensemble performance. Other notables: Atang (Dulaang UP; by Floy Quintos, dir. Alexander Cortez); Kudeta! (Tanghalang Pilipino; by Mustapha Matura, trans. George de Jesus III, dir. Floy Quintos); Master Class (Philippine Opera Company; by Terence McNally, dir. Michael Williams); Batang Rizal (PETA, by Christine Bellen, dir. Dudz Teraña); ? Two by Ionesco (Tanghalang Ateneo; by Eugene Ionesco, adapted and directed by Ricardo Abad and Baby Jay Crisostomo); Slipped Disc: A Study of the Upright Walk (Goethe-Institut Manila; by Ingrid Lausund, trans. Henning Bochert, dir. Lito Casaje).

Master Class, Cherie Gil played legendary opera diva Maria Callas with the supreme confidence of someone who knows no one has ever been better than her. Last year, no one was. Three came close, though: Irma Adlawan-Marasigan as the intransigent first wife in Golden Child; Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino as the old Atang in Atang; and Mailes Kanapi as the wandering soul in Marisol, a project of the Philippine–American Education Foundation and UP–Diliman. Other notables: Kanapi again, in Slipped Disc; Wenah Nagales (The Lover [one act], Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company); Tina Chilip (Golden Child); Ayen Munji-Laurel (Atang).

OUTSTANDING LEAD PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY (MALE): The first major production of the year,
Tuesdays with Morrie by Repertory Philippines, gave us the performance of the year: José Mari Avellana rendered the terminally ill professor’s increasing physical decrepitude with dignity, humor, and gentle humanity. Mario O’Hara’s turn as the brash dictator in Kudeta! was a close second. Other notables: Richard Cunanan (Slipped Disc); Nonie Buencamino (Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia, Tanghalang Ateneo); Joe Gruta, Dido dela Paz, Lou Veloso (Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street, Tanghalang Pilipino); Art Acuña (Golden Child); Jonathan Tadioan (Antigone [one act]; Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company).

OUTSTANDING FEATURED PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY (FEMALE): Cris Villonco’s haunting Ophelia was the emotional heart of Repertory Philippines’s modernized
Hamlet. Other notables: Bituin Escalante (Atang).

OUTSTANDING FEATURED PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY (MALE): Bong Cabrera’s naive but well-meaning jail guard played perfectly against O’Hara’s deposed dictator in
Kudeta!. Other notables: Nicco Manalo (Marisol); Nor Domingo and Raffy Tejada (Tosca, PETA); Wylie Casero (Batang Rizal).

Orosman at Zafira (by Francisco Baltazar, adapted by Anril Tiatco, dir. Dexter Santos, music by Carol Bello) demonstrated what good may come from the fusion of old and new in words, costume, dance, and music. A visceral and thrilling meditation on love and war, by a first-time director no less, this thoroughly original work is my pick for overall production of the year. Other notables: Altar Boyz (Repertory Philippines); Bat Boy (BlueRepertory).

OUTSTANDING LEAD PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL (FEMALE): The year’s best musical featured the year’s best performance: Cris Villonco gleamed in her turn as the delicate but ferocious warrior-princess Zafira. Other notables: Joanna Ampil (
West Side Story, Stages); May Bayot (Skin-Deep, PETA); Naomi Emmerson (Piaf: Love Conquers All, MusicArtes), Laura Cabochan (Bat Boy); Nica Reynoso (Summer of ’42, BlueRepertory).

OUTSTANDING LEAD PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL (MALE): This is a category in which I can’t point to any one performer who stood out from the rest, so here are those I found remarkable: Red Concepcion (
Altar Boyz); Onyl Torres (Isang Panaginip na Fili, Dulaang UP); Robert Seña (Skin-Deep); Jett Pangan (EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson, Tanghalang Pilipino); Marvin Ong (Bat Boy).

OUTSTANDING FEATURED PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL (FEMALE): Only one person appears in this category, but it was for a fabulous performance. Rowena Vilar stole
West Side Story from her fellows, making her Anita the character we cared about most. She was the show’s foremost triple-threat: singer, dancer, actor. Here’s hoping the Australia-based Pinay keeps coming back.

OUTSTANDING FEATURED PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL (MALE): It was a nonsinging role, but Ricky Ibe’s smoldering Boulasem in
Orosman at Zafira was exactly the seriously nasty villain the story needed. Other notables: Roeder Camañag (Ibong Adarna, Gantimpala Theater Foundation); Jake Macapagal (West Side Story); Bodjie Pascua (The Magic Flute, Philippine Opera Company); Reb Atadero (Summer of ’42).

Batang Rizal spoke to both children and grownups and kept both marvelously entertained. Other notables: Ibong Adarna (dir. Roobak Valle); Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (PETA; adapted by Christine Bellen, dir. Phil Noble).

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS IN STAGE DIRECTION: Two full-blown opera productions came onstage last year, both directed by Floy Quintos. For the CCP and UST Conservatory of Music, Quintos tarted up Strauss’s
Die Fledermaus deliciously. The opera goes by in a bubbly and naughty blur, and you leave the theater giddy. For the Philippine Opera Company, he moved Puccini’s La Boheme to contemporary Manila and gave the love story set among struggling artists a new poignance.

Orosman at Zafira, Anril Tiatco turned the sprawling text of Balagtas into the base for a compellingly modern music drama. The bewildering nonsense of Ionesco’s Bald Soprano became, in the hands of Ricardo Abad and Baby Jay Crisostomo (Tanghalang Ateneo), a heady brew of hilarious, euphonious blather that mocked Pinoy middle-class pretensions. Jerry Respeto brought Alberto Florentino’s now-quaint English adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve (Tanghalang Ateneo) into a familiar Filipino without losing any of its stateliness. Rogelio Sicat and Luna Sicat-Cleto’s Filipino translation of Shakespeare’s Othello (Tanghalang Ateneo) made the Bard’s poetry contemporary and accessible without sacrificing its poetry and power.

The complete article, with notes on a few missed shows, here. “The year is over, and so are the shows,” says Exie. “The rest is gratitude.”

Don't be gone too long, man.


Anonymous said...

Patay, mawawalan na ng isang critic/reviewer. Hope exie ponders more about this. sa tatlo kasing nagsusulat on theater, exie, gibbs, and the guy from manila times, parang si exie iyong who looks at things with a clear framework. di pa hinog as a critic, pero serviceable reviewer naman. and i think magiimprove pa. paano na ngayon iyan, isa na lang ang magrereview na matino ang ingles! at kahit papaano, hindi nag ninitpick. pagisipan pa sana ni exie, sayang.....

gibbs cadiz said...

agree, sayang nga. hope he reconsiders. :)

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