The plays' imposed brevity--all one-act, about 35-45 minutes maximum--is, from my experience of watching the Labfest in the last four years, no deterrent to bursts of acting prowess that can stand side by side with performances in more elaborate full-length productions with longer rehearsal time and greater resources.
More, many of this year's crop of breakthrough performers are, like the plays they brought to urgent life, also “untried and untested”--fresh faces and talents a generation or two away from the rarefied stature of superstar thespians like last year's Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino and Tommy Abuel, or the combined Irma Adlawan-Nonie Buencamino juggernaut in the 2006 Labfest.
That new actors are breaking through is yet another sign that the festival is doing significant work pump-priming the local theater industry. Come yearend, I hope the names below will make it to various citation lists.
1. Skyzx Labastilla, for her layered, pitch-perfect portrayal of a complex, confounding young woman coping with horrors both personal and political in Isang Araw sa Karnabal.
2. Mayen Estanero--remarkable range, from the subtle, streetwise charm of her love-starved saleslady in Ang Mamanugangin ni Rez to the ferocity of her trashed-up character in So Sangibo A Ranon Na Piyatay O Satiman A Tadman.
3. Mailes Kanapi--another double-duty actress, in Kitchen Medea and Hate Restaurants, both of which banked heavily on her ability to ground loony, flailing, easy-to-overdo characters in something intimate, organic--touching.
4. Marjorie Lorico, thoroughly engaging as a bubbly teacher with a lot of things in her distracted mind in Ang Huling Lektyur ni Misis Reyes.
5. Karenina Haniel--inspired casting, not only because she played the part of a boy in a play about gender fluidity and confusion (in Boy-Gel and Gelpren ni Mommy), but also because she was excellent in it.
6. Angeli Bayani--a supporting part as the foul-mouthed wife in Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan, but textured and authentic to the core. You could practically smell her from your seat.
1. Jonathan Tadioan, nothing short of magnificent as the raging, murderous cousin in Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan. More character actor than conventional leading man, he stamped the stage with his riveting combustibility.
2. Riki Benedicto, with his choirboy mien and warm presence a worthy toe-to-toe counterpoint to his explosive co-star in Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan.
3. Paolo O'Hara--effortless Everyman stance and comic timing, plus great chemistry with Skyzx Labastilla in Isang Araw sa Karnabal.
4. Bembol Roco--acting distilled to wistful, heart-tugging artlessness in Maliw. (One of Philippine cinema's great actors but a relative newbie in theater, Mr. Roco appears to be bringing a lifetime's worth of lessons on the art of intensified stillness to the stage, to go by his performance here and in Kung Paano Maghiwalay earlier in the year.)
1. Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan--powerful, compelling turns from everyone in the cast. The tightest multi-character work in the festival.
2. Isang Araw sa Karnabal--the play, already a fine piece of work, finds extra lift from its two leads' seamless interaction.
3. Boy-Gel ang Gelpren ni Mommy--deadpan oddball tone winningly sustained throughout by a cast all cued to the same spirit, resulting in a strikingly fresh and funny take on a delicate subject.