Sunday, July 3, 2011

Loss, laughs and lunacy: Virgin Labfest 2011 Set D

An appetizer would be nice. Krista Ann Taclan's Fragment entitled Kontrabida, Inc., which pits Princess Punzalan against Bing Loyzaga started off the two-and-a-half-hour Set D of the 7th Virgin Labfest yesterday afternoon. The festival brings untried, untested plays to the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Tanghalang Huseng Batute for a two week run--five sets that run for four shows each, in addition to three staged readings.

Set D opens with The Valley Mission Care, written
by Russell Legaspi and directed by Missy Maramara. Although it runs for under an hour, the play can easily stand on its own, with the set, lights, video and sounds all working together to suggest the different locations. The Valley Mission Care revolves around an elderly Filipino man (Siegfried Sepulveda) and his Filipina carer (Mayen Estanero) in an American care home. Starting out on the comic side, the play concludes as a tearjerker. There is much about it that feels very honest to me. It also makes good use of Richard Cunanan as the doctor and in a couple of scene-stealing bit parts.

Mga Lobo Tulad ng Buwan, written and directed by Pat Valera is the kind of show that you need to know something about before diving into it or else you will spend the entire time trying to understand the context (which happened to me). Without the benefit of a background, I could only tell that memory and loss were part of it, but it didn't dawn on me that they were referring to the Princess of the Stars tragedy until curtain call, when the Sulpicio Lines jingle played. A light bulb in my head lit up when I heard it. Mga Lobo Tulad ng Buwan feels like a performance art piece because of the paper-strewn set. It shows the roundabout process of acceptance and moving on, also in a roundabout way, hence the themes and lines feel taxing on the actors and draining to the audience. I felt as if I saw in the women players the witches of Macbeth transplanted to a fantasy land of giants and mermaids. Inspired by a Storyline episode, Lobo does not fall short of symbolism. The cast (Mary Jane Alejo, Katte Sabate and Chic San Agustin) must be commended for their energy and for giving their all into their roles.

The last play in the set is Bawal Tumawid, Nakamamatay, written and directed by Joey Paras. Mayhem becomes Valentine's Day as commuters wait near a mall on EDSA. Chance brings Mang Caloy (Leo Rialp) and Eva (Kiki Baento) together at a coffee shop, as a bunch of supporting actors break the dialogue between the two with well-placed quips. Much of the comedy rests on the shoulders, possibly the hips, of Baento, who is a mile-a-minute yakker hoping to attend her father's funeral. The similarities of the situation of Lolo Frisco in The Valley Mission Care to Mang Caloy here robs it of surprise. However, the story's riotous ending is feel-good way to end a set.

The three plays, though similar in theme, certainly differ in execution. There are many ways of dealing with the loss of a loved one, but it is clear that the hurt lingers long after the other is gone.

I have to call out the leaking ceiling of the theater for being the show's single biggest distraction. Just when I have suspended my disbelief, I am reminded where I am because of the dripping roof. Hope they fix it soon.

I find it very encouraging that a good number of students were in the audience, though I guess that young people make up a big chunk of the Labfest audience. It is also interesting that the playwrights in this set all came to Labfest initially as actors. The majority of this year's crop of playwrights are also first-time writers for the festival. While it will take time to hone the writing, this is a very good place to start.

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