I WOULD NOT have minded standing up through last night’s theatrical presentation of the San Jose ang Tagapagtanggol Parish youth. The play (with a bonus musical) was well worth it. My fellow Coop Kamay-ari, Ate Mona, made good her word that the show is a labor of love. Of everyone involved in the effort, a fitting culmination indeed, like Fr. Jerome intoned in his welcome address, of the Year of the Youth.
This review of the entire proceedings will dispense with the preliminaries to get to the point, unless the process has merit to encourage future projects of the artistic, creative, productive ensemble.
Emcees Noelene Tamar and Bryan James Turiaga were good to some extent but lapsed back into stale fillers like Ayan and Siyempre (usual fare of forgettable talk show hosts when they run out of sensible things to say), which were thankfully few and far between. The production was staged with evident professional determination (Director Jonathan was from Viva Films his best shot was clearly compensated). There were instances when their banter trod on editorial ground, especially when they engaged the audience into a Q and A. Maybe that ploy was meant to buy time for costume change but that might have made the spectators dread their turn at the mic and probably halved their pleasure of simply sitting back and sinking their teeth into the spectacle before them. Surely it was a trick that worked to allow the stage hands time to remove/replace the props. But the open forum, if it was crucial, should have been conducted at the end of the exercise, not in-between the acts, breaking the enthusiastic momentum of the crowd, this fan included.
Bishop Robbie Gaa was prophetic and unassuming when he described as very beautiful the play’s title and even translated it into pagsilip (sa talento ng youth). The supposed one-month exercise, he declared, is aninag para rin sa kanila and he prayed that sana, makita ang talento nila at mapagyaman ito, and then he thanked them.
Soon, the emcees were announcing one after the other the dramatical four acts.
Sa Bahay Pag-asa was the first of the series. Kuya Jun and I thought that the sound of the bass was too strong but it was easily corrected by the sound crew (how adept, I said to myself). As was true with all the acts, the play was prefaced with a Biblical verse, this first one about the lost sheep. The scene was a forum of Congresswoman Gina Anacleto with the social workers of the rehab, with the young inmates in attendance. The case in point was lowering the age of criminal liability to 9 years old. Sheila Lauron would have been credible as a model; she was inadequate as a lawmaker. Between the two social workers, Mitch was unnecessarily high-strung while his protagonist was in control. He already had the bulk to instill fear among her wee wards he didn’t need to go on overdrive. The pokpok did not have to translate the Tagalog slang into English; the audience was generally local. The long pause after the outburst of the girl who had an abortion lost her intended impact. And the gay who accused the authorities of treating them like hayop did not have a historical leg to stand on. The maltreatment should have been essayed, albeit briefly, to drive the message home. Finally, if the Congresswoman and her gay cohort could be driven away by a mere concerted chorus of shouts and taunts of practical babes, what was the lawmaker’s (serious) agenda really?
Teenage Pregnancy and Abortion were the themes of the second act, Sa Aming Paraiso. Psalms 127:3 underscored the import. Set in Dr. Canlas’ lying-in clinic, the scene featured Romeo Ongonion as Adrian, the father of Claire, who is scheduled to have an abortion. Adrian was immediately fired up even before the copious insults of Teresa (Monalyn de Leon) poured on him. Charlie, her son, is reluctant to agree to the plan but had no spine so leaves Teresa to join his Mom; even Adrian deserts her. Mona was superb as the rich bitch although I didn’t miss her kakayanan slip (capacity is kakayahan in the vernacular). The riveting, if not scary, scene was when eerie men and women, horridly made and dressed up, emerged as grown-up fetuses come to life to haunt and bedevil the abortionist’s bejeesus out of him. Dr. Jerome’s assistant, Vergel, a special child whom he condemns as the child of his cheating wife, has a flash of epiphany and recognizes his fetus friends who made him realize the gravity of his foster father’s crimes. The long-drawn-out harrowing torture of the doctor notwithstanding, the highlight of the scene is when one fetus ascends the platform where Claire lay unconscious, and proclaims “Mabubuhay ang baby ni Claire.” Paraiso became a perfect contrast to hell, where Dr. Jerome inevitably fell. It got better. Claire woke up, was consoled by the sight and solace of Vergel, and then joined by returning Charlie, Teresa and Adrian. The parents bicker again but to no avail. Claire has decided to have the baby, with the joyful concurrence of now-changed Charlie, in spite of Teresa’s futile screaming and Adrian’s sorry excuse of a father.
Drug Addiction and EJK were the contemporary subjects of Mga Aninong Ligaw, aptly underscored by Ecclesiastes 7:2-3. Romeo redeemed his rigidity here, because the attribute was required of his prison guard character, ably complemented by Enchong (Rodel Torralba), Rem’s kindred addict, whose histrionics almost made one believe he was hooked indeed. The mayor (Cosette Tabobo in an explicit, exquisite, tailor-made role) was mother to Remanuel de los Reyes’ Christian (a biting ironical moniker). Where Cosette was a revelation as a loud-mouthed shrew (her “Sharaaap!” was a ridicilous riot!), Rem was like a talking driftwood. Yet, “I want to serve the Lord !” out of the mouths of drug inmates was a biting satire, and rightly dared the government servant (whose husband was the governor, mind!) to strut her real stuff. Mikez Sedigo was dark, dreadful and deliciously sinister as Lucifer. Her crisp cackle alone was sufficient to send shivers up one’s spine.
In spite of Rem, the breaking news clip (where he came clean and sorry for spilling the beans), should wake up the others whose political motivation does nothing to stem the tide of corruption wrought by the much-touted but left-a-lot-to-be-desired war on drugs.
The fourth act tackled HIV-AIDS and LGBT Discrimination, was entitled Huling Kumpisal and had Ecclesiastes 11:10 as an underlying topic. Jake (Derrick Dimayuga), the AIDS victim , was slowly and surely great and looked like he immersed himself into how a patient acts, breathes and lives (he even coughed convincingly). Jam Regalado as his brother-priest was good, but Jake was better, who asked for forgiveness and confession, that served as cue for his fellow patient Baks (Miho Bravo) to leave them alone with the sacrament of reconciliation. Miho was wonderfully subdued, agonizing silently, exuding just the right amount of pathos in sympathy for a fellow circumstantial chum. The brothers’ mother, Clarissa Solo, just got there to catch her dying son but was already emoting upon arrival. She would’ve been effective had she allowed some moments to build her tension up. The scene where diploma and medal, the fruition of Jake’s dream, were treated at length was less tear-jerking because Miho’s calm grief was more felt. The overriding significant fact here is that the message of Pope Francis (of embracing the sinner, not the sin) was potently and powerfully manifested.
Something was not right in the question-and-answer portion after the final act. Emcee Bryan might have thought that he was doing the LGBT members in the audience a favor by encouraging them to come out. What transpired was a feeling of being put on the spot, should they admit (which they didn’t), or hesitation in answering the questions (which they eventually did). Eman saved his skin and the day when he said that the focus should be on how one can be good to God and neighbors, which can only be achieved by praying that, because God does what His will is, we abide by it. Given that theater is a powerful medium of expression, the audience should have been given time to ruminate, like after they’ve seen, heard and reflected on everything, before asking them for their immediate insights.
Thankfully, as if the exhilirating series were not enough, the emcees announced an added attraction, a musical depicting the lives of young Joseph, David and Mary, captured charmingly in the title Ang Tatlong Kabataan sa Kasaysayan ng Kaligtasan. Rem returned as Joseph, the dreamer. There is no issue with his face, a material matinee idols are made of, but it does not match his vocal chops And there were enough colorful nuances to work on (a dream role, as the character suggests). Perhaps it’s his height that makes him rather stoop instead of rise to affirm it. Even when bare-chested, he did not have the confidence to convince as a ruler the Pharaoh once commissioned.
As King David, Jam seemed on a roll. Although he was miscast as the diminutive stone-slinger (his synchronized-with-a-film-clip throw was spot-on, thank God!), he made up for the excess by a song-and-dance routine. Which made even me ignore the lapse. Especially, it was not easy to notice his abrupt transition from arrogance to remorse, which was well executed and had oratorical potential. Clearly, the dancer can act as well.
I could not get enough of Cosette when she reentered as the grown Virgin Mary (Sherlyn Laurion as the younger version sang flat throughout). Her mellowed dialogue was just right and her soliloquy poignant. I did not think it possible to imagine a Pieta without Christ, but she delivered! My only beef was her pronunciation of kaligtasan but, hey! she didn’t say she was perfect, did she?
The two Marys were shortly joined by the cast in a song-and-dance finale that recalled Folies Bergére of old. If it was a spectacle, I couldn’t tell. I was busy feasting my eyes on the simple yet splendid costumes, as though they were telling all and sundry that their stage may have been spare but they delivered a magnificent job, a tall order considering the time constraint, among other logistics. Surely, the cynics in the audience were, that starry, starry night, converted.