for most of the year i was writing theater reviews for GMA News Online, which in October came to an end after a good three-year run. the ending was horrid, where my writing was edited to the point of changing what i was saying about Tanghalang Pilipino’s Der Kaufmann and Red Turnip Theater’s Closer – my last two reviews with GMA. these reviews were published after i said that i was resigning as contributor, given other disagreements with the editor of the Lifestyle Section.
this was the first time in three years that i had been edited so heavily, but even more so edited to the point of putting words in my mouth, and changing what i actually was saying about these productions. i could go to town with a charge of maliciousness, and just thinking about it now makes my blood boil, but there will be a time for an assessment of online editorial policy – or the lack of it – and the kind of writing that this encourages. there will also be the time to call out editorial policy to not apologize even when mistakes are obvious, which points too to the lack of respect for writers. pinoy online media’s churnalism makes for a fantastic case study in irresponsible journalism.
on the downside, i haven’t done a theater review since, mostly because there is money to be made, and it hasn’t been easy to come by. without a revolving fund i couldn’t buy tickets to productions i would usually not get press invites to, i.e., Atlantis Productions’ shows.
which is already to tell you the limitations of this list of Pinoy theater’s best and saddest moments for 2013, complete with online foibles and offline unexplained changes. i’ve said in the Manila Times column (where i’m doing a social and online media yearender) that doing these assessments of the past year in cultural productions is always happy, because it reveals a productivity that happens despite and regardless of what happens in the bigger world, no matter that i might like certain productions more than others.
high: Pinoy theater rises up and shows us what it’s got. and i do mean in terms of showing us all how critical engagement might be had without name-calling and hitting below-the-belt, and just asking questions and throwing contrary opinions at someone who dared do a sweeping generalization about Pinoy theater and then put it up as a status on Facebook in March 2013.
Oliver Oliveros of BroadwayWorld.com actually had it coming, what with a status that generalized about the state of theatrical lighting in the Philippines, only to later on admit two things: (1) he hadn’t seen a theater production in years (he is based in the US), and (2) he is basing this opinion on “theatergoers’ complaints” as he has received so many. ah, but theater practitioners were not going to take it sitting down, calling out Oliveros and those that agreed with him on the gross generalization and challenging them to name productions and lighting directors whose work they did not like.
but nothing. and thank heavens the theater world also knew to be critical even of Oliveros’ apology, one that did not even acknowledge he had made a mistake in having made that opinion to begin with. it was fantastic seeing our Pinoy theater practitioners revealing such intelligence, such smarts, and even more so, plenty of social media ethics, the kind that we rarely see, especially not from the other sectors of cultural production.
i took from John Batalla’s screen caps of the original Oliveros thread (which was later on deleted), focusing on comments that hit at the heart of the matter without hitting the-poor-guy-who-did-not-know-better below-the-belt. the last one is off of Batalla’s own Facebook status about the affair, after Oliveros had apologized, an apology Batalla did not accept.
low: it’s as if nothing has happened. Oliveros is regional editor for the Philippines of BroadwayWorld.com. and while the voter’s choice awards that this portal comes out with every year-end is laughable and has no credibility whatsoever, much might be said about how irresponsible it was to have him “representing” the Philippines in an international theater portal, and have him put up this Facebook status, as if he was watching local theater productions himself.
what made things worse was that he did not know to admit his mistake, and instead of conceding to common sense it just spiralled down to the most absurd of excuses: i have theatergoers as my sources, and they have complained to me through various venues; i was just being honest and i didn’t realize that this was what i would get.
this non-apology was appalling because it did not take back any of the things that Oliveros had said about lighting in local theater productions, and instead talked about having “exaggerated” to “make a point.” yet his original status was far from being hyperbolic. neither did his later responses speak of this “exaggeration.”
he also deleted his original status, the most cowardly thing to do really. if at all it should’ve been left there so that we all will not forget, and we might learn from having had someone put up a status like that without thinking. and in the end, there is this: as regional editor of BroadwayWorld.com, how can Oliveros continue to speak and stand for productions in Manila, how can he oversee the reviews and press releases that his team comes out with, when he himself is not here? it’s a travesty is what it is.
how unfair to local theater.
high / low: the question of audience. Rody Vera and Exie Abola ended 2012 / began 2013 with a discussion on the question of a local theater audience. Vera points a finger at colonial mentality for the lack of an audience for last year’s fantastic production “Stageshow” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, but also he spoke of the dumbing down of the masses who are being fed Willie Revillame’s shows. Exie talked about the need for better marketing of theater productions, where the only task is to get audiences into that theater and let the magic take over.
i say: work with the audiences we already have, the ones who are spending good money on local stagings of foreign productions and imported productions being staged in Manila (i.e., Phantom of the Opera, Sound of Music, Wicked). this is not the masses, as this is a moneyed sector that knows to spend on culture for whatever reason, but is not educated enough maybe? in the local arts to actually spend on consuming it.
i meanwhile, just wonder when we can stop blaming colonial mentality and start blaming the productions themselves? not all of them after all are wonderful enough to work their magic on an audience.
high: the Pinoy musical. i am partial to original Filipino plays, even more so to those that are original Filipino musicals. the latter happens rarely enough after all. even rarer that songs resonate and one thinks these should be sold as a CD. this year there was Tanghalang Pilipino‘s Sandosenang Sapatos, with a libretto by Layeta Bucoy, three songs by Noel Cabangon, and musical direction and compositions by Jed Caballero Balsamo. this musical, an adaptation from a Luis Gatmaitan children’s story, was en pointe from beginning to end, where the fantastic is a layer that is not so much about escape, as it is about hope; where in the end reality ruptures this fantasy and reveals it to be nothing but exactly that. because reality might be painful, but it is where change and resolution happen, and because having the real take over can only mean working with what is in the present, what it is we work from and beyond.
a close second is Ibalong, adapted for the stage by Rody Vera with music by Carol Bello, also for Tanghalang Pilipino. there was also some poignant songs in Maxie The Musical, with book and lyrics by Nicolas Pichay and music by William Elvin Manzano, JJ Pimpinio and Janine Santos. which is not to say that Maxie succeeded as an adaptation from the original movie.
low: the Pinoy musical. there were two major failures in Pinoy musicals as well, though on both counts one can only speak of the whole production, and not merely its music, or its being a musical production. Lorenzo was that theater production that failed to grapple with everything it dared to discuss on stage, and in the end just failed at succeeding with the parallelism between Lorenzo Ruiz, The Saint, and Laurence, the OFW in jail.
Maxie The Musical is the sum of everything that the original Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros refused to do. based on the Michiko Yamamoto-Aureus Solito film, i saw Maxie on press night, and it was an absolute disappointment.
the original film was a success because it was a new way of telling the homosexual story, where Maximo’s coming-of-age happens without the usual trappings of gayness that television and movies have created through the years. which is to say it was calm and quiet, his homosexuality something that was both different and perfect in the context of the Pinoy macho family and community he belonged to. Maximo would fall in love, but it wouldn’t be the end-all and be-all of his existence. he would play beauty pageant with his other gay friends, but it wouldn’t be over-the-top at all. which is to say that the original Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros successfully resisted the traps and tropes of the local homosexual story.
all of which Maxie The Musical fell back on, in the process sacrificing the story of this one gay boy and his relationship with his Pinoy macho family and community. in fact this relationship is barely in this musical, where it seems that Maxie is as much removed from his family, as he is enslaved by them; where the relationship among them is only revealed in one song, instead of being the thread that runs through the whole story.
in this version of Maxie’s story, in fact, all one gets is a young gay boy who has already become, and the coming-of-age story is a foregone conclusion. he is over-the-top, a “screaming faggot,” in bright pink clothes, dancing and singing like-a-diva like there’s no tomorrow. the beauty pageant skit is about getting laughs by talking sex and genitals; the dance numbers are all stereotypically what we’ve seen on TV and the movies since Dolphy and Roderick Paulate. the love story between Maxie and Victor is way beyond the innocence of the adolescent crush and first love, as it crossed the line to possibility.
this Maxie is not the Maximo we learned to love in the original film. and this Maxie is the failing of this musicale. it is heavy-handed and over-the-top, where the original was not; it could’ve been a musicale that captured the calm and quiet of the film, but it decided to go the route of the usual and expectedly gay.
one thing was unforgivable: Maxie meets Victor when the latter saves him from two drunkards. in this production, Maxie was obviously being sexually assaulted when Victor rescued him. in this production, Victor returns Maxie to his family, and he says: “napagtripan lang siya.”
i do not not know in what world it is acceptable still to be dismissive about sexual harassment and assault, if not attempted rape. but in this world of Maxie The Musical, it all seems to be right. filled with stereotypes that the original Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros successfully refused and reconfigured, here is a theatrical failing at its finest.
a last note on Maxie: i heard later on that it was revised a lot after the press preview, but i didn’t see it again. many-a-theatergoer loved it, and i have a sinking feeling that if i did not know of the original movie, or if i did not care so much for what that original wanted to do, i would in fact not mind Maxie‘s foibles.
but to review Maxie without thinking too of the original film would be missing an important aspect of it as theater production and as musical. its mode of production is intricately tied to the Yamamoto-Solito original; its following has to come from at least an interest in it because of that original. and in which case it failed that original Maximo Oliveros story. because Maxie? she was a different person altogether.
(to be continued.)
note: all photos and posters are from official sites and FB pages of the theater production companies. :)