Sunday ∗ 12 Jan 2014

beyond 13: last hurrahs for Pinoy theater in 2013

seeing the plays that will kick-off 2014 have reminded me of actors and actresses, performances really, that i actually thought were super galeng, no matter that these might have only happened once for that actor, or three times in 2013. there is also the fact that i’ve promised to be more conscientious about migrating articles and pieces written for elsewhere, to this blog — if only to keep them alive online (local site archival work ain’t that good after all). so here are a few more beyond the 13 that i first posted for Pinoy theater (here and here), if only so we are reminded of what we might look forward to in the new year and on National Arts Months, too, beyond Wicked.

Photo via Jude Bautista's gallery --

Photo via Jude Bautista’s gallery —

Tirso Cruz III in Katy. there were many things wrong with the restaging of Katy. one thing about it was brilliant. that it cast Tirso Cruz III in the role of Katy’s father.

For someone who was always moving slower than everybody else across that stage, it is Cruz’s portrayal of the tatay that seemed to be in constant evolution. And no, this was not just because of aging that was done well, as it was about the process of becoming father, that caring for a growing child – one with an independent streak at that – demands. In the scenes where he is saddened by what Katy wants to do or has done, Cruz’s tatay slouches in defeat, speaks with disappointment. Exasperated by Katy, Cruz’s tatay falls back on witty retorts that work at creating comedy only because his timing’s perfect. By the time he sings “Tingnan Mo Nga Naman,” Cruz will have you tearing up, singing as he does about the nostalgia of Katy’s childhood, and the belief in her strength in the present, in the way we imagine our fathers would. 

previously played by Bernardo Bernardo, Pip made this character his own, creating not just the every-tatay as archetype, but levelling it up to become about nothing but love for a daughter in constant change, if not in constant crises.

i hear Pip played one of the many teen angels in 9Works Theatrical’s Grease in late 2013, but i wish he would be cast in theater roles more often, and in roles that he can sink his teeth into, proving how we can forego the labels: movie actor versus TV actor versus theater actor.

Tirso Cruz III proves he is actor, full stop. and what a gift of an actor he is.


Joel Trinidad gives supporting characters a good name. i realized seeing the poster for Repertory Philippines’ first 2014 offering Wait Until Dark, that if there’s anyone who performed consistently in any role he was given last year, it was Joel Trinidad. in Repertory’s No Way To Treat A Lady, in March 2013.

Trinidad’s Morris is a combination of both stability and uncertainty, where his job is his identity, as his personal life is his undoing. The task here is to create a Morris who is both brave detective and wide-eyed nervous man-in-love, and Trinidad is exactly that if not more, with some comedic timing to boot, not to mention a singing voice that will ultimately make you swoon. He can only be reason enough to see this production. 

in The Graduate, Trinidad’s role as the psychologist would steal the show. in The Bluebird of Happinesshis role as Night would do exactly that, too.

against the calm and quiet of Carla Guevara-Laforteza’s Light, Trinidad’s Night was a delicate balance of scary and laughable, believable in his ways of getting the children to fall for the wonder of sin and decadence, but also so self-aware of the possibility and fact of failure. there was self-reflexivity in this portrayal, where Night seemed to be able to laugh at himself for the travesty of even thinking he could get to those kids. this was at the heart of the kind of lightness and comedy that was in Trinidad’s portrayal of this character.


one realizes that only an intelligent enough actor would know to poke fun at the idea of Night and darkness and evil, in order to make it palatable and believable to an audience that knows of it in real life.

and then there was Trinidad too, in the role of Franz Liebkind, the German caricature whose musical “Springtime for Hitler” would be the musical within The Producers. staged in late 2013, Trinidad did the role with the right aplomb and perfect timing, as well as body that was light enough to do the crazy choreography. time Liebkind spent on that stage was funny because so self-consciously absurd, something that Trinidad has the chutzpah for.

Tata Nanding’s magic. in the otherwise epic fail that was Pramoedya — the lone full-length play in 2013’s Virgin Labfest — only two things saved the production. Cris Villonco and Nanding Josef. Villonco was as expected. but watching Tata Nanding do this role reminded of how many of our legends are such because they have not stopped doing legendary things. which is really just doing good work. in the case of Pramoedya, it was becoming Pramoedya, no matter how horrible the telling of his story.

Nanding Josef as Pramoedya is a joy to watch, where the shift in voice, the change in posture, is enough to portray aging, and time. He is the only one in the play who in fact ages in any manner at all, which is strange considering the years that this story spans. At certain points, Josef will allow you to forget the failed parallelisms in this play, and give you just the portrait of a writer who barely speaks, whose head will burst without writing, who cannot but be engaged in the politics of his nation, and be part of the making of its history.

Some love for the women. i realized that i was missing some women in the first two lists for 2013. it might have been because i was focusing only on those who played lead roles, and found that the men just did much of that. but there were women who just made theater more enjoyable to watch, no matter that they were in supporting roles:


Carla Guevara-Laforteza whose Light relative to Trinidad’s Night in Bluebird of Happiness was literally brilliant, costume and all. but also her Light was calm and steady, graceful and gliding on and off that stage, with a voice that was beautiful and perfect. but also she was Sarah in No Way To Treat A Lady. 

Guevara-Laforteza is finally given something she can sink her teeth into as a “normal” character, which is to say not some character from Charlie Brown’s world that sings in a painfully nasal child’s voice. Here Sarah’s wonderfully smart and believable, taking every bull by the horns, including love or the something like it that Morris can offer. And her singing voice is beautiful, doing vulnerability like no one else I’ve heard on stage in some time. Might I suggest she do those roles that Nikki Gil does? If not that one that Vina Morales did for “Rock of Ages.”

Aicelle Santos‘s debut in Katy meanwhile was both a surprise and a breath of fresh air.

<…> it is Santos who is a surprise here, if only because for a first foray into theater, she knocked it out of the ballpark. And yes, we expected her to do the singing like she was breathing, but her Katy also needed to evolve from young and spritely, to mature adult; she was going from excitable new star to confident star of the show; she also needed to be consistently kind-hearted, with a love for her father that knew no bounds.

Santos was all of this, and when I say that I mean that she was superb. When she needed to be funny she was absolutely so, her antics believable even as they were over-the-top. The more emotional moments with her father, the kilig with Peping, the independent streak that was in her singing, and which her singing allowed her, were done succinctly by Santos. You forget that it is her, and that is a wondrous thing for someone who is on popular TV.

PETA’s kicking off its year with Rak Of Aegiswhich has Aicelle in the lead. that excites me no end.

Giselle Toengi taking on Ulla Inka Hanson Benson Yanson Tallen Hallen Swadon Swanson in The Producers was quite the surprise if only because one had to look twice to make sure it was her. that is, the character was so consistent throughout the production that there was actually no sense of the Toengi we’ve come to know on popular TV and movies. not that it was perfect. there was a disconnect whenever she belted out some parts in her solos, the teeny tiny voice of Ulla becoming too diva-like for comfort. but those were few and far between, and for the most part Toengi’s Ulla was the right foil to the ultra-machismo of  Max Bialystock (Carlo Orosa) and the innocence and conservatism of Leo Bloom (Topper Fabregas). her Ulla was just the right amount of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as she was sexy and flirty and playful, dancing on that stage like very few can. here’s hoping 2014 will give Toengi more roles that actually show us what she’s made of — TV does not do her justice.

Photo via Paul Henson on WordPress. --

Photo via Paul Henson on WordPress. —

now i do think this is as complete a list for 2013 that i can come up with. next week i kick off watching local theater with Repertory’s Wait Until Dark, and then there will be PETA’s Rak of Aegis, and Tanghalang Pilipino’s Mga Ama Mga Anak.

now Wicked — the Broadway production — will be staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines from January to February, and i do hope we find time and space and money for local productions despite spending on Wicked.

when Les Miserables international production of The Phantom of the Opera was staged in CCP in 2012, i remember how sad it was to see droves of people coming into the cultural center to watch it. because it spoke to the small(er) number of us who were there for Tanghalang Pilipino productions. it spoke of the fact of an audience for theater in Manila; they’re just not watching and spending on our own theater.

here’s hoping 2014 will mean a bigger audience for our local theater productions, regardless of Wicked.


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