Gems of Filipino Theater for the Year 2000

Gems of Filipino Theater 
By Walter Ang
January 22, 2001
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Luna: An Aswang Romance (from
The theater scene in 2000 was certainly filled with pomp, big machinery and extensive publicity. There were, however, gems throughout the year whose creativity and charm were easily eclipsed by the noise of bigger productions.

We caught several smaller, intimate plays and musicals that didn't enjoy the same amount of hype of the other shows. It's heartening to know that in Philippine theater, big things do come in little packages.

With a lot of debate and discussion surrounding Western themes and stories invading the Philippine stage, the year 2000 certainly didn't start off in that direction. Gilda Cordero-Fernando's "Luna: An Aswang Romance" was an imaginative (and big) production that showcased what the creative Pinoy mind could conjure.

Delving into local engkanto folklore, this tale of love between a manananggal and a mortal is as Filipino as Erap jokes. It brought together a hodgepodge of well-known artists and fashion designers. With close to 60 costume changes, it was described by its makers as "a fashion show masquerading as a play."

And what costumes they were, with materials that ranged from abaca to cassette tape ribbon, everything you could think of, except the kitchen sink. With Chin Chin Gutierrez as Luna, creatures of the night had never been this beautiful.

What was most exciting about "Luna" was the coming together of artists from different theater companies in and around the city. Actors from Peta, Repertory Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino and Gantimpala Theater Foundation interacted onstage, producing such dynamism that was fresh and fun to watch.

The exchange of talents didn't end there. Tanghalang Pilipino's John Arcilla guested on the Repertory stage as Valentin in the musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Michael Williams played the gay cell mate Molina.

While we weren't able to catch Peta's musical drama- comedy "informance," ''Tumawag Kay Libby Manaoag," friends gave glowing reviews of the company's efforts in bringing women's issues to the forefront, using theater to make the material accessible, and touring the show to audiences who needed to learn from it the most.

Bankard trilogy
We were also able to catch two productions from Bankard's Trilogy of plays. Kudos, by the way, to Bankcard for making their shows free to students and educators. Shown at the PCIBank Tower Auditorium in Makati, "Diary of Anne Frank" featured a set design patterned after the actual layout of the house where Anne Frank lived. It strived to convey the cramped and claustrophobic living quarters her family had to endure during those hard times.

Another play in the series was American playwright A.R. Gurney's "The Dining Room." It had no plot to speak of. Instead it featured six actors essaying more than 20 different characters in 17 completely different vignettes unified only by their setting?the dining room. To watch actors Nieves Campa, Jocelyn De Jesus, Sandy Hammett, Richard Cunanan, Paul Holmes and Bonggoy Manahan change personalities at the snap of a finger so many times within two hours was just incredibly awe-inspiring and fun.

Actors' Actors Inc. also staged a play written by a US-based playwright, but a Filipino one this time. Paul Stephen Lim's "Figures in Clay" had only three characters in a bare acting platform with three chairs. Bon Vibar, Bart Guingona and Paolo Fabregas portrayed the intimate and intertwined relationships of three gay men, each separated from the other with a 20-year age gap.

Some companies took on another Western playwright as well, but "indigenized" the material with Asian sensibilities. Shakespeare proved he's always in vogue as the year closed with two of his works in translation by the late Rolando Tinio.

"Twelfth Night" and "Macbeth" were staged by Tanghalang Ateneo and Tanghalang Pilipino respectively. Both productions infused Asian settings, costumes, make-up, choreography and stylized movement into these timeless tales of comedy and tragedy, giving them a definite Filipino twist.

The year 2000 was ripe with choices for the Filipino theatergoer. Big Broadway musicals, original Filipino productions, enduring classics and experimental shows. Pomp and circumstance, heart and soul, all dished out with Filipino ingenuity and talent.

What will the year 2001 have in store for us? Raise the curtains and start the show!