Tanghalang Pilipino's Filipino version of Goldoni's 'The Liar'

Tanghalang Pilipino's Filipino version of Goldoni's "The Liar"
By Walter Ang
Feb. 2, 2002

Len Ag Santos-Siasoco as Cleonice
and Boby Garovillo as Leilo.
From Facebook page of Len Ag Santos-Siascoo.
Most people have a traumatic first time with the performing arts as they are required to sit through some heavy drama piece for school.

And if being a "captive" (literally) audience wasn't enough, they'd have to write a reaction paper (500 words, at least!) on who the playwright was (Brecht who?) and use highfalutin words to extol the virtues of what they just saw.

But watching plays and musicals does not have to be baduy and can be quite entertaining, enjoyable and even, gasp, fun. Especially if you give it a try without having your terror of a teacher twist your arm to go. Those who are feeling adventurous, or even just mildly curious, can give Tanghalang Pilipino's production of "Ang Sinungaling" a go.

Director Nonon Padilla "steals" conventions from Chinese Peking opera to stage this Filipino translation of an Italian play. How's that for starters? Different cultural influences are always a delight to see onstage, providing the audience with a fresh perspective on what could potentially be old and stodgy material. Just last year, the same company staged Shakespeare's Macbeth in an Asian setting, too.

A comedy written by Carlo Goldoni and translated by Ony de Leon, the play revolves around all the trouble caused by chronic liar Leilo, played by the Apo Hiking Society's Boboy Garrovillo. Leilo arrives in Venice, Italy and launches lie upon lie from his lips to woo the sisters Rosaura and Beatrice. The comedy comes in when servants, families, rival suitors and a dancing messenger/waiter get caught up in the complicated web of fallacies.

Sense of humor
Audiences used to watching productions in English need not feel intimidated by the language. Using Filipino as the spoken medium helps make the comedy bawdier and funnier since the silliness of the situations take on a more familiar tone. And who wouldn't be amused by the hilarious send ups of local personalities like FPJ, Kris Aquino and L.A. Lopez?

Chinoy fare is, as expected, up for jabs by the characters in the play ? anything and everything from funny accents, popular Chinese restaurants to Taipan-owned malls and banks. Fans of anime
(especially Dragonball Z) will marvel the Goku-type hair (big and all over the place) of some characters. Chinoys out there with a sense of humor and irony are going to love this show.

The deliberate use of Peking opera as a framework for the play is, as director Padilla claims, "a strategy ? to present to contemporary audiences a picture of Philippine contemporary life." Not strict in its usage of Peking Opera conventions, the production merely borrows and, on occasion, pokes fun of, the stereotyped movements of that form. But it's a comedy after all and all that really shouldn't matter unless you're one of the students required to write about it. Those unlucky students can probably get some ideas from the directors' notes in the programme--done in the size of a CD liner note and one of the most creative and slick programmes I've ever seen.

Kitschy decor
The atypical programme is only an appetizer to the visual treat the play has in store. In the Tanghalang Huseng Batute (the one in the basement) of the CCP, a red, black and gold checkered set designed by Gino Gonzales greets the audience as they come in. The design looks Chinese yet has a certain Italian flair to it as well (harlequin costumes come to mind).

Fashionistas with a sharp eye will catch familiar Italian designer logos interspersed into the set. The costumes (also by Gonzales) are rich in color and very tongue-in-cheek, including some ensembles that incorporate kitschy Chinese plastic decor that seemed to have been (and probably were) bought from the sidewalk stalls of Quiapo or Chinatown.

The actors company gave strong performances all around. The three female leads had good comic timing and the guys seemed to have fun hamming it up for the laughs. While Garrovillo certainly has a mischievous air about him, we wonder if a younger, more pilyo-looking actor might have been more suited to the charismatic liar role? Roeder, who portrayed Leilo's father Pantalone, could have switched roles with Garrovillo.

The material seems to slow down the action a bit in the beginning of the second act, but over all, the punchlines and visual gags keep the audience pretty much rolling in the aisles. Starting off the year with a good laugh would seem a pretty good way to go, and that's no lie.