REVIEW: Philippine High School for the Arts' "Rossum's Universal Robots" and "The Tempest"

Look do we have here! A promising group of young thespians 
By Walter Ang
April 30. 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"No one can hate man more than man himself," said the poster heralding a twinbill presentation by the Philippine High School for the Arts.

Despite the bleak and ominous tone of the poster, after watching the show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Huseng Batute Theater I announced to my friends that, "I haven't had this much fun watching a theater production in a very long time!"

Having seen too many plays and musicals that were too pretentious, too commercial, and too unoriginal, this recital cum graduation by the theater majors of the country's only arts high school was definitely a breath of fresh air.

The young students from all over the country gave off a vibrant, earnest energy in the two comedies they presented. They had an obvious passion for the craft and art of theater that renewed my faith in the form.

"First and almost"
The matinee featured Czech writer Karel Capek's RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots). Graduating senior Nina Angela Rumbines shone in her portrayal of Helena Glory, the idealistic and vulnerable young woman on a humanitarian mission to liberate the robots in Rossum's Universal Robots factory.

Rumbines was paired with fellow senior Jean Marc Cordero who made a nasty yet funny Damon, the factory's general manager who falls in love with Glory. Other seniors in the cast included Mary Aimee Leduna (Alquist) and Joseph Keith Anicoche (Dr. Gall), whose German accent was spot on.

It was Damon who said, "No one can hate man more than man himself," when the handful of humans inside the robot factory realize too late the repercussions of playing God. The play ends on a positive note, but still gives the audience a lot to think about in this day of genetic manipulation and robotic advancements.

One of the most hilarious parts of the play was the cast's use of commonly mispronounced/misused English phrases interspersed into the Filipino translation of the late Rogelio Sicat. Teacher/overall director Herbert Go, who is also associate artistic director of the CCP resident theater company Tanghalang Pilipino, said the use of these phrases was inspired by a line in the play, "Well, well, well indeed."

This gave way to the cast's use of uproarious lines like, "Well, well, well! Look do we have here," or "So far, so good, so far," and "First and almost, it's not your problem anymore, it's my problem anymore!" These unexpected lines (which can be found online at kept the audience rolling in stitches and diluted the tension during heavy scenes, keeping the tone light and easy.

Apart from acting, Rumbines also designed the set, while PHSA alumni Kristine Balmes had costume design responsibilities. Balmes' simple yet creative use of black and silver created a funky and otherworldly look to the robots. The whole look of RUR was very textured and very, dare I say it, cute!

Look and feel
While Rumbines gave "RUR" an industrial and electronic look with large metal sheets, she evoked the isolated island setting of the second play, William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," by using sand and bamboo. Balmes took off from this stark setting and filled the characters' costumes with all colors of the rainbow. The candy colors and varied patterns added vigor to Rody Vera's sterling Filipino translation "Ang Unos."

Go constantly exposes audiences to material in Filipino translation as it shows "the breadth and depth and versatility of the Filipino language as a medium of translation." Go and Vera have collaborated before as director and translator, respectively, with Dulaang Talyer's "Antony at Cleopatra" and Tanghalang Pilipino's "Rhythm Method."

In their latest effort, most male roles were given to female actors, and Skyzx Shannah Labastilla was easily the standout with her earthy and eloquent portrayal of Prospera. Other seniors in this tale of magic and enchantment include Alison Segarra (Miranda), the sultry Isablle Antoinette Martinez (Bastiana), and Roselyn Loria (Antoinetta).

As Prospera's magic tempest brought over a ship full of old enemies to the island, her spirit slave Ariela carries out the legwork. Senior Anna Rea Catamora brought down the house by portraying Ariela as a lithe, flexible creature that would contort would every line. Audiences would stand up from their seats just to see what kind of pretzel shape Catamora had turned herself into whenever she had to speak! Her imitation of a frog was definitely one of the great scene stealers of the evening.

The play ends with old trespasses forgiven and new loves forged; as with most Shakespeare comedies, all's well that ends well. This recital, however, is not the end for these high school graduates who've had to juggle a regular academic workload with extensive arts training for the past four years.

As senior Roselyn Loria believes, "What's past is prologue. What's been done over the years is mere warm-up for the events ahead." If the recital is any indication, this batch of graduates is certainly all fired-up for the world ahead.