Miguel Castro: He acts, he sings, he cuts paper

He acts, he sings, he cuts paper
By Walter Ang
May 24, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

For someone who was told for more than a decade that he couldn't sing, Miguel Castro has spent the last five years proving this notion wrong and has even set his sights on opera singing in the future.

After Castro decided to leave his bucolic childhood in Lipa behind to pursue higher studies in Manila, he soon had to choose between college and his growing interest for the performing arts.

The stage wooed him over from the classroom and he hasn't looked back since. Cutting his teeth with Gantimpala Theater Foundation, Castro started out developing his acting chops under the tutelage of theater pillars Tomy Abuel, Mia Gutierrez, and Ronnie Lazaro.

After doing straight plays for more than 15 years, Castro broke out as a singer in a big way, as the lead for the musical "St. Louis Loves Dem Filipinos" by Dulaang UP in 2005. "I've always loved singing since I started acting in 1989. But every time I auditioned for musicals, I would be told to stick to acting," he says with a laugh.

The validation being recognized for his talent and positive reviews spurred him to release a CD, cheekily titled (perhaps to prove detractors wrong) "Miguel Castro Sings." He eventually joined Armida Siguion Reyna's Aawitan Kita Productions, doing monthly live concerts.

In 2008, a friend texted him about an audition for someone who could sing "Bituing Marikit." "I went not knowing it was for the Philippine Opera Company," he says. "When I saw the name of the company, I wanted to back out. But the girl at the counter urged me to go ahead since I was already there."

Only two people passed that audition. He was accepted two days later and has been performing and touring with the company's subgroup "Harana" ever since.

"It's composed of eight classical singers doing Filipino Classics," he says. "I'm not an opera singer, but since I joined them, I've learned a lot just by being with them and observing them. I've been getting further voice training under Pablo and Camille Molina and Myrna Lopez. For now I'm in classical singing but opera is my new goal."

After a successful international show in the Netherlands last year, Harana will venture on its first Visayan Tour this month as part of the National Heritage Festival celebration. The show consists of six suites: the Igorot, Maria Clara, Rural, Folk, Muslim and the Contemporary, in a showcase of song, dance and drama.

Paper cutting
In between local and international tours with Harana, this second of ten siblings helps run his family's paper products business, distributing journals, stationeries, and craft products, some of which he designs himself.

His creativity with paper led him to discover paper cutting. "It's my latest adventure. I started cutting long before I even knew there was such an art form. All I know is that it's originally a traditional Chinese art form," he says. "These are expressions of my ever wandering thoughts and ever restless hands."

Although he'd exhibited masks he'd designed in the early 2000s, the year he joined Harana was also the year he debuted as a paper cutter in a group show in Arts Center, Mega Mall. "The theme was 'Society According to Brian Gorrell.' I made three images of `socialites' in Manila," he says.

His first one-man show was at Nine Gallery. Since then, he's been exhibited in Germany, New Caledonia and Sydney. Two of his works have even been bought by the Cultural Council of Noumea for permanent exhibition.

He was recently invited to exhibit in Tap Gallery, Sydney again for its Mardi Gras exhibit. "It was titled `Senses, Sensitivities, Sensualities,'" he says. "It celebrated gender, politics, and social awareness." He submitted a work titled "... and on the 8th day Society created Poverty" that eventually became part of the 2010 Amnesty International Art Exhibit in Sydney.

Castro uses a scalpel instead of scissors and creates works usually using single-piece, hand-cut paper sheets. The intricacy of his past works has been shown in cut-outs of human torsos that highlight the body's muscle striations and hair strands; and in cut-outs of landscapes with trees that feature furcating and curling tendrils and branches.

His past works have an undercurrent of forlornness about them. With enigmatic and evocative titles like "Vanity" and "Mo(u)rning," the cut-outs have a preoccupation with eyes: sometimes with longing or dejected gazes, sometimes disembodied, sometimes completely missing.

He imbues an earnest energy and thought process into his artwork. "Every exhibit I've ever done never had any specific theme. I sometimes deal with current issues but I usually just want to showcase paper cutting itself," he says. "What I offer is my skill in executing thought-provoking images."

Harana performs in SM City Cebu (May 18), Bohol Cultural Center (May 21), SM City Ilo-ilo (May 23), CAP Auditorium Antique (May 25), Capiz Gym (May 27), Puerta Princessa (May 29); call 892-8786. For details on Castro's exhibit of paper cuts at Avellana Gallery, opening on June 12, call 833-8357.

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Have Eagle Creek bag, will travel

Have bag, will travel
By Walter Ang
May 9, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

This summer, exploring the country is one of the options for travel. And if you really think about it, traveling within the Philippines is easy. Buses in Manila travel to any point in Luzon, and there are ferries and planes to take you anywhere else you'd like to visit. So all you really need is a sturdy bag to put some clothes and personal items in and you're good to go.

To kick off this summer's adventures, Eagle Creek travel bags took a group of media members to Caramoan in Camarines Sur to check out the sights, to road test their bags, and to introduce their Global Citizenship campaign.

The campaign wants all travelers to be more aware and mindful of the impact of their actions to the environment, both natural and social. Responsible traveling is the only way to go these days. You can't just go into a new place with its own culture and start throwing around your weight, your trash, your germs, your rules. Being respectful and keeping an open mind and seeing how you can help the locals while you have fun is the battlecry.

The Bicol region is accessible from Manila by bus. Take the buses bound for Naga City that leave Manila at night so you can sleep on the way. You'll arrive in Naga just in time for breakfast. You'll have to drive to Sabang port for a boat ride to Caramoan.

We checked out the hottest spot in Caramoan right now: Gota, a small cove with narrow beaches that have the same talcum-powder sand that Boracay is known for. Gota is gaining a reputation with European travelers since the France, Turkey, Israel, Bulgaria and Serbia editions of the reality-show Survivor were shot there.

There's buzz that the American edition might shoot there soon. Aside from small islands with beaches, the area has rocky terrain, caves, limestone hills, coral-rich dive spots, a subterranean river, lush forests and mangrove areas.

We did a bit of island hopping and also went to Hunungan Cove, just off Gota Beach, where waters are calm year-round because it's sheltered by a small island. A fifteen-minute boat ride from Gota is Matukad Island, full of white puka shells, corals and pinkish sand.

These different environments allow visitors to do a host of activities from as mundane as fishing or sunbathing for hours on the beach to more outdoorsy stuff like hiking, camping, rock climbing and mountaineering. I took the sunbathing and lazing about route while all my companions scampered here and there, running and throwing frisbees, and swimming from islet to islet. Phew!

But I did join them in hunting for the old sets (the voting area) of the Survivor show. With a bit of looking (and if no new shoots are scheduled; they close off the area when Survivor has shoots there), you'll spot it in one of the beaches the area.

These varied terrains and conditions were also actually the perfect testing ground for the Eagle Creek bags. They have a wide line of different bags and luggage, but I tried out the Twist 22, a backpack whose straps can be folded in to transform itself into a wheeled-handcarry with a retractable handle. (There is another line that transforms into duffel bags.) Since its size meets most airline standards for carry-ons, you can imagine hopping off a plane and getting down and dirty right away.

In backpack mode, it has an internal frame that's curved to fit the body's contours and the bag's mesh-and-foam construction allows for air ventilation. The shoulder straps are ergonomically contoured and an adjustable padded hip belt protects your back from the bag's wheels and transfers weight evenly.

The buckles, zippers, webbing and fabric choice of each Eagle Creek bag is selected based on rigorous lab and field-testing. In the Twist 22's wheeled mode, the oversized off-road rubber wheels prevent it from falling over itself. Rubberized runners protect the bag's outside edges and backside, perfect for someone like me who is prone to dropping all my travel gear in a fit when I get tired and cranky (or when I'm falling all over myself from clumsiness).

There seems like the bag has a gazillion pockets on the front and side, which is a great way to help you categorize and organize your items. You'll never run out of places to shove your stuff into if you're in a hurry. Toiletries can go in one pocket, food in another, water bottle in the other one, and so forth. If you like to stuff your bag to the brim, it has compression straps inside to help keep items in place.

For the more organized traveler, all Eagle Creek bags are compatible with the Pack-It organizer bags. Little mesh bags that keep your clothes neatly in place while minimizing wrinkles (if you roll them up first).

Call 303-1234 and 567-0611 or email philippines@primergrp.com.

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Ricky Francisco explains how to conserve artworks at home

How to conserve artworks at home
By Walter Ang
May 5, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Saving your art begins even before you acquire it, noted collection management consultant Ricky Francisco. In a lecture on "Preventive Conservation for Artworks at Home," Francisco gave buyers and collectors basic tips on how to take care of their art pieces.

Major events like earthquakes, fires or flooding will do obvious damage. However, the environment is full of elements that gradually and incrementally affect artwork. Changes in temperature, light and humidity can cause an array of problems such as mold growth, corrosion and fading, among many others.

Man-made accidents and neglect also come into play. Even the creators of art can be held accountable if they use easily degradable materials (like frames made of wood that haven't been treated to protect it from mold growth) or if they neglect to have their paintings varnished (to provide a protective layer).

It can be argued that a museum set-up, where climate, movement, light and other factors are controlled, is the optimal environment for artwork, however, that would definitely defeat the purpose of, say, enjoying a painting in your kitchen (where soot, grime, heat and dirt are likely to come into contact with it).

The first order of business, said Francisco, is to evaluate a piece of art prior to acquiring it. What is the condition of the work and are you willing to commit to its upkeep? He pointed out that sentimental value, the maintenance work anticipated and the monetary value of art are all part of the equation. "If you're going to pass it on to future generations, you will have to take care of it," he said.

Once acquired, photo documentation is important. "If you go to a conservator and tell them the blue in your painting used to be bluer, it will open up many questions. How bluer? What shade of blue?" Francisco said. "A photograph of your artwork, while also subject to its own degradation, can assist a conservator in establishing a benchmark."

He recommends taking a photograph parallel to the artwork to minimize distortion and to print it out "as big as you can" to preserve details. He also recommends noting down details such as physical measurements and when the work was done. The date of creation can help provide clues to certain mediums an artist may have been likely to use if future restoration will need the information.

Transporting artwork also has its dangers. It's best to not wear jewelry or even belts with buckles that can possibly scratch the artwork. Use of gloves is best as hands may be sweaty or dirty. Sweat is acidic and fingerprints may show up after a few years from dirt accumulation if they don't leave their mark immediately.

Next, collectors have to identify the materials and mediums used. Francisco explained that a painting in itself is composed of many different materials that individually react in a different manner to the environment.

An oil painting left on the floor might somehow survive a flooding, but a watercolor will definitely be done for. The primer used in a painting might expand faster in heat than the actual paint layer, causing cracks.

Commonly used framing materials such as plywood, rugby, scotch tape are highly acidic and can cause paintings to brown, spot and even tear and crumble. "Ask for `conservation-quality framing' and ask for acid-free and lignin-free rag matting and buffered materials whenever possible," he said. "Proper framing enhances the aesthetic value of a painting and also provides rigidity and protection."

The easiest, though often looked over, step to protect an artwork is choosing a suitable location, noted Francisco. "You should be able to view and enjoy your paintings but it should be out of harm's way. It shouldn't be in the busy portions of the house where it could be bumped into accidentally," he said.

He noted other precautions that should be followed.

Avoid strong lighting
Both natural and artificial light contains ultraviolet light (UV) and infrared light (IR). UV deteriorates materials at the microscopic level causing varnish to cloud over, pigments to fade and even cloth or paper to tear and eventually crumble. IR causes heat that makes paint layers brittle and some varnishes and paints to brown.

Damage caused by light is irreversible. "Keep paintings away from direct sunlight as much as possible. Artificial lighting should be at least three feet away, turned off when not in use, and if possible, bounced off or shone indirectly," he said.

Avoid temperature and humidity changes
High humidity causes mold growth. Sudden changes in humidity may cause the rapid expansion of strainers and wooden supports that may damage the paint and the canvas layers. Temperature changes can also cause paints to crack or fade.

Avoid hanging paintings near doors and windows as these are areas where humidity fluctuates the most and in bathrooms, kitchens and dining halls, where there is generally high humidity. In airconditioned rooms, allow paintings to adjust by not turning on the coolest setting right away and by not opening windows when the unit is shut off.

"Outer walls, especially of older houses, often are not 100% waterproof. During the rainy season, moisture from the outside can seep through the walls. Inner walls are preferable to hanging your paintings," he said. "Ventilation and air circulation discourage mold growth. Put at least an inch of space between your wall and your painting."

Call for help
Maintenance should be done with caution and common sense. Horror stories were shared of paintings being cleaned with bleach and cleaning tools like mop handles being left propped up against paintings. "Brush off dust carefully using soft brushes such as those used for make-up. Do not use wet or damp materials," he said.

Store artwork in a clean, dry and dark area. Be sure rodents and insects won't be able to get in. Francisco shared that there are many materials commonly used for storage organization that are readily available in bookstores or art supply stores.

Foam boards should be placed in between paintings. "These will help absorb impact in case there is sudden movement. Remember to remove hooks and any metal portions in the frame to avoid rust and to remove the risk of them puncturing the paintings," he said. "If not available, even corrugated cardboard would be better than nothing. The idea is to cushion the works and to prevent paint transfer."

Glassine paper or mylar sheets, which are relatively acid-free, can be used as sleeves or to wrap artwork for storage or transport. The basic protection being provided here is avoiding dust accumulation. A major component of household dust is actually dead skin and hair cells as well as dirt from soil, all of which are organic and, therefore, food for molds to thrive on.

Collectors and owners should also know when it's time to stop playing hero and call in the calvary. "For tears, molds, flaking and damage from fire, it's best to bring your artwork to a conservator. Molds can be very tricky to clean off because inhalation of the spores is possible and it could lead to infection," he said.

Francisco has done work for The Lopez Museum, Yuchengco Museum, Ateneo Art Gallery, GSIS Museum and Vargas Museum. He was a lecturer of the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Conservation of Cultural Property.

The lecture was part of the Art Program (managed by Art Cabinet Philippines) of The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences, Makati City. Call 0928-550-4816 or email inquiry@artcabinetphilippines.com.

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Therese La'O sells soles with soul

Soles with soul
By Walter Ang
May 4, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

La'O (right)
Fashionable footwear with a heart is the dominant theme of Toms Shoes, a brand of canvas shoes that are now available in the Philippines.

At a sunset launch party in Boracay, Swim Philippines head Therese La'O said, "You can get Toms Shoes at our stores Swim Designer Swimwear and Nothing But Water. We are initiating the awareness for this brand and the good it does for children in need."

La'O is referring to the "One for One" program of Toms Shoes wherein for every pair of shoes purchased, a free pair is given to a child in need. The brand has been tagged by the American fashion media as "socially responsible shoes" that allow people to "stay chic while building good karma."

The brand's unique way of operating is borne out of the desire of its founder, Blake Mycoskie, to give back to make a difference. Mycoskie first encountered Argentina when he was a contestant on the second season of The Amazing Race. He later returned there for a vacation and realized that a lot of children there had no shoes to protect their feet.

He created Toms Shoes to make lightweight shoes based on the Argentine alpargata or espadrille design to shepherd his "One for One" movement. His initial donation to Argentine communities was 10,000 pairs of shoes. To date, Toms shoes has already given over 140,000 pairs of shoes.

When La'O heard of this program, she got in touch with Mycoskie to bring over the brand to the country. La'O is one of the pioneers in bringing in fashionable swimwear to the country.

Her Nothing But Water stores are exclusive distributors of internationally recognized brands such as Sophia By Vix from Brazil; 2 Chillies, Aqua Blu and Heaven from Australia; and Split, Hobie and Hotwater from USA. Her Swim Designer Swimwear stores carry labels like Hermanny and Michael Kors.

"Espadrilles are suited for our tropical climate and perfect for the summer," said La'O. The decision to bring the brand over was based on her personal taste. "I like their different styles, colors and makes," she added. In addition, she wanted to show that people can be entrepreneurial in the fashion industry and give back to society at the same time. "Our country really needs to grow our spirit of giving. We can't just sit back and not do anything."

Toms shoes is committed to donating shoes to third world countries like Africa, Argentina and other developing nations. La'O has teamed up with non-profit organization We International to lobby for making the Philippines one of Toms Shoes' shoe drop beneficiary countries.

"Most children in developing countries grow up barefoot, whether at play, doing chores or just getting around. Children can walk for miles to get food, water, shelter and medical help. Wearing shoes literally enables them to walk distances that aren't possible barefoot," said La'O.

Shoes are the answer
She pointed out the health risks of walking barefoot. "Wearing shoes prevents feet from getting cuts and sores on unsafe roads and from contaminated soil," she said. "Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected. Soil-transmitted parasites can penetrate the skin."

La'O said that the World Health Organization estimates that there are over 120 million people who are at risk with life-threatening diseases and illnesses brought about by walking barefoot. "For example, in Ethiopia, one million people are already infected by podoconiosis, which is caused by walking barefoot in silica-rich soil. Here in the Philippines, Benguet and Romblon province is slowly increasing the risk of having this debilitating disease in their small communities," she said.

Silica is ancient volcanic glass that penetrates the skin and makes its way into the lymphatic system. "The lower extremities swell while sores and ulcers develop. The good news is, it's 100% preventable as long as we can get shoes to these at-risk communities," said La'O.

"We brought over Toms Shoes not only to allow Filipinos to enjoy its different styles but also to allow them a fashionable and tangible way to reach millions of people in need of shoes around the world."

For details, visit www.swim.com.ph or call 659-2280.

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Emir--'First Filipino movie musical'--tackles OFW phenomenon

"First Filipino movie musical" tackles OFW phenomenon
By Walter Ang
May 3, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Audiences will soon be able to watch the first Filipino movie musical. "Emir" tells the story of Amelia, an Ilocana who grows up in the sand dunes of Paoay and ends up as a nanny in a royal household of a fictional emirate in the deserts of the Middle East.

Chito Roño, known for directing movies like "Sukob" and "Caregiver," is helming the project. The obvious first question is, of course, "Why a musical?" Roño laughs and says, "That's what I asked myself, too!" He'd been approached by executive producer Rolando Atienza, chair of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, last year to take on a project. "I wanted to commit to what no one else would dare do," Roño says.

With a filmography that spans genres and topics that deal with social issues ("Bata bata paano ka ginawa"), women and society ("Curacha: Ang babaeng walang pahinga"), fantasy ("Spirit Warriors") and horror ("Feng Shui"), to name a few, it would seem that a musical would be the next in line for the multi-awarded director.

"I didn't want to compete with the mainstream movie industry, I wanted to do something that they weren't about to do," he says. He expresses disdain at the run-of-the-mill love stories that are churned out, noting a lack of "connection with real life."

"We've had many movies that had production numbers in them," he says. "But never ever in my memory did we have a movie musical before. So why not a musical?"

He recounts how amazed he was when he encountered his nieces and nephews singing all the songs from "High School Musical." "They had all the songs memorized! Really, Filipinos love to sing and everybody loves a musical."

The decision to anchor the musical on the story of an OFW was deliberate. "I always want to include something about or of society, no matter how minor," he says. "I wanted to create a movie with a story that audiences can relate to. And who doesn't know an OFW?"

Roño is cognizant of the limitations of the conventions of a movie musical. "Nobody bursts into song in mid-sentence in real life, that's the fantasy of it," he says. "Therefore it's important to establish elements of reality that lets the audience connect with the material. For example, you see the dirt of old London in the musical `Oliver.'"

He points out that tragedy is also an important part of the mix. "In `Miss Saigon,' one person dies; in `Sweeny Todd,' a million people die," he says with a laugh. "The point is that a musical is really a mix of fantasy and reality." (After all, "Emir" ends with a musical number featuring the Filipina yayas all over the world.)

Therefore, for "Emir," Roño has been working hard to make sure that "Filipinos will find it accessible and there will be an emotional connection."

To achieve his vision, Roño assembled a group of collaborators who "were willing to join the project and had the guts to carry it through."

The Cultural Center of the Philippines came in as an industrial partner through the aegis of co-executive producer Nestor Jardin. Having been involved in the development and production of Philippine independent cinema as former Artistic Director of the CCP, former board member of the FDCP and as current president of the Cinemalay Foundation, Jardin says, "We are thrilled to have an outstanding artistic team."

There is Palanca award winner Jerry Gracio for the screenplay, Neil Daza for cinematography, Digo Rico for production design, and Jerrold Tarog for editing. Choreography is by Douglas Nierras.

For composers, Roño got Gary Granada and Diwa de Leon. When Vin Dancel of Peryodiko and Ebe Dancel of Sugarfree found out about the project, they were game, too. Gracio, Granada and playwright Rody Vera worked on the lyrics.

Musical direction is by Chino Toledo in Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound. "The movie will have a mix of music genres. There's going to be Pinoy pop, ballads, rock, folk rock, novelty songs, among others," says Rono. "It really depends on what a particular scene needs."

The cast is headed by Frencheska Farr, winner of "Who Will Be The Next Big Star," as Amelia. Joining her are movie and theater veterans like Dulce, Bodjie Pascua, Julia Clarete, Bayang Barrios, Gigi Escalante, Beverly Salviejo, and 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical, Leizel Batucan. "I also cast non-singing actors who can sing to round things out like Jhong HIlario and Sid Lucero."

"Emir" has shot on-location in Ilocos Norte, Ifugao province and the Morrocan cities of Marrakech, Ourzazate and Essaouira. "We used the same sets and locations of movies like `Prince of Persia,' `The Mummy,' `Sex and the City 2,' and `Star Wars,'" says Roño. "In fact, I had to keep moving around because I didn't want audiences to see the same stuff they've seen in these other movies."

Executive producer Atienza says, "Excellent collaborators, top-notch talents, exotic locales, larger-than-life sets, all of these elements raise the bar for Philippine filmmaking. This unconventional film will be a landmark movie that will extend the frontiers of Philippine cinema. It's also a way of paying tribute to our OFWs, saluting them in a way that's very Filipino?through music, songs and dances that capture the heart of the Filipino."

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REVIEW: 'Haring Tub-l' ('Ubu Roi')--Explosive play sends up elections, power politics

Explosive play sends up elections, power politics
By Walter Ang
May 2, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sipat Lawin Ensemble's "Haring TUbu-l" is an explosive production, figuratively and literally. The "ticket" is a paper bag (think airplanes) stamped with an ominous warning that you can use the bag, just don't give up on the production. Obviously, this isn't for mainstream theatergoers.

But for those who have a sense of humor and adventure, an appreciation for irony and a strong constitution, it's one of the most fun and funny productions you'll ever get to see. Audiences at the performance we saw were laughing throughout the very tight one hour run. Mind you, the laughter ranges from nervous to approving and frequently switches back and forth.

The title alone foretells of the scatological humor involved (a friend who knows Bisaya explained it to this Manileño). The show's own announcements state it is "set inside a toilet bowl" and "pukes excess filth, greed, avarice, gluttony, ambition, filth, greed ? [ad infinitum]."

Yes, it is toilet humor brought to an extreme but well-thought out and intelligent level. It is difficult to write about the production without giving away the elements that make it a fun experience, and while we will attempt to give as little away as possible, fair warning, spoilers follow.

Ridiculous and ugly
In this Tagalog translation of French playwright Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi" (King Ubu), the first thing audiences see are twisted orange plastic pipes hung on the walls wrapped with translucent cable binders: stiff, prickly strands of white hair on grotesque, ribbed skin in the shape of human genitalia.

The production designers amplify the cast's excessive cursing and coarse body language by using disfiguring make-up and disproportional bodies on the actors. They also employ gelatinous goo and slimy concoctions to stand in for body fluids and parts that are secreted, excreted, expelled and, sometimes, forcibly removed. Sound designer Teresa Barrozo adds the necessary layer that pushes the play along.

The group, composed of alumni (theater majors) of the Philippine High School for the Arts, makes the audience sit as close to their performance area as possible. As the actors play out the story of how Papa Ubu and Mama Ubu use malevolent means to rise to power (and how they wantonly abuse it later on), almost everything is thrown in the air and audiences alternately scream and cheer as they dodge the projectiles.

The production's execution is a prime example of "the medium is the message." Director JK Anicoche brilliantly pushes the text to its limits and creates all of these vulgar metaphors to expose how coveting and abusing power is a disgusting and ridiculous enterprise. Shown in all its offensive and ugly glory, the recognition and acknowledgement makes us laugh at it all.

Wonderful and unrelenting
While the upcoming elections flavor the play with criticizing government, it is not difficult to apply the production's representations to any kind of venture that involves power grabbing, whether it's between family or friends, institutions like the church, hospitals and the academe, and even at the workplace.

We all know evil power-hungry people who are insane and repulsive. And they are all brought to life by the wonderfully talented pair of Nar Cabico (Papa Ubu) and Sheenly Gener (Mama Ubu). Their cohorts and victims are deftly threshed out by Dorothea Marabut (Prinsipesa Bukake) and Acey Aguilar (Kapitan Tutan).

The four are a whirlind of intensity, emotion and physical dexterity. Blows come in quick succession and from all over the place, you won't be able to let your guard down. It's easy to miss how sincere and real they actually make their characters amidst the hilarity and chaos, but do watch out for touching and poignant moments they insert into the play's rumble.

Laughter and guilt
The production has been using Facebook as one of its primary publicity tools. It even launched an online video audition competition for one of the cameo parts in the show (winners get to watch for free).

Yet when you get there, the clean, detached and safe nature of using a computer screen to interact with the world is replaced with tangibility and immediacy.

SLE mandates a maximum of 30 people to be accommodated per show. The play's first run alternated between Mogwai Cinematheque in Cubao Shoe Expo and The Living Room in Malate. We caught the show in Mogwai and the small space soon became claustrophobic as it filled with the heat generated by the lights and human bodies.

Body parts mash into each other when audiences flinch and squirm in unison. The audience members are not allowed to remain as mere spectators. Part of the fun and excitement of watching this production is that we are forced to participate at various points. This play is not something to be watched than it is to be experienced.

These different staging elements show us how the production craftily indulges in its own power play. In all its deliberate shenanigans and gratuity, it blasts to smithereens boundaries and notions of what theater can possibly be. In the way it evokes nervous (or excited) anticipation, it assaults our perceptions and defense mechanisms. The word "mindf**k" is appropriate.

The insights, realizations and guilt (hopefully) come later on. It's all fun and laughs in the moment but after the show you realize how easy it is to fall into mob mentality, how stealthily evil machinations can sweep you away, how easy it is to abuse power that it given to you. You think back to when the audience is asked to kill one of the innocent characters. Why was it so easy to gleefully oblige?

Haring TUbu-L will have a re-run May 3 to 12, dubbed as "The Return of the Comeback of the New And Improved Newly Scented Haring TUbu-L," which will "serve as a countdown to the May 10 elections," in different venues. Call 0917-500-8753.

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