It's playwright Liza Magtoto's season in the sun at Peta

It's playwright Liza Magtoto's season in the sun at Peta
She has three plays back-to-back-to-back; "The Tempest Reimagined" is up next
Nov. 4, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Liza Magtoto.
Photos by Jojit Lorenzo
Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) just wrapped its two-year run of "Rak of Aegis," a jukebox musical with songs by rock band Aegis sewn together with a story by playwright Liza Magtoto.

Consolidating different aspects of Filipinos' lives, she captured the zeitgeist of Pinoy life in the early 2010s: celebrating love (romantic and familial) amidst the rise of social media and natural disasters.

Audiences will see more of Magtoto's work since she dominates Peta's 49th season (aside from "Rak," she's adapting Shakespeare's "The Tempest" into a contemporary Filipino setting) and she's opening the 50th season (as librettist for next year's restaging of "Care Divas," a musical about male Filipino workers in Israel who moonlight as singing drag queens).

"Nagkataon lang," she says. "I'm so grateful that Peta has nurtured me and, in some way, I hope I'm giving back. I'm quite honored and humbled at the same time because, as we all know, these plays become complete only because of the collaboration with the director, musical director, ensemble, production staff."

"It's an honor to take part in keeping Peta alive in showcasing the form and content that we've done in the past years," she adds.

Scared, then fired up
Magical spirit Ariel, played by Gab Pangilinan
(with alternates Gio Gahol, Neomi Gonzales and Ian Segarra),
and deformed savage Caliban, played by John Moran.
Sets and costumes designed by Marsha Roddy,
lighting design by Tsuguo Izumi,
sound design by Teresa Barrozo.
Magtoto first encountered Peta when its efforts mirrored the zeitgeist of an earlier time period.

"I was especially moved by Peta's plays during the martial law years. The feeling of community was so palpable. The way audiences cheered and clapped felt, for that singular moment, like we were liberated from repression."

Inspired by Jo in "Little Women," she thought she'd become a fictionist. "Writing plays felt scary. It took a long time before I got into it."

Norbs Portales plays Jaime,
a created character for this adaptation:
a fisherman from Leyte who tells
the story of "The Tempest,"
the setting of which, for this production,
is set on a Philippine island
that survived Typhoon Yolanda.
Growing up, her father took her and sister Bing to Repertory Philippines shows. "Then Bing would take me to Peta plays since she'd been in their workshops."

While taking up Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, "I enjoyed plays like 'Iskolar ng Bayan' and the seditious plays of the 1900s."

That exposure to theater "made me see the immediacy of the medium, the impact it has on the audience, and that we can show something we can't in mainstream media. It fired me up to go into theater.

"I felt I had so much I wanted to say, to mirror life's ironies which I wanted to laugh at, to hopefully make people think."

She's been with Peta since the '80s, doing backstage work, then acting, then playwriting. "The late Charley de la Paz established the playwright's group Writer's Bloc and tried to make me attend sessions. I was always unavailable. After he died, I pledged to attend until I finally had the courage to have my play read."

Great challenge
CB Garrucho plays Prospero.
She will play the character as male.
Scores of plays and awards later (like last year's Philstage Gawad Buhay for Outstanding Libretto for "Rak"), there's no resting on her laurels.

She is discussing possible edits to "Care Divas" with director Maribel Legarda (Peta's artistic director).

For "Tempest," she's working with director Nona Shepphard (artistic director of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) to incorporate interviews she's done with survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda in Leyte.

"Some characters may speak in modern English; some scenes will be in Filipino. It's a great challenge to put these languages together, yet connecting them poetically with something as seemingly prosaic as disaster risk reduction in the Philippines."

"The Tempest Reimagined," Nov. 11-Dec. 4, Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, Quezon City. Tickets: 725-6244, Details: link: