Saturday, July 2, 2016


From Sir Anthony Hopkins:
"(Theater) gave me the sheer discipline and the foundation to learn text and the technique of speech, as well as to take on masses of literature: Chekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare. And it’s stayed with me over these years.”
His first words of advice for young actors follow a similar path.
“Get a training in the theater. When young actors get choosy, they should just work. Whatever work comes in, just do it. Accept anything just for the sheer experience of it."


Monday, October 5, 2015

DULAANG U.P.: The First Forty Years

Note: DULAANG UNIBERSIDAD NG PILIPINAS (or Dulaang U.P.) is now presenting its 40th Season.  Founding Artistic Director Tony Mabesa, who directed its first play in 1976, is now directing King Lear/Haring Lear, opening on Wednesday, 7 October 2015.  He has announced that the production will be his last for Dulaang U.P. as a director.

Upon his return to the Philippines in 1975 after studying and teaching in the United States, Antonio O. Mabesa initiated the formation of a campus-based theater season at the University of the Philippines.  With the help of Dr. Leticia H. Tison, then Chair of the Department of Speech and Drama, the first season of Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, or Dulaang U.P. as it has come to be known, was launched in 1976 with the production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, translated into Filipino by Lilia Antonio as “Pagkahaba-haba man ng Prusisyon”, at the Abelardo Theater.   The next production in the opening season was Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio’s modern sarswela “Ang Bundok”, with music by Fabian Obispo, at the newly refurbished AS Theater, which had been named after the acknowledged dean of Philippine Theater, Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero.

The initial productions would set the tenor of the typical Dulaang U.P season, a combination of masterpieces from the world’s dramatic literature as well as original plays. The first season included, along with Shakespeare and Lapeña-Bonifacio, works by Pirandello and Domingo Landicho and an adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” The actors and most of the production staff were culled from the students taking up Speech and Drama or had drama classes as electives. 

The years that followed were marked by productions that would be considered as landmarks of Philippine theater.  Ang Pabilog na Guhit ng Tisa, Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle as translated by Leopoldo Cacnio and directed by Tony Mabesa, would be praised for its production design by Salvador Bernal that used native materials such as bamboo and jute sacks for costumes. Director Anton Juan Jr. transformed the theater into a boxing ring for Reuel Aguila’s In Dis Korner,  which would later be adapted into a film by Lino Brocka.  Guerrero was able to watch his own play, Close-up,  in an adaptation by Jesus Fer. Ramos, as the first of his works to be staged in the theater named in his honor.

Later on, plays from every major period in theater history  would be presented by Dulaang U.P., including Greek and Roman classics, Jacobean dramas, Restoration comedies, French farces,  plays by European dramatists like Racine, Ibsen, Chekhov, Gorky, Strindberg, Schiller, Durenmatt, Lorca, Brecht, Wilde and Beckett, American playwrights like O’Neill, Williams and Miller, and Japanese kabuki and works by Shudraka.  These were interspersed with works by National Artists Wilfrido Ma.Guerrero, Severino Montano, Nick Joaquin, and Bienvenido Lumbera, and other Filipino playwrights like Domingo Landicho, Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, Bonifacio Ilagan, Bienvenido Noriega, Jose Dalisay Jr, Edna May Landicho, Isagani Cruz, Rene Villanueva, Reuel Aguila, Floy Quintos, Edna Mae Landicho, Anton Juan, Jr., and Rody Vera.

Dulaang U.P. productions had been customarily directed by U.P Faculty members which included, aside from Mabesa and Cervantes, Jonas Sebastian, Anton Juan Jr., Cris Vertido, Amiel Leonardia, Alexander Cortez, Ogie Juliano, Antee Bass-Hernandez, Jose Estrella, Edna Mae Landicho, Tuxqs Rutaquio, and Dexter Santos.  Guest directors have included Edgardo de la Cruz, Peter Kern, Jorge Ledesma and Floy Quintos.  Productions have been designed by a variety of artists led by National Artist Salvador Bernal, Monino Duque, Katsch Catoy, Leo Abaya, Amiel Leonardia, Ludendorffo Decenteceo and Gino Gonzales, along with those who started designing when they were students like Nicolas de Ocampo, Ogie Juliano, Dennis Marasigan, Eric Pineda, Jimmy Villanueva, Bat Fajardo, Jay Aranda, John Batalla, Shakira Villa,Clint Ramos, Faust Peneyra, Tuxqs Rutaquio, Voltaire de Jesus, Jethro Joaquin, Ohm David and Meliton Roxas.  Through their works, the Guerrero stage has been transformed into such places as rice terraces, the mountains of the Caucasus, a boxing ring, the forest of Arden, a preparatory school for boys, the dead-end Camino Real, a Japanese temple, a kabuki theatre, Russian dachas, and the beaches of Guam, among many others.

It has been common practice to invite professional actors to work with students in Dulaang U.P. productions, and the list of guest artists includes Mario O’Hara, Angie Ferro, Laurice Guillen, Lou Veloso, Ray Ventura, Pen Medina, Vic Vargas, Gloria Diaz, Imee Marcos, Orestes Ojeda, Alicia Alonzo, Dindo Fernando, Fernando Josef, Sonia Valenciano, Juan Rodrigo, Barbara Perez, Susan Valdez, National Artists Ishmael Bernal and Rolando Tinio, Bodjie Pascua, Roderick Paulate, Joel Lamangan, Teroy Guzman, Jackie Lou Blanco, Romnick Sarmenta, Cris Villonco, Leo Rialp and Cesar Montano.   Some of the actors, writers and directors who started their careers as students with Dulaang U.P. include Jun Farin, Chito Roño, Cris Michelena, Douglas Nierras, Dennis Marasigan, Chris Millado, Jorge Ledesma, Jorge Ledesma, Betty Mae Piccio, Malu de Duzman, Ces Mangay-Quesada, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Tess Dumpit, Irma Adlawan, Joi Barrios, Nicolas Pichay, Floy Quintos, Eugene Domingo, Paul Alexander Morales, Auraeus Solito, Tess Jamias, Andoy Ranay, Rico Gutierrez, Candy Pangilinan, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Harlene Bautista, Ayen Munji-Laurel, Stella Cañete, Juliene Mendoza, Dolly de Leon, Banaue Miclat, Mario Magallona, Neil Ryan Sese, and Tuxqs Rutaquio.

Antonio Mabesa served as Dulaang U.P.’s Artistic Director from 1976 to 2001 , sometimes jointly with Behn Cervantes and Anton Juan Jr.  In  2001 , Jose Estrella was named Artistic Director with Mabesa being conferred Artistic Director emeritus status.  She was succeeded by Alexander Cortez in   2009.  In its fortieth year, Dexter Santos has been named as Dulaang U.P. Artistic Director.

In its first forty years, Dulaang U.P. has become known for the quality of its productions and the practitioners that is has trained, some of them becoming Artistic Directors of leading Philippine theater companies and cultural organizations, and even more now already considered as outstanding artists in their field.  The Filipino theater audience can only expect that the next forty years will become even more noteworthy, with Dulaang U.P. asserting its eminence as the premier university theater season in the country.                              

Monday, May 4, 2015


"We were told that it showed that we were having fun. I was pretty darn glad to hear that. Some people couldn't believe we managed to pull off a full-length 3-act play. But we made it happen."

While I have to confess I enjoyed reading the entire blog post of Christine Hogi Cadlum, about her experience in the Rehearsal and Performance Techniques workshop that was part of the 2015 Tanghalang Pilipino Summer Theater Adventure at the CCP, I have to assert that it was more because I share with her the joy and pride she experienced with her classmates, who I all consider as fellow learners. 

For her complete post, here is the link:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


“OROSMAN at Zafira,” the 2008 reimagined dance theater production directed by Dexter Santos for Dulaang UP, based on the original text by Francisco Baltazar. Deviating from the standard komedya where the conflict is between theMoros and the Cristianos, this verse play is about warring kingdoms in the Middle East.
A recent list by Entertainment Weekly of the best plays of the last 100 years prompted a timely question from the Script Analysis class I am conducting for the Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company: Why is there no such list for Philippine theater?

As a response, I hereby proffer a list of what I believe to be a representative sampling of 25 plays that can be considered as landmarks of Philippine theater. The list is arranged chronologically, and includes plays which were and are considered to have broken ground in local theater history, and/or plays which best represent particular theater movements or dramatic styles.

I do not offer this as a definitive list, but I hope it will provoke discussion and further interest in the Philippine theater canon. By the nature of this list, it includes only those plays with extant scripts. I have also limited the entries to one per author, and have endeavored to ensure that the list contains plays which have had productions I have seen or been part of, with productions notes for each one. (Some notes are derived from the “CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art,” Volume 7—Philippine Theater)

1. ‘Orosman at Zafira’ (ca. 1857), Francisco Baltazar
Deviating from the standard komedya where the conflict is between the Moros and the Cristianos, this verse play is about warring kingdoms in the Middle East. Zafira, the daughter of a sultan ordered slain by Boulasem, unknowingly falls in love with Orosman, one of Boulasem’s sons. Abdalap, Orosman’s brother, later overthrows his father and jails his brother. Various forces band together in the end to defeat Abdalap and elevate Orosman to the throne. Significant 20th-century productions of this play include Rolando Tinio’s staging for Teatro Pilipino in 1977 and Jonas Sebastian’s for Tanghalang Pilipino in 1993 that was also performed at the Rond Point in Paris, France. In 2008, Dexter Santos presented a reimagined dance theater production for Dulaang UP based on Baltazar’s original text.

2. ‘Tanikalang Guinto’ (1902), Juan Abad
This play, generally considered the best example of Drama Simboliko (allegorical drama), was banned as seditious a few months after its first performance and its author sentenced to imprisonment. Liwanag (Light) is bethrothed to Kaulayaw (Sweetheart) but is separated from him by her uncle Maimbot (Avaricious), aided by her traitorous brother Nagtapon (Traitor). Dalita (Dispossessed), mother of Liwanag and Nagtapon, is disowned by Maimbot, who then tries to bribe Liwanag to his will through a golden bracelet that turns into a chain of bondage. One notable production of this play was by UP Broadcast Association’s Dulaang Kapiterya in 1979, which featured Marlina Feleo Gonzales, Lou Veloso and Herman Escueta, directed by Jorge Hernandez.

3. ‘Walang Sugat’ (1902), Severino Reyes, music by Fulgencio Tolentino
This sarswela is credited with dislodging the komedya as the dominant theater form in Manila. Set in the last decade of the 1890s, it revolves around the love story of Tenyong and Julia amidst the war with Spain and, later, with the Americans. A revival was produced by the Zarzuela Foundation of the Philippines in 1970 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, directed by Daisy Hontiveros Avellana. Tanghalang Pilipino mounted its own productions directed by Dennis Faustino in 1992 and by Carlos Siguion-Reyna in 2012. Tanghalang Ateneo presented its own production in 2010, directed by Ricky Abad, with the same set and costume designs by Salvador Bernal used in Tanghalang Pilipino’s 1992 staging.

4. ‘Bagong Cristo’ (1907), Aurelio Tolentino
Aurelio Tolentino also wrote “Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas” and was sentenced to prison for it. This play, called by its author as a drama socialista (socialist drama), represents one of the early attempts to interpret the Christ story according to contemporary conditions. The main character is Jesus Gatbiaya, who wins followers among the workers but angers the wealthy Magdangal. He orders Jesus kidnapped and forces him to carry a post on which he would be crucified. Anton Juan Jr. directed a production of the play for Dulaang Babaylan in 1977 which toured many campuses and various sites all over the country.

5. ‘Dalagang Bukid’ (1919), Hermogenes Ilagan, music by Leon Ignacio
The most popular sarswela of its time, “Dalagang Bukid” also became the basis for the first full-length Filipino feature film. Atang de la Rama originated the title role and played it in the film version. It is the story of Angelita, a country waif who sells flowers in a cabaret. She is courted by Don Silvestre, a usurer, but her true love is Cipriano, a law student. The course of true love never runs smooth, but it still wins out in the end. Tanghalang Pilipino revived the play on the occasion of the conferment of National Artist honors on Atang de la Rama in 1987 with a production directed by Nonon Padilla and starring Noemi Manikan-Gomez. It also served as the inaugural presentation of the then newly-organized CCP resident theater company.

The first five plays in this list were all in Tagalog. The next five span the period when theater largely flourished within the American-influenced educational system; thus, most of them were originally written in English.

TANGHALANG Ateneo’s 2010 revival of Severino Reyes and Fulgencio Tolentino’s “Walang Sugat,” directed by Ricky Abad and using the same set and costume designs by the late National Artist Salvador Bernal for the 1992 Tanghalang Pilipino staging
6. ‘Half an Hour in a Convent’ (1934), Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero
This play, Guerrero’s first in English, is seen as the first local drama to tackle the subject of suicide and repression within Catholic schools in the country. At the center of the play is Yolanda, a convent-school girl who is ordered expelled for violating the school’s strict rules. On the way out, she falls down the marble stairs in what a nun thinks is an accident, but which may well be deliberate. Originally produced as a radio drama under the direction of Lamberto Avellana, it was later staged in UP in 1937, directed by Jean Edades, and became a staple of the UP Dramatic Club and UP Mobile Theater under the direction of the playwright.

7. ‘The Love of Leonor Rivera’ (1953), Severino Montano
This play is about the love of Leonor Rivera for Jose Rizal and how it persisted all through his journey to Europe and despite her eventual marriage to Charles Henry Kipping. Under the direction of the playwright, this play served as the vehicle for the arena style of production that Montano advocated throughout the ’50s. Naty Crame Rogers, who played Leonor in many of the performances, has continued the tradition of mounting the play under the Philippine Drama Company, with some performances presented as intimate “sala theater” productions.

8. ‘The World is an Apple’ (1955), Alberto Florentino
Though written in English, this play is credited with being among those that brought to the attention of theater directors and audiences the world outside of the English-speaking universe. Audiences accepted the fact that the Tondo denizens inhabiting the play were speaking correct English. Its initial production at the Far Eastern University Auditorium was directed by Nick Agudo. Later, the play was translated into Filipino and continued to be staged, especially in campus productions, in either language. In the play, Gloria’s husband Mario has lost his job for stealing an apple intended for their sick daughter, Tita. Mario goes to meet a man who is supposed to give him a job, but Gloria knows it will lead to no good. In the end, she cries out for Mario, and the baby cries along with her.

9. ‘A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino’ (1955), Nick Joaquin
Generally conceded as the most important Filipino play in English and one of the most important pioneers of realism in Philippine theater, it is set during the latter half of the year 1941 in the Marasigan house in Intramuros, where spinster sisters Candida and Paula have remained to take care of their famous painter-father, Lorenzo. A scandal ensues when they take in a boarder, Tony Javier, to make ends meet. In the end, the sisters reaffirm their decision to live in the house with their father. The initial staging by the Barangay Theater Guild directed by Lamberto Avellana utilized an abridged acting version edited by Daisy Avellana, the same version used by Repertory Philippines in its 2009 staging directed by Jose Mari Avellana. This was also the basis of the film adaptation, also directed by the elder Avellana, in 1965. Subsequent stagings by Peta in 1969, directed by Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and in 1979 by Lino Brocka, as well as the 1982 UP Repertory production by Behn Cervantes, used a translation (“Larawan”) by Alfred Yuson and Franklin Osorio that was longer than the Barangay version but still shorter than the original material. It was not until Tanghalang Pilipino produced it in 1989 under the direction of Nonon Padilla that the play was presented in its entirety, using a new translation by Bienvenido Lumbera that was revived several times. TP also commissioned a Spanish translation and, at one point, produced the three versions (English, Filipino and Spanish) in repertory. Rolando Tinio later translated and adapted the play into a sung-through musical in 1997, to music by Ryan Cayabyab. A film version of the musical is reportedly being planned.

10. ‘Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio’ (1969), Paul Dumol
Written in Filipino and originally produced in the Ateneo High School under the direction of the playwright, then still a high school student, the play centers on the trial of Mang Serapio, a beggar, by his peers. He is charged with taking care of a child—forbidden because it diverts money from the group’s coffers. The play was subsequently staged by Peta and used as the competition piece in the CCP’s National Drama Competition in 1989, and has also been adapted into film by Khavn de la Cruz.

The next plays are from the Martial Law period, when Filipino playwrights turned to exploration and experimentation of themes and forms that reflected the social realities around them. It was also a way to throw the government and its police-military arm off the scent as far as the real intent of some of these plays were concerned. With the rise of theater groups such as Peta (founded in 1967 but which came to epitomize the theatrical artists’ response and resistance to the Marcos regime), UP Repertory Company (1972), Teatro Pilipino (1976), Dulaang UP (1976) and Bulwagang Gantimpala (1978), as well as the revival of the Manila Metropolitan Theater in 1979, there was a sudden demand for original Filipino plays, resulting in many outstanding and groundbreaking works.

11. ‘Hanggang Dito na Lamang at Maraming Salamat’ (1974), Orlando Nadres
Nadres could also be represented in this list with “Paraisong Parisukat.” But this play is regarded as the first play to openly tackle the gender issue, earning praise for its realistic portrayal of the Filipino homosexual. The stereotypical giggling manicurista (Julius/ Julie, played in the original production by Len Santos, then Manny Castañeda) is contrasted with the dignified small-town businessman (Fidel, played by Lino Brocka) whose paternal affection towards Efren (Bembol Roco) turns to sexual attraction. Lutgardo Labad directed the first staging by Peta; the play is now a staple in many campus groups’ repertoire. Felino Tañada adapted it into a film in 2007 with Nonie Buencamino as Efren and Jon Santos as Julius/Julie.

Repertory Philippines’ 2009 staging of Nick Joaquin’s “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” directed by Jose Mari Avellana
12. ‘Mga Kuwentong Maranao’ (1974), Sining Kambayoka Ensemble
Along with Rodulfo Galenzoga’s “Maranatha,” this piece, developed under the direction of Frank Rivera, mines the rich folklore of Mindanao. “Mga Kuwentong Maranao” utilizes five languages—Maranao, Cebuano, Pilipino, English and Spanish—and consists of stories revolving around the adventures and misadventures of the folk hero Pilandok, using the bayok (a verse debate from where the group derived its name) in its exploration of such themes as the relationship between men and women, power and its use, and corruption. Its staging normally uses various folk dances and movements, and features the many uses of the malong.

13. ‘Bayan-Bayanan’ (1975), Bienvenido Noriega Jr.
Considered as Noriega’s most famous work, this play was premiered by Teatro Pilipino in 1975 under the direction of Rolando Tinio, and has since been staged many times by Bulwagang Gantimpala, Tanghalang Pilipino and by other theater groups, under the direction of Tony Espejo, Pio de Castro III, and Anton Juan Jr., among others. Widely regarded as among the best examples of psychological realism in Philippine dramatic literature, the play is set in the home of Manang in Geneva, where Filipino expatriates congregate. In the process, their lives interweave and interrelate as they try to find home, community and meaning where there is none.

14. ‘Pagsambang Bayan’ (1977), Bonifacio Ilagan
Ilagan’s earlier work “Welga, Welga” could also be in this list, but this play, which was originally written in English, gained wider popularity and influence after it was staged by the UP Repertory Company in 1977 under Behn Cervantes’ direction. The play is structured like a Roman Catholic Mass, with the priest (played by Orestes Ojeda in the UP Rep premiere) becoming not only an interpreter of the Word or the world, but an active participant in changing both. Mass participants are representatives of peasants, workers, students, tribal minorities, urban poor and professionals, interacting with the priest as they relate their everyday struggles. The play ends with the priest and the congregation uniting in the resolve to continue Christ’s work in the only meaningful way acceptable, which was to rage against the dictatorship at that time. Later productions were revised or modified as the circumstances demanded, and it may be proof of the play’s potency as a social treatise that the director, along with many others who got involved in the play’s many stagings during the Marcos regime, were either arrested or detained, harassed or placed under constant military scrutiny.

15. ‘Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa: Isang Noh sa Laguna’ (1977), Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio
Among the more significant experimentations with theatrical forms was this play in which the dead Sisa comes back to haunt Padre Salvi, utilizing the form and conventions of Japanese Noh. Originally staged by Tony Mabesa along with its companion piece “Ang Madyik na Sombrero: Isang Kyogen sa Pritil,” which, as the title suggests, is based on the Japanese comic Kyogen, it was later adapted into a full-length dance production for Ballet Philippines by Corazon Iñigo, who had choreographed the original theater production.

16. ‘Mayo A-Beinte Uno at Iba pang Kabanata’ (1978), Al Santos
This play is based on the life of Lapiang Malaya founder Valentin “Tatang” de los Santos, dubbed the “Second Messiah,” who led his group on a march to Malacañang in 1967 that resulted in the massacre of most of its members. Tatang is sent to a mental hospital where he is later reported to have been killed in a brawl. An expansion of the author’s earlier play called “Si Tatang atbp mga Tauhan ng Aming Dula (1975),” this work uses radio announcements, slides and other markers of time and place, effectively making it one of the earlier and more successful examples of the documentary style of theater. The play won first place in the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in 1977. This work, directed by Joel Lamangan in its initial presentation in UP, had Fernando Josef in the role of Tatang, and he and the name have been associated with each other ever since.

17. ‘Juan Tamban’ (1979), Malou Leviste Jacob
“Macliing Dulag” (1988) and “Anatomiya ng Korupsyon” (1990) were also written by the same author, but this play antedates both. After its initial production directed by Joel Lamangan, “Juan Tamban” came to be known as the typical “Peta play,” a well-researched piece based on real-life events that portrays contemporary social problems with accuracy and insight, combining realism and nonrealistic styles (particularly the use of a Chorus), the better to convey to the audience the immediacy of the situations presented and the necessary actions that need to be taken (read: unity among society’s various sectors against the oppressors). The play follows the story of a boy named Juan Tamban (played by Toffy Padua) who was reported in the newspapers as eating cockroaches and lizards to attract attention. A social worker, Marina (C.B. Garrucho), investigates his case as part of her master’s thesis and, in the process, comes face to face with the reality of the boy, his family and environment, society and herself. The play won second place in the 1979 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, with Bonifacio Ilagan’s play on the first phase of the Philippine Revolution, “Langit Ma’y Magdilim,” beating it for the top spot. Ateneo Entablado revived the play in early 2014.

18. ‘May-i, May-i’ (1979), Eman Lacaba, Al Santos, Malou Leviste Jacob
The play is based on an original concept by Lacaba that, after his death, was rewritten and completed by Santos and Jacob. Their historical research resulted in a play—set in the period before the Spanish conquest of what came to be known as Maynilad/Manila—that fleshed out through rituals, movements and martial arts insights about our past that threw light on the present. Directed by Lutgardo Labad, the play touches on the relationship among Raha Sulayman, Lakandula, Panday Pira, Magat Salamat and May-i, the daughter of Sulayman with Ligaya (daughter of Pira), whom the newly-arrived Spaniards under De Goiti begin to see as a witch. Upon the defeat of her people and the loss of her loved ones, May-i takes the name of Maria and leaves the mountains of Makiling for a place unknown. The original production at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago was nothing short of spectacular, with its music, movement and production design all helping to create the pre-Hispanic world of the play.

19. ‘May Katwiran ang Katwiran’ (1981), Rolando Tinio
In this play in Filipino, the Senyor must cross forest, rivers and mountains to reach a spot where he will be rescued by a helicopter. Through all this, he takes advantage of his Kasama. When some bandits approach, the Senyor exchanges clothes with the Kasama, who is taken by the bandits and killed when they find out he has no money. As the bandits close in on the Senyor, the helicopter arrives, and a machine gun shoots the bandits as the Senyor flies away to safety. Originally produced by Teatro Pilipino under the direction of the playwright (who also played the Senyor), the play is probably the best example of a Filipino drama written in the Brechtian tradition, where the audience is not expected to empathize with the characters but to reflect instead on the issues and ideas presented. It has also been performed by many school-based theater groups.

20. ‘Bombita’ (1981), Tony Perez
A number of plays by Perez can very well be in this list, but this is the first in his “road” trilogy of plays—the other two being “Biyaheng Timog” (1984) and “Sa North Diversion Road” (1988)—that were inspired by the characters of the myth of the Adarna bird. In this play, which won the Grand Prize in the 1981 CCP Literary Awards and originally produced in the same year by Bulwagang Gantimpala under Tony Espejo’s direction, Air Force recruits that include obedient soldier Corporal Bombita (played by Tommy Abuel) transport a box containing top-secret information to Kalibo, Aklan. The trip becomes a journey of self-discovery for Bombita, who begins to question the value of following orders; he and the rest of the team end up turning the tables on their leader. This work is among the finest examples of psychological realism and the effective use of metaphysical constructs in Philippine drama. Gantimpala Theater Foundation revived the play in 2007, directed by Soxie Topacio, who was in the original cast. Tanghalang Pilipino presented its own production directed by Dennis Marasigan in 2011.

Mario O’Hara’s “Insiang” (2003), directed by Chris Millado
The last five plays cover the period after the “lifting” of Martial Law up to the early ’90s. It is becoming more difficult to keep track of all the new plays being produced, especially with more theater companies producing regularly and the annual Virgin Labfest having become a wellspring of interesting new works. It is inevitable that a number of these recent works will turn out to be new landmarks in the panorama of Philippine theater in the future.

21. ‘Pilipinas Circa 1907’ (1982), Nicanor G. Tiongson
Tiongson was originally asked to update Severino Reyes’ sarswela “Filipinas para los Filipinos” for a college production in 1978, but the result was a new work that revived interest in the genre and proved that the form could effectively take in new content. On the surface, it is about a pair of lovers—Leonor and Emilio and her cousin Pura and Andres—during the American occupation, but interspersed in the narrative are commentaries on laws that prohibit Filipino men from marrying American women, and the antisedition and antiflag law. Its premiere production was directed by Soxie Topacio for Peta; the play was later produced by Tanghalang Pilipino (with additional/reworked music) in 1992 under Nonon Padilla, and was revived in 2007 under Dennis Marasigan’s direction.

22. ‘Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major’ (1985), Chris Millado
The years after the Aquino assassination in 1983 seemed to say “gloves are off” as far as Filipino Protest Theater was concerned. But Millado’s play avoids cliches, highlighting the human dimension while sharply delineating its political milieu. In five distinct scenes, Millado presents a farmer and an urban worker in the midst of Lakbayan, a protest march against the regime; a priest serving as an interpreter between journalists and a woman from the Itawes community who had been tortured and raped; a socialite deciding what to wear for a street demonstration, aware that she will be confronting the military; a wife who can only watch from afar as her slain husband is laid to rest, both of them being part of the underground; and a student and the policeman arresting him who discover common interests between them. The play, originally produced by Peta and directed by Apo Chua, had several repeat performances, and was later produced by Tanghalang Pilipino at the CCP in 1989. Ateneo Entablado restaged the play in 2013, directed by Jethro Tenorio.

23. ‘St. Louis Loves Dem Filipinos’ (1994), Floy Quintos
Perhaps it was the post-US bases period and the impending run-up to the centennial celebration of the Declaration of Philippine Independence that made this play particularly stirring, as it explores the question of Filipino identity using the debacle of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition as its focal point. Then secretary of the interior Dean Worcester had infamously paraded non-Christian tribesmen as examples of Filipino savagery in St. Louis, prompting lowlanders to assert that these subjects were not Filipinos to begin with. The framing device of having a third-generation Filipino-American, Fred Tinawid, as the catalyst for the telling of the play’s narrative also presages other works that began to touch on the dilemmas resulting from the diaspora. Tony Mabesa’s staging was aided by an ensemble that included Joel Lamangan, Rolando Tinio, Alexander Cortez and Amiel Leonardia, working with student actors of Dulaang UP. Quintos, with composer Antonio Africa, later adapted the play into a musical, which was directed by Cortez also for Dulaang UP in 2005.

24. ‘Kalantiaw’ (1994), Rene O. Villanueva
Originally staged as “Isang Kagila-gilalas na Kasinungalingan Tungkol sa Isang Kayumangging Bayan (KKK),” this play was produced by Tanghalang Pilipino under the direction of Robert Cantarella and was also presented as part of the Philippine Festival in Rond Point, Paris, France. It touches on Jose Marco and the famous hoax he perpetrated—the Code of Kalantiaw, because he felt there was a need to prove that Filipinos had a history and culture existing long before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers (a subject that Quintos also visits in his own play, “Fake”). Performed by the Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company playing multiple roles in the original production, “Kalantiaw” won first prize in the 1994 Palanca Awards.

25. ‘Insiang’ (2003), Mario O’Hara
O’Hara did not just adapt his screenplay from the Lino Brocka film; he situated it where he believed it really belonged—the slums of Pasay. And the play he wrote tautly brought together elements of Pinoy radio/teleserye dramas and Brechtian theater with the help of a ubiquitous narrator that not only pieced scenes together, but commented on the action about to happen or had just taken place. Helped by the wrap-around staging of director Chris Millado and set designer Bobot Lota, the audience is transported into a world where they are literally in the midst of the action, transforming them into voyeurs as the story of Insiang (Sheenly Vee Gener in the original production), her mother Pacing (Malou de Guzman) and their lover Dado (Ricky Davao) unfolds right next to them.

And seven more plays, which could easily replace any one already in this list:
1. “Panahon ni Cristy” (1978), Edgardo Maranan
2. “In Dis Korner” (1978), Reuel Aguila
3. “Canuplin: Isang Improbisasyon sa Buhay at mga Palabas ng Isang Komedyanteng Pilipino” (1980), Manuel Pambid
4. “In My Father’s House” (1989), Elsa Martinez Coscolluela
5. “DH” (1992), Ricardo Lee
6. “Radiya Mangandiri” (1993), Rody Vera
7. “Noli Me Tangere” (1995), Bienvenido Lumbera

(NOTE:  This is the article as it was published in the August 23, 2014 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  An earlier version comprising five parts first appeared in the writer's Facebook Notes.)

Friday, June 20, 2014


Every year, the Virgin Labfest assembles an outstanding assortment of DIRECTORS and PERFORMERS, coming from various groups and persuasion, brought together by a shared desire to do theater. I have always been awed by the suprises I find in the Labfest, and I should like to think that the playwrights whose works are being performed for the first time as well as the audiences that watch the performances should only be too eager to rush to the CCP from June 25 to July 6, 2014.

The names of the playwrights are in all of the posters and collaterals, but those who will be trooping to the Cultural Center of the Philippines for the Virgin Labfest 10:The Harvest will also be seeing the works of any of the following Directors and Actors.    

JK Anicoche  Emman Dela Cruz  Law Fajardo  Audie Gemora  Rolando Inocencio  Jenny Jamora  Ed Lacson Jr.  Melvin Lee  Joshua Lim So   Dennis Marasigan  Chris Martinez  Chris Millado  Tami Monsod  Marlon Rivera  Denisa Reyes  Roobak Valle 

Kiki Baento  Liesl Batucan  Jelson Bay  Kristine Bernal  Bernardo Bernardo  Delphine Buencamino  Bong Cabrera  Roeder Camañag  Hermie Concepcion  Chrome Cosio  Malou Crisologo  Dolly De Leon  Hannah Dela Guerra  Nor Domingo  Hans Eckstein  Meann Espinosa  Mayen Estanero  Karyl Factora  Topper Fabregas  Lenlen Frial  Karen Gaerlan  Thea Gloria  Noemi Manikan Gomez  Karenina Haniel  Harlequin Theater Guild  Jean Judith Javier  Angelina Kanapi  Skyzx Labastilla  Gian Miguel Landayan  Antonio Lane  Sherry Lara  Russell Legaspi  Isabelle Martinez  Joanne Marie Magno  Juliene Mendoza  Mario Mendoza  Mosang  Wenah Nagales  Uleb Nieto  Paolo O’Hara  Peewee O’Hara  Cris Pasturan  Crispin Pineda  Ces Quesada  Ronirick Salcedo Romal  Meila Romero Payawal  Junjun Quintana   Sarah Salazar  Nazer Salcedo  Opaline Santos  Joel Saracho  Alison Segarra  Zandra Summer  Jonathan Tadioan  Yong Tapang  Noel Taylo  Onyl Torres  Chino Veguillas  Adrienne Vergara  Marco Viaña  Randy Villarama  Anika Zabala  Rem Zamora