VIRGIN LABFEST 13 Review: Set B

It’s that time of the year again folks! Our favorite play fest, Virgin Labfest, is on again at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. VLF is now 13 years old, and this year, it features 12 plays which were carefully chosen among the 192 scripts submitted.

I decided to watch Set B last Friday night and I was just astounded to see what VLF has become now compared to what it was when I started watching three years ago. There’s undeniably more people and longer lines outside the theater waiting enthusiastically for the shows this year. It has a new home as well in Aurelio Tolentino Theater, which was converted into an intimate venue, and it is much bigger than the usual home of VLF at Huseng Batute. Huseng Batute is now reserved for the Revisited Set E shows.

The festival has truly grown from its humble beginnings in 2005!

Boses ng Masa

Playwright: Joshua Lim So

Director: Guelan Luarca

The first thing you will notice in this play are the monitors set up on and beside the stage. These monitors started the performance and quickly grabbed the curiosity of the audience with a quote from Umberto Eco’s Essay, How to Recognize a Porn Film. The play is set in 1994 and revolves around two members of an election campaign team and their moral conscience. Their candidate is lagging behind the polls but they have uncovered a sex abuse video involving their political rival’s son. Chris (Jerome Dawis) is hesitant to use the video for the election and rub salt to the wound of the victim’s family, however, Hector (Renan Bustamante) is feeling otherwise.

The first to middle part of the play was a little dragging. The script is really smart and wants to tell a lot of things and I really do not know what went wrong. Maybe it was the directing or the acting but it sure was less than what it should feel. Bustamante gave a powerful performance, but for Dawis, I think he can work more on his acting because there were times when it felt like his movements were so calculated and he didn’t look natural on stage.

Things got better towards the end. The end, specifically, was the most show stealing moment and would really make the audience think about their own morality if they were the characters themselves. Boses ng Masa is your common political play, but its message will never get old. It paralleled the rape of a woman to the rape of our country and the question is, until when can we tolerate this?

 

Ang Mga Puyong

Playwright: Ryan Machado

Director: Ricardo Magno

With a story setting I’ve seen a couple of times before in other plays, I initially had low expectation from this performance. On the contrary, it turned out to be my favorite among the performances that night!

It started with a charming rural scene in which Andoy (Reynald Santos) was on a rice field listening to romantic radio dramas and writing stories on his notebook when Pido (Ahmed Maulana) came; and their conversations turned from just merely deciding if they will get circumcised, to darker confessions about their past.

This play reminded me of VLF 10’s Sa Lilim, written by Reya Laplana. Both plays involve two young people in a rural setting having awkward confrontations. However, Ang Mga Puyong is undeniably more well-written and fun than Sa Lilim. The strength of plays like these most often lies within the performance of the actors, and that exactly where Ang Mga Puyong hit the jackpot. Santos and Maulana had a really good rapport. Santos, specifically, had a radiating charm on stage. It is worth noting how the play successfully portrayed the real life banter between normal kids. Even the darker topic of the play was treated like how real kids would treat it; which is something that they will quarrel about but something that would also fade out a little while until they become friends again. The directing choices did not disappoint as well. Every blocking and movement was consistent to the context of the play.

With all the complexities and wide range of emotions, Ang Mga Puyong truly felt like a wonderful wild ride.

 

Hindi Ako Si Darna

Playwrights: U.Z. Eliserio and Maynard Manansala

Director: Andoy Ranay

The most publicized and star-studded play this year is about the iconic superhero, Darna (Tetchie Agabayani), in her sixties wearing a conservative white sleeping gown. In addition to that, it is also about a perky waitress (Kim Molina), an old Kapitan Barbell (Jay Gonzaga), a still petulant Ding (Ricci Chan), a drug addict (Ekis Jimenez), and a flamboyant Valentina (John Lapus).

Honestly, the first part of the play was confusing. I mean I was like, what is going on with these pointless conversations? Until those pointless conversations turned into seemingly commentaries which have current social and political relevance. The writer gave a slap on topics like the war on drugs and women empowerment in a very loud and resounding way. Even if it features a person dealing with old age, the play still had this very young and pop vibe. It was also the most animated among the three plays in that set.

Gonzaga, Chan, Jimenez and Lapus were the ones who really kept the momentum of laughter. Nevertheless, I give credit to Agabayani for showing the different and more fun side of her. Let’s also not forget about the outstanding singing parts of Molina. She really has it!

The only problem I have with this play is that it seems to have no solid story at all. It felt like a series of social commentaries and funny banters that were put together. But still, whatever it turned out to be, it was still entertaining.

 

VLF is truly one of a kind experience. Go catch these performances and the other plays as well until July 16! See you folks at the theaters!

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