I completely forgot that I had agreed to come to watch the Virgin Labfest at the CCP today because a friend, Lawrence Fajardo, was directing one of the new one-act plays that was to show.
The Virgin Labfest happens every year; it is a showcase of new plays that have never been staged and, if I’m not mistaken, are the products of a yearly 2-week workshop for budding dramatists. I had attended one several years ago when my friend, theatre and commercial director Melvin Lee asked me to come to watch Agnoia by Lisa Magtoto, which I enjoyed immensely. It was really good and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of Filipino theatre. It is unfortunate that, when I was growing up, I was introduced to a whole lot of original Filipino plays that were badly staged and over-directed. I did not have a high regard for it until I saw Agnoia. That changed everything for me.
So, I was happy to be at the CCP again to watch Virgin Labfest 9. I went to watch Imbisibol by Heryln Alegre, which is directed by Law Fajardo but the shows come in sets of three. So I was also able to catch Kapit by George De Jesus III and directed by Melvin Lee and Kudeta! Kudeta! by Jimmy Flores and directed by Airel Yonzon.
Imbisibol is just totally inspired. First of all, it was an amazing play. The script was so intelligent — funny and dark and poignant, all at the same time — and it was so layered but it showed great characteristics of the Filipino in another country (in this case, Japan) but without overstating or being obvious about it. Law is an excellent filmmaker but this is his first professional foray into stage directing and he shows many inspired moments including a difficult scene with a television set that plays right on cue as the script demands it and a moment when the four characters on stage group themselves into two and talk, at the same time, giving you the impression that it’s really happening and it’s not staged for the theatre; it created the illusion of an actual moment happening. It was so inspired because the scene was not a narrative point where if you missed the details of either conversation, it wouldn’t have affected the whole theme or plot of the play. It happens just at the right time and at the right moment to make us forget, for one second, we are watching a play, and gives us this feeling that we are watching a real moment in time. Truly inspired.
What made Imbisibol even more amazing was that it was announced right at the beginning of the play that the lead actress playing one of the parts had to step out for health reasons and the stage manager was to read her parts for the performance. The stage manager, Amihan Ruiz, knew the blocking by heart and had to imbibe the role and the words in four hours, and while she did bring her script on stage, she barely looked at it and she played the part extremely well. She was on point, her rapport with the other characters were very strong, and she was able to bring a wholly nuanced performance to the role. It was amazing and true triumph for her.
Kapit is a beautiful duet between a young man and an older woman and their rather complicated relationship. Played by Sherry Lara and Chrome Cosio, the story of the two unlikely lovers are revealed over an argument that bubbles steadily and explodes to reveal deep, dark secrets. It’s a powerful play and leaves indelible marks in the heart.
Kudeta! Kudeta! was the last of the three plays and the least successful, by a long mile. It was pretentious and badly thought out. It made no clear points and resorted to gimmicks. The acting was quite bad except for Myke Solomon who did admirably for a very weak script and could not save the entire performance. It was messy. It was an awful way to end the afternoon, but the two plays that preceded it were so good that it was easy not to be disturbed by how bad Kudeta! Kudeta! was. At the same time, had Kudeta! Kudeta! been the first play or the second play, it would have created a disconnect between the rest of the shows so I think it was best that it was the last.
I’m glad to have gone and I wish to be able to catch more plays (both Filipino and international) because it’s really an amazing experience, to be in the theatre, and to watch a play unfold the way it does right before your eyes. It’s such a magical experience and I am so happy that the place was filled to the brim. People still go to watch plays. That’s such a wonderful thing.
In fact, Law had said that I should try out for Virgin Labfest next year. It’s in my head. I’m actually thinking of doing it. How exciting! To write a play. I’ve never really done it before. I think in film and poetry, I don’t know if I can do it. I have a year to try.