Jul 5, 2017

[Theater] Virgin Labfest 13 - Set C Review


It's weird to be among social circles that include friends who have either submitted works to the annual Virgin Labfest or perform in the yearly show. And it's not because we are among world-famous personalities or anything but more because of the nature of the VLF being a great equalizer in Philippine theater. This year they entertained almost 200 script submissions and had to winnow things down to 12 main plays and 5 script readings.

The Virgin Labfest 13: Wagas brings with it a new set of untried, untested, unstaged productions telling all sorts of different stories. These one act plays are divided into four different sets of 3 shows to make a sensible schedule. And the tickets for these shows go by really fast year after year after year.

This year was the first time the annual event spread to additional theaters at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In past years they were mostly in one small theater but now they've managed to grow into more venues, which is good thing for this little festival.


The Virgin Labest 13: Pure was staged at the Culural Center of the Philippines from June 28 - July 16, 2017. Set C consists of three one-act plays - Si Dr. Dolly Dalisay at Ang Mga Ladybugs, Ang Bata sa Bus Stop and Dear & Unhappy.

Si Dr. Dolly Dalisay at Ang Mga Ladybugs was written by Layeta Bucoy and directed by Jonathan Tadioan. Leticia (Celeste Legaspi-Gallardo) is a contractual technician with a colorful past. As she is practicing for the big dance contest, her daughter, Dr. Dolly Dalisay (Dolly de Leon) arrives to get her to sign off on a report she had prepared for her. But her mother refuses as she will only certify a report she has prepared herself, as was taught to her by her deceased husband, Dolly's father.

Was I expecting to get sucked into a drama piece based in the high stakes world of agricultural research? Of course not, but that's exactly what happened in this clever one-act play. The story builds nicely and it has a pretty good rhythm to things that makes it flow well. Celeste is brilliant and Dolly gets some key lines in from time to time about how people care more about rice versus pechay. Some parts of the script felt a little repetitive like a good job being repeated to often but on the whole this was a great play.
Rating: 4/5

Ang Bata sa Bus Stop was written by Sari Saysay and directed by Topher Fabregas. A man (Jojo Cayabyab) is waiting at a bus stop but it looks like it will take a while as the next bus isn't due for another 30 minutes. As he muses aloud about his life as a priest that he has left behind after 20 years, he is joined by a rather plucky boy (Omar Uddin) who never seems to run out of questions. As the two get to know one another, the boy reveals that he would like to become a priest one day and the older man does his best to answer. And as the two get to know one another better, there is more to be revealed and perhaps realized that they expect.

I feel like in every VLF that I attend, there are certain themes that come up over and over and over again but of course explored in different ways. The theme behind this one becomes apparent quite soon enough and so you have a rather moody thought piece here. Cayabyab delivers his lines in an almost stereotypical manner when it comes to Filipino theater - think like a Balagtasan but maybe a little faster but with the same sing-song quality. Young Omar Uddin is a gem of an actor and his performance is what saves and perhaps makes this play. It's worth seeing pretty much for him alone.
Rating: 3/5

Dear & Unhappy was written by Carlo Vergara and directed by Ricky Villabona. A young woman (Cris Villonco) is lost in the woods when she encounters a strange shaman called an Alpha Babaylan (Bernardo Bernardo) who reveals that she has the potential to change the very course of history should she be willing to pay the price. But given this is at the height of the Philippine revolution, that price may be a bit too much for her to pay.

It is striking that this play is mostly in English and features some rather prominent acting talent to boot. But beyond that, Carlo Vergara nicely dove into a somewhat footnote in history and crafting an "Elseworlds" style story around the whole thing. And given his history he makes sure to include relevant fantasy elements to push this story into a truly magical direction. Major kudos to Lemuel Silvestre and Denise Nayve did a great job with all the more magical stuff in the show. Villonco and Bernardo were great together, and it probably helps we last saw them work together on Red Turnip's The Nether. It's a fun show with some lofty dialog but balanced with timely, witty comedic moments.
Rating: 4/5

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