Sep 27, 2012

[Theater] Bona (PETA)

In recent years, I've been making a more conscious effort to invest more time in Filipino plays. And while I'll always be a Broadway baby at heart, that doesn't mean that I shouldn't give local creative ventures more of a chance whenever possible.

Ironically enough, Eugene Domingo has played quite a role in my efforts to better appreciate both Philippine movies and now Philippine theater. I had first caught her in one-act production known as Welcome to Intelstar by Chris Martinez. I didn't quite realize who she was at the time until much later when she started to become more popular in the movie market with comedies like Kimmy Dora and many others.

I had only seen one other PETA production in recent history - this being the hit play Care Divas, and I had enjoyed that production very, very much. And having Eugene involved in this play had me even more excited to see it, even if I had never seen the movie that it had been based on.

But perhaps I'm already getting ahead of myself here.

Synopsis: Bona is a sort of modern comedic adaptation of the famous Lino Brocka movie of the same name. This Filipino-language production had been directed by Soxie Topacio and was adapted for the stage by Layeta Bucoy. The current run had begun last August 24 and was set to end September 23, however an extended run has been announced for September 28-30, 2012 at the PETA Theater in New Manila, Quezon City.

Our titular character, Bona (Eugene Domingo), is a devotee of the Black Nazarene and quite the busy bee. Apart from being a call center agent, she also runs a variety of side jobs online like fortune telling and teaching English to Koreans. But she needs all these jobs in order to help support her family - in this case her sister Binky (Olive Nieto / She Maala), who never finished college and Binky's son Bingo (BJ Forbes) is just about to begin his higher education.

And when her birthday doesn't quite go as happily as she had hoped despite the efforts to cheer her up by her gay best friend Baldy (Joey Paras / Phil Noble) together with his boyfriend Raf (Gab Santos), she ends up tuning in to "Star of Tomorrow", the latest reality show from Channel 72.   There she first learns about Gino Sanchez (Edgar Allan Guzman), one of the contestants on the show. His tale of hardship and the deathbed promise to his mother that he'd become an actor one day somehow wins her over. And soon she becomes more and more obsessed with Gino, to the detriment of everything else in her life.

Now Eugene is pretty much as funny as could be expected. She has a natural flair for comedic timing and her wit proves most appropriate for the shifting nature of the stage. Like in any live stage production, there were a few hiccups here and there and you could trust in Eugene to deliver a timely one-liner to get the audience focused on the story instead of the stage mishaps or what not. But beyond the comedy, Eugene also handles the heavier moments quite well, thus adding to the overall experience of the production.

I loved how the writing and direction behind the play ended up being inherently queer. And we're not just talking about the presence of gay characters like Baldy but a lot of the dialog given to Eugene was pretty sassy indeed. And don't me started on whoever decided that it would be a good idea to have Edgar Allan Guzman walking around in his underwear for more than half of his scenes.

And I'm definitely not complaining!

Going back to the queer element of things, I greatly enjoyed the performance by John Paras as Baldy. In many sequences he pretty much stole the show, and this isn't just because he delivers a lot of his lines in a much louder, attention-grabbing voice. He just had such a powerful on-stage presence that really captured one's attention whenever he was involved in a scene. And yes, I enjoyed his modest chemistry with his "boyfriend" Raf, although I was a tad annoyed every time the audience had to react to any on-stage gay kissing. We still have a long way to go before really reaching a point of full acceptance.

The play was a nice complex tapestry of comedy and drama and I can understand how they tried to retain the original story of the movie in this production. And yes, I'm only basing my understanding of the movie via the Playbill sold at the show, but still it's clear how the writers went about things. And this is no small feat considering the need to balance the desire for comedy, the efforts to bring the story into the present day plus the weighty drama that made up the original message of the story. So kudos to the PETA team for putting this play together as well as they did!

As is the way of such things, the play had a relatively lighter first act and then a much heavier second half to things. But it's a natural progression to things, especially in theater. Still, the cast had a pretty powerful story to tell and managed to do so in quite the admirable manner.

Bona is a unique stage production and I wouldn't be surprise if PETA doesn't schedule additional runs even after this weekend's extended one. Should you have a chance to, be sure to get tickets for yourselves to see the show, and this is despite the challenges of the physical setup of the theater itself. Regardless, I still rate the play a full 5 crazy things that Bona does as Gino's #1 fan out of a possible 5.
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  1. I wrote my own review of Bona, which I posted here: The performance of John Paras as Baldy seemed to be his natural way. This was confirmed when I saw Bwakaw and he was acting pretty much the same way.

  2. Me and my friend were talking about this yesterday, because I wasn't able to watch with her last Saturday :(

    She said it's very funny and the characters are interesting. I love the scene about the doorknob haha! :3

  3. Wow! Well-written review, Rocky! Which makes me wanna kill my neighbor now for cancelling our plan of going to the show - which happens to be it's last weekend. :'(

  4. Eugene Domingo is a really great actress and comedian and comedian and she'll definitely do justice for Bona's character.

  5. She was so much fun! Totally brought the character to life in a manner that felt worth of the praise for the original movie and yet still distinctly her own performance.

  6. Thanks for the compliment! And such a shame you missed it! With luck they'll be able to schedule a repeat run, although I imagine it will depend on Eugene Domingo's continued availability.

  7. The door knob dialog was PRICELESS! That one scene deserves to be developed into a movie of its own, hehe.

  8. Left a comment on your review as well. =)

    I really enjoyed Paras, even if his role was rather stereotypical. At least he performed it well and certainly commanded the audience's attention.

  9. I watched the play Bona and it was fantastic! Ms Eugene Domingo is an admirable actor. I want to commend the casts as well. A lot of people are waiting for the next stage play. ^^

  10. Glad shows like this are making theater more approachable for more people!