Jul 3, 2018

[Theater] Virgin LabFest 14 - Set B Review

The Virgin LabFest is an annual celebration of playwrights that stages at least 12 new original plays by those who find the nerve to submit their stories. It's definitely one of the more interesting festivals in the cultural calendar for the year and we've been doing our best to support the plays that involve contributions from friends whether in terms of the writing or the actual performances. 

This year's festival is now in full swing and we've already manage to catch one of the sets of plays. This review is for Set B.

Synopsis: Virgin LabFest is a festival of "untried, untested, and unstaged" one-act plays, which is now on its 14th year. This year's VLF is called Silip, which means to peek or catch a glimpse or something. This year's festival runs from 27 June to 15 July 2018 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The festival is divided into sets of 3 plays - 12 new ones for the year and 3 "revisited" plays from the prior festival.

Rosas (or Roses written by Jose Dennis Teodosio and directed by Charles Yee) is set in a home for the aged  where the now-blind photographer Anding (Crispin Pineda) reflects on his life on a swing set outside. He is eventually joined by Merto (Bembol Roco), who apparently used to be his roommate at the home before Anding left. And as the two discuss the events that lead up to Anding leaving, other secrets are revealed. 

Ang Mga Propesyunal (or The Professionals written by Sari Saysay and directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna) is the story of three street children collecting junk to be sold for scrap and hopefully end with enough to eat for the day. As is their habit they play a game of being in different professions based on whatever uniforms or thrown away items they can use to define who they are. Today Pia (Krystle Campos) is a journalist, Roel (Arthur Castro) is a doctor and Lauro (Jian Markus Tayco) is a policeman and their play becomes very real as their discussions echo current problems in the adult world.

Edgar Allan Hemmingway (written by Carlo Vergara and directed by George de Jesus III) has George (Guelan Luarca) visiting his now famous friend from college Levi (Rafa Siguion), who has achieved success by publishing a now bestselling novel. After years in the US he's finally back in town with his lover Barns (Ricci Chan) but once the two reconnect it seems that George is hoping to understand what led to Levi's success given his own years of failure as a writer. But as is the way of such stories, there's more to Levi's writing that what is known to the world.

What I Liked: Ang Mga Propesyunal stands out for a very strong and thought-provoking commentary on many different aspects of life in the Philippines while using child actors to add an odd chilling twinge to things that makes it even more impactful. The talent involved in the play demonstrated acting abilities well beyond their years despite the rather mature dialog and the physically demanding performance given they were still kids at play moving down the train tracks. Plus really innovative set design not just because of the tracks but the clever use of sort of planter boxes around the stage used to hold the various bits of trash and refuse.

Edgar Allan Hemmingway had a rather elaborate set that really set the tone for things. And given this is a Carlo Vergara play (and the reason we watched this set), the dialog was witty. It was clever in how it used well-timed humor to help diffuse moments but also tied in more subtle foreshadowing that helped setup the big reveal at the end. 

Special mention has to go out to Bembol Roco for a rather intense performance in Rosas including the sort of old school intensity that allows an actor to really internalize the needed emotions and cry on stage just when he needed to.

What Could Have Been Better: Rosas was the hardest play for us to appreciate as it was mainly a talking head piece between two characters with a lot of detail but a less than easy to follow timeline of events. It started with Anding literally going over the years of his life through his photos but whether or not those events would tie into all the other stuff and him having already been in he home and out and then now back again made it harder to understand the story.

I'm not sure if the set for Edgar Allan Hemmingway needed to be as complicated as it was in order to convey the setting and story that it wanted to. It was impressive but maybe a bit of a distraction at times and in VLF you really come to appreciate how less can be more. 

TL;DR: Set B of this year's Virgin LabFest is a great set of plays and in itself quite the entertainment journey. Ang Mga Propesyunal really stands out as a special play that you really needs to see and the set nicely ends on a clever, thoughtful note with Edgar Allan Hemmingway

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