Jul 10, 2018

[Theater] Virgin LabFest 14 - Set D 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 C.

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.

Marawi Musicale: (written by Tyron Casumpang, directed by Ariel Yonzon, music by Maynard de Guzman) Jhong (Jonathan P. Tadioan) runs the kitchen for an evacuation center in Marawi. The city remains under siege by the military trying to quell the uprising attributed to ISIS but Jhong together with Salanka (Junelie Barrios Villegas) and Khalid (Poppert A. Bernadas) focus instead on preparing enough food to feed the hundreds of evacuees. They're later joined by Khristina (Lhorvie Ann M. Nuevo) and Richard (Nazer D. Salcedo), who volunteers from Manila who try to uplift the spirits of the displaced children with music.

Amoy Pulbos Ang Mga Alabok Sa Ilalim Ng Riles Ng Tren: (written by Lino Balmes, directed by Tess Jamias) focuses on live-in partners Chona (Marjorie Lorico) and Ramil (Bong Cabrera) who constantly squabble in their shanty home beneath a railroad. Their arguments beneath the bridge are juxtaposed with Ramil's appearance on the noontime game show "Pera o Bayong" where he had a chance at the jackpot.

River Lethe: (written by Allan Lopez, directed by Chris Martinez)  is set in some seedy motel where Abe (Paolo O'Hara) and Mara (Dolly De Leon) meet up for tryst. Their conversation reveals that they're both cancer patients and are not married to one another but come to this hotel to let loose and just be together. As the night progresses and they work through various sexual positions, they also talk about their condition and the state of their lives and their fears for the future.

What I Liked: Marawi Musicale was pretty impressive and if anything quite ambitious for a one-act play. They had a fair number of songs performed by very talented actors and it certainly took the audience away to the war-torn city of Marawi for that period. Pulbos also had some seriously powerful moments thanks to Lorico and Cabrera. They put a lot of work into bringing their characters to life, and that's not easy for the sort of long-term couple who are constantly at each other's throats in the way Chona and Ramil were.

River Lethe really struck me given the poignancy and candor of the writing that went into the production. The two characters felt very real and the pains and struggles they shared would be familiar to anyone who has had a loved one undergo treatment for cancer.

What Could Have Been Better: The plot for Marawi felt like they had the scope of a full musical in mind and not necessarily a one-act play, and so it felt like there was a bit too much going on and not every story was resolved to a satisfactory degree. The sub-plot involving why Richard was so surly felt irrelevant to the greater story and somehow tacked on to things. Pulbos was similarly ambitious but didn't quite know how to end the story - or at least that's how it felt. It certainly had an interesting dark turn to things and I'm not sure if the ending was the best way to cap things off.

River Lethe had strange dancers accompanying the scenes and I couldn't fully appreciate their role in the greater scheme of things. They were funny during the opening since they help remind the audience that this is still a comedy and it's okay to laugh. However their latter appearances just felt odd and disjoint from the greater narrative.

TL;DR: Set D of the Virgin LabFest had an interesting mix of stories and on the whole had some great ideas to put forward. None of them are perfect, but that's pretty much the brand of the VLF given these untried and untested plays but they certainly show a lot of promise.

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