29 March 2019

Looking for Umbrella Jack

An old man holding a decrepit umbrella slowly walks away — no, towards? us. That's as vivid an image as I can remember, and that's all it takes to keep my spirit disturbed for years.

The first and last time I saw Umbrella Jack was in grade school. Since then I've forgotten the story, never mind any scene. I can't even recall if it's a TV special or a movie, or if I have ever seen the whole thing.

Thankfully the title is stuck in my head. So when the image creeps back into my consciousness, as it regularly does, I do a quick online search. Nada. But the Internet always delivers, doesn't it? If not sooner, much, much later.

Again, I don't know what triggered the memory but I looked for Umbrella Jack. And found him.

Like an itch scratched, a mystery solved. But better. To watch it the second time and from this vantage point — I'm having a most satisfying cry. Now I notice something I haven't before, a pertinent detail that escapes my imagination whenever I conjure the old man's figure: he walks in the sun.

25 March 2019

Beauty sans terror: Notes on 'Angels in America – Part 1'

Angels in America is big. The two-part play comprises eight acts, gathering a host of personal and political themes enlaced with phantasmagoria. Part One: Millennium Approaches has recently seen its Manila premiere and among all the things I find fascinating about it, what surprises me most is how the show feels rather small.

Granted, the first installment is taut by design, and director Bobby Garcia has translated Tony Kushner's narrative as clearly as possible. Too clinical in my opinion that the magic has taken a backseat.

Unfamiliar references in the script aren't necessarily stumbling blocks to my viewing experience, thanks to the actors who provide a strong sense of what they want from their audience and fellow actors. You don't need to understand the punchline, so to speak; they'll tell you when it's time to laugh.

And it is through the cast in vulnerable, angered moments that we're engulfed in grandeur — whether it's Art Acuña (Roy Cohn) performing verbal gymnastics as he rejects a "homosexual disease"; or Angeli Agbayani (Harper Amaty Pitt) drawing a confession from her husband and fabricating a secret of her own to even the playing field; or Nelsito Gomez (Louis Ironson) begging his partner to simply not die.

In Act 3 the comedy is deliberately raised, somewhat curtailing the dread brought on by the characters' circumstances and which culminates with the entrance of the Angel. We gaze at a divine creature floating; but we're more in awe of her dress than terrified by her presence.

That said, Atlantis Productions cracks a profoundly engaging story wide open. It's a shame if they wouldn't stage Part 2: Perestroika in the near future and let audiences in this run of Millennium Approaches receive the full reward of their patience.


Performance details: Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Atlantis Productions; director: Bobby Garcia. (Carlos P Romulo Auditorium, 22 March 2019)

Read notes on the book here.

19 March 2019

Notes on 'Every Brilliant Thing'

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan. The Sandbox Collective; director: Jenny Jamora. (Maybank Performing Arts Theater, 15 March 2019)

"If you get through your entire life without ever once feeling crushingly depressed, then you probably haven't been paying attention," says Angela in Every Brilliant Thing. Quickly comes to mind Phillip Lopate's assertion in the stunning essay, Against Joie De Vivre: "To be happy, one must pay attention, but to be unhappy one must have also paid attention."

The brighter side of the paradox is toned up in Duncan Macmillan's interactive play, recently staged by The Sandbox Collective. In an attempt to bring hope to her suicidal mother, Angela (Teresa Herrera) creates for her a long list of brilliant things.

List-making is a rather brilliant thing in itself. So commonplace a practice, we forget that our every day is a struggle at stitching together fragments — of ideas, moments and images — to form something that resembles a life. The same goes for the play, which great success is in hiding the machinery of ice-breaking under the guise of a story.

It moves in centripetal motion, talking about suicide without talking about it. There's no character exposition here. No diving deep into a depressive's psyche. To us, Angela is a protagonist, but to the playwright, she simply is NARRATOR, someone who could be played by any actor of any gender, age, or ethnicity. Macmillan even requests that the word not be mentioned in souvenir programs or production materials.

And the ruse works. A generic character allows viewers to easily inhabit her mental space; and continue the threads of thought she has started. Her name is in fact a product of the improv variables the night I watched — and it might as well be anyone's name: mine, yours, a friend's.

Teresa Herrera stars in the the one-woman show.

Herrera takes on a more serious, melancholic approach to the Narrator. Which doesn't mean that she has sucked out the fun from the script. Rather, she justifies its improvisational design by being vulnerable, thereby highlighting trust (to the audience and what they represent in the unfolding narrative).

When we find ourselves in a shaky situation, what do we do? Seek help, the show seems to recommend. It goes both ways. Whom should we ask? How should we respond to difficult questions — whether it's a straightforward, "Why did mom kill herself?" or a vague yet loaded, "How are you?"

Every Brilliant Thing has no pretensions of solving mental health issues. What it does effectively is discuss the matter in the terms it prescribes, first of all by putting a spotlight on the taboo. As a theater experience, director Jenny Jamora has managed to provide a feel-good, resonant performance that is neither gimmicky nor dismissively platitudinous.

We can misconstrue the show's fixation with the positives as an unproductive act of shunning the negatives. For me, it's an acknowledgement of our minds' impenetrability. Who knows what really goes on in there? If and when we decide to speak to another, will words ever be a reliable translator of our innermost selves?

11 March 2019

My Rita Ora diary

From my 2018 IG stories archive

This had long been sitting pretty on top of my wish list, and I take it as the Universe's personal response to my prayers when Rita Ora scheduled the Philippine leg of her Phoenix Tour on my birthday.


Songs I was happy she sang:

1. Doing It — A magical, youthful bop, which I hoped she'd perform but didn't bet on, considering the single's not entirely hers.
2. Lonely Together — The dance arrangement didn't erase the melancholy brought by the lyrics, not to mention Avicii's absence.
3. Hot Right Now — Where I realized that (1) I should've bought a VIP Standing ticket and (2) my hair isn't amenable to head-banging. Should remedy the latter, stat.
4. RIP — Any "old" Rita was welcome, even this grower.
5. Keep Talking — My favorite unreleased track from "Phoenix".


Songs I was bummed she didn't sing:

1. How We Do — Would've brought the house down. WTH, Rita?!
2. RADIOACTIVE! — THE song that made me a fangirl.
3. Body On Me — Would've had the time of my life gyrating while belting, Ah-yay-yayay-yay yay-yay yay yay-yay. Heh.


Pop music, I understand, makes storybook characters out of its stars. We spend resources on artists whom we can relate with or aspire to be like, bad music notwithstanding. I'm not above this machinery, as I earlier shared: I'm an Ora admirer because she's a fun yet mature, drama-free girlfriend.

It's the consistency of hits, however, that continues to draw me in. The criticism regarding interchangeability has merits. Anywhere and Lonely Together sound alike. So do Let You Love Me and I Only Want You. But I'm willing to overlook these given the many wonderful musical decisions she's made thus far. One of which is writing more ballads that showcase her voice.


I knew she would be amazing live, but her band was something else. They rocked and reminded me of Rita's rock-and-roll spirit.


Hands were up. So glad to be among those who really wanted to be there. Those who'd lose a little breath with you upon recognizing the song a few notes were leading to.

In my section, specifically my row, everyone was responding to the moment. Last night I saw proof against claims that we simply watch live shows through our phone screens nowadays. There were the occasional documentation, of course (as in this blog). Occasional being the operative word.

We all lost it in I Will Never Let You Down. Perhaps it was the timing — all of us had already warmed up to each other. So when Rita commanded, "On your feet," on our feet we were! Even the reticent was eventually swayed by the energy.


Rita, like most foreign celebrities or visitors coming here, had learned to say, Mahal kita. I've got a new word for the singer-songwriter: Her debut concert in Manila was bitin. She couldn't come back any sooner.

10 March 2019

An unleaving

Happy birthday to me. 36. What an unremarkable number, lacking the symbolic glamour. Oh, was about to say there's no symmetry in it either, except hey, it's six squared. And that's pretty cool. Maybe with age comes less time but more skill in unveiling.

David Yezzi

Paper creased is
with a touch
made less by half,
reduced as much

again by a second
fold — so the wish
to press our designs
can diminish

what we hold.
But by your hand's
careful work,
I understand

how this unleaving
makes of what's before
something finer
and finally more.

07 March 2019

Notes on 'Coriolano'


That it's difficult to pin down his tragic flaw tells of the ambiguity that Marco Viaña strives for in his portrayal of Cayo Marcio (Caius Marcius), William Shakespeare's lesser known hero in the lesser known tragedy, Coriolanus.


A quick summary:

After frustrating Volscian General Tulo Aufidio in a war in the City of Corioli, Patrician Soldier Marcio is dubbed "Coriolano" and later on nominated for Consulship by the Roman Senate. The position entails soliciting votes — a frivolous practice in Coriolano's eyes.

With much prodding from his confidant, Menenio Agripa (who is also a Roman Senator), Coriolano relents and eventually gathers enough votes to become Consul. Meanwhile, Tribunes Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto (his disapproving rivals) have persuaded the Plebeians to rescind their "voice".

The turnaround drives Coriolano into verbal, almost violent outrage. His people, in turn, banish him from Rome. Now vengeful, he seeks Aufidio and together they plot the destruction of his home.

Upon hearing news of the impending assault, Menenio tries to talk sense into our protagonist, though without any success. In the end, only his mother, Volumnia is able to get through Coriolano, compelling him to make peace with the Romans.

Along with a group of Volscians, Aufidio kills Coriolano for thwarting their plans.

Brian Sy and Marco Viaña are Aufidio and Coriolano, respectively in Tanghalang Pilipino's production of Corialono.


As a warrior of noble descent, Viaña's Coriolano is powerful and fearless. As a politician, he is stubborn with zero charisma. He refuses to sell himself by showing his battle scars and pandering to the common man, whom he despises in the first place.

He operates on pure emotion. What we may call nowadays as being "(too) true to oneself", behaving with neither malice nor hidden agenda. One moment he is ready to slay everyone, including his friends and family — whom he'll be lost without; another moment he is on his knees, crying.

This is the tragedy: For all his strength and status, Coriolano remains a small, laughable force against his circumstances. Of course he has agency, but he reacts rather than acts. Aufidio hits the nail on the head when he deems Coriolano lacking in smarts. To go further, in introspection. And perhaps this is his undoing.


Coriolano's pliant nature extends to the entire play. Some productions are said to deliberately pull the material in the same direction as the show-runners' socio-political leanings. In 1930's France, a pro-fascist staging of the tragedy at the Comédie-Française has caused riots. Remarkably, audiences have also received the performance as campaign for communism.

Guelan Varela-Luarca's Filipino translation of Coriolanus is currently enjoying its run at the CCP Little Theater, with weekday and weekend performances until 17 March — roughly two months before the Philippine Senate Elections. The timing is clever but director Carlos Siguion-Reyna has no intentions of using Coriolano as his own propaganda piece. Instead he aims to offer an unbiased interpretation, noting that their job is to "make the audience act; not act for the audience".

JV Ibesate and Doray Dayao are Tribunes Sicinio and Junio.


Wow, people are stupid. Watching Act I is like being in front of a mirror. How easily the Plebeians are swayed by the slightest (but labored) lip service by Coriolano, and swayed back again by manipulative Tribunes. In this chain of events, we are reminded of how goodness and competency are not enough to have the honor of serving your fellow men; playing the game is imperative.

By comparison, Act II feels truncated. Coriolano's team-up with former adversary, Aufidio (Brian Sy) is convincing, given the former's impulsiveness and the latter's cunning. But because Sy lends a level-headedness to Aufidio, it's hard to find his motivation for taking Coriolano down when peace has been established between the two camps.

Unlike typical stories that rise up to a climax, Coriolano moves in a rather circular motion, the characters changing minds and allegiances, and thereupon fates several times throughout the narrative. Come our hero's downfall, the audience will do well to take their affective cue from Aufidio as the antagonist who hates and admires Coriolano. Our sympathy should be with the Volscian, yet his person is hardly fleshed out. As a result, Coriolano's demise hardly makes an impact.

This is an unfortunate flaw of the local production: Aufidio's attitude towards Coriolano is likely more complex than what a couple of scenes would allow to explore.


Sherry Lara owns the stage. There’s palpable silence in the theater whenever she, taking on the role of Volumnia, opens her mouth.

Jonathan Tadioan as Menenio injects a welcome lightheartedness to the show.

Jonathan Tadioan and Sherry Lara


It's been a long while since I've seen a Shakespeare play onstage. Coriolanus, hailed by TS Eliot as the bard's finest, is a pleasant re-introduction. Will it make you a wiser citizen? Better leader? A good child? Definitely not. Though it can be a gateway to Shakespeare's world and his contemporaries'. Or to Literature itself, which is never a bad thing.

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