Sunday, March 13, 2005


Two works go onstage this month in Manila - F. Sionil Jose's MASS at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and David Hare's The Blue Room at the Republic of Malate.

The former is based on the series of books collectively called ROSALES NOVELS (because the setting was in Rosales in the Ilocos) written by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose. MASS is the last in this series of award-winning body of work which started with Po-on, Tree, My Brother My Executioner, The Pretenders and finally Mass, and is an examination of life and society through the eyes of Pepe Samson, to be played by Yul Servo.

The National Artist Sionil Jose

It is to be staged by the Tangahalang Pilipino, CCP's Resident Theatre Company, and closes TP's 18th Season. It has been much delayed because Sionil Jose had many objections to the script, and he even refused to watch the rehearsals. He had to bring the playright Rody Vera to Rosales to get a feel of the book's setting. he eventually attended the rehearsals and praised Vera and the company because "they knew what to do with my work".

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Yul Servo, star of Lav Diaz's BATANG WEST SIDE

The Blue Room, on the other had, is loosely based on a 1921 work of Arthur Schnitzler REIGEN which was made into a film in 1950 entitled LA RONDE by Max Ophilus. The Manila production stars Jamie Wilson and Jenny Jamora of the cutting-edge New Voice Company (NVC).

Jamie Wilson

Blue Room opened in 1988 in London's West End starring Nicole Kidman. The following is a cut from a review:
"The one thing you cannot do when reviving a 98-year-old play is to recreate the shock of the new. Even Scotland Yard's vice squad is unlikely to mimic the Vienna police who closed down the first public performance in 1921 of Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen, here retitled The Blue Room, and prosecuted him for obscenity. If there is any unusual frisson to Sam Mendes's breathlessly chic new production it isn't because of the frank depiction of dangerous liaisons, but because of the casting. The play's ten roles of coupling couples are played by two actors - Iain Glenn and Nicole Kidman. In the opening scene Kidman is waiflike and scrawny, looking startling like a Nineties rethink of Twiggy with vowels to match. She's chatted up by Glenn's cocksure cab driver who refuses to pay for her services as he's "just spent the lot on sushi". Nonetheless, they have sex there and then. The play is a carefully contrived daisy-chain of brief encounters. The second scene sees the cab-driver luring an au-pair into having sex at a party. Cut to the au-pair playing not-so-hard-to-get with the nervous son of smart employers. Then the son steals time with a politician's wife ... and so it goes on. We see the lust the leading on, the luring, but not the act. Everything cuts to blackout and is wittily followed by the timing of the act being flashed up on the back wall. Given the often wildly mismatched pairings, it's not surprising that these range between hours and, funniest of all, the zero seconds of premature ejaculation. It is no surprise that this updated and very free adaptation comes from David Hare. Glenn plays Hare's men as increasingly removed and feckless or, as with the deliciously played romantic playwright, supremely self-absorbed. By contrast Kidman's superbly differentiated gallery of women - from skittish, deerlike prostitute to an hilariously grand, throaty actress - all turn out to be victims. For all the production's sheer wit and beautifully played brio you cannot escape the sensation that we've been here before." - David Benedict, THE INDEPENDENT (1998)

Things are looking bright in the Manila theatre scene this year. Sad news like the cancellation of Gantimpala Theatre's LARO, however, dampen the general mood. At any rate, we look forward to enjoying more wonderful plays from our view on the red seat.


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