Apr 8, 2008

Last Order Sa Penguin

It's been a while since I last went to see a play, and a couple of weeks back, I got invites to two productions: SLU-CCA's Florante at Laura and Dulaang UP-Baguio's Last Order Sa Penguin.

The last production of Florante at Laura that I saw was Tanghalang Pilipino's staging of the musical a long time ago (that was the production with the famous "magkakaroon po ng isang linggong pagitan..." a week-long intermission between acts 1 and 2 because the music was not done in time for the opening, so on opening night the audience got to see act 1, and were asked to come back a week later for act 2).

I chose to go see Dulaang UP's production since it's a been a while since UP Baguio last staged a play, and also because I haven't been to Penguin (an artists' haven in Remedios Circle, malate) in a long time, I was in the mood for a little bit of nostalgia.

RL and I entered the theater and we were quite intrigued by the stage set-up: they didn't use the stage but instead set up platforms at the opposite end of the theater which became the main acting area. I was eager to see the reason for this, so we decided to sit on the actual elevated stage, which gave a better view of the set.

The house music helped put the audience in a lousy mood: loud and the music had nothing to do with the play being presented. Even our group at times commit this mistake: lousy front-of-house management... from the ushers to the seats to the house music, these should all prepare your audience for the story that's about to be told. Well, at least the technical people seemed to be enjoying themselves toying with the sound mixer. Anyway...

The set was a disappointment - a play about an actual existing place and you would think the production designer would give the actual Pengui Cafe a look-see. The set looked more like Perk Cafe in Baguio when it just opened in th mid-90's. No leather couches where the regulars never fail to claim for themselves: table 1=theater people, table 2=ballet philippines, table 3=photographers and writers, bar=visual artists, the rest of the tables for hangers-on, young artists and poseurs. As a young boy I slept on those leather couches as my mother discussed what art is with (the late) Santiago Bose and how deep is deep with (the late) Pepito Bosch. As a young artist I hovered from table to table depending on my reason for being there on a given night: all tables to land a gig (whether acting, production/stage management, and just about anything), table 1 if I'm coming from an opening night and I'm with my colleagues from Tanghalang Pilipino, table 2 if I want Guiller, a danseur, to treat me to a beer, table 3 to update my mom's friends about how she's been since she moved to the Caribbean, at the bar with Santi Bose to gossip about the people on tables 1 to 3...

There were art works on the wall, which weren't (art works, that is). I've seen a Bose exhibit there, an installation by Boy Yuchengco, photographs by Ronnie Lazaro, paintings by Nunelencio Alvarado, so the "paintings" on the set, which the characters in the play tore to shredsd with their biting criticisms, were quite out of place. Not to say that there weren't so-so art exhibited in Penguin, but those garbage on the walls were over the top. Again, maybe a look-see by the production designer could've helped him/her come up with a better set design.

The play is like an episode of the now-defunct sitcom, Friends. A couch in the center, a group of friends pour their hearts out giving the audience glimpses of the lives of Penguin denizens. Oh wait, make that roughly 6 episodes of Friends, at the end of two hours, when the stage lights went out and the house lights came on, we were quite shocked to hear the voice over announcing the intermission. the play ran for approximately 3 hours! But I could sit through 6 straight episodes of Friends... maybe the script would've done better as a sitcom: by the end of it one is left asking, "What's the point?" And Friends most of the time has a point.

Most of the actors were really effective: a gay guy forever waiting for his boyfriend to text him back, a young woman with issues about her live-in boyfriend, another young woman who's biggest issue in life is her relationship with a "jologs", a drug pusher, the pesky flower-vendor, and Marcell, the waiter..

The actor who played Marcell actually looked like Marcell, a waiter in Penguin back in the 90's. Which confused me: the play was dated: turn of the century, and there were no camera phones yet back then as far as I remember (or maybe I'm wrong, I'm a late-bloomer whenit comes to cellphones, I tried my best not to own one for the longest time).

The friends gather, they tell their stories, and order their drinks in between: A half red? A quarter white? Coffee? Beer? I found it quite amusing when the waiter returned with a half and a quarter glass of wine: who orders a half-glass of wine? In Penguin, a half or a quarter is a half or a quarter carafe of wine.

The actors who entered only in act two, they were the characters being talked about in act one, weren't able to maintain the energy and performance level of the actors already onstage - RL and I agreed that had the play ended with act one, it would've been a better production: leaving the rest to the audience's imagination.

The movements of the actors onstage didn't make sense a lot of times, the lighting and the blocking didn't seem to agree with one another, and at times took away from instead of enhancing a scene. And until the end I didn't see any justifiable reason for having the performance area at the back of the theater. In fact, since the director had his actors kneeling and sitting down most of the time, it would have been better if they used the elevated stage instead: 5 rows from the front and it was quite hard to see the action on stage already.

Nonetheless, at the end of the at times agonizing 3 hours, I was quite glad to see Dulaang UP-Baguio on stage again... and if the actors who performed form their core group of performers, save for two or three who needed a good dose of basic acting, I'm quite excited to be there again on their opening night.

Photos of the performance right here.

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