Iba na ang Sariwa: Virgin LabFest 11

One of the exciting events in Filipino contemporary theater arts is the Virgin Labfest, which on its 11th year wears the theme “Sariwa. Untried. Untested. Unstaged Plays.” And for the last week of the festival, I was able to watch all sets, thanks to my festival pass. 😉

The festival ran from June 24 to July 12 at the CCP’s Tanghalang Huseng Batute. Among the 15 different plays, 3 came back from last year’s festival for the Revisited set. The remaining 12 plays are all fresh and ‘unstaged’, written by our brilliant playwrights.

All sets were portrayed by talented actors and I was immensely entertained by how well they performed. Apart from the acting, the movements and the stage sets were also something to be watched out for. How amazing was it to see the actors go from one place to another to effectively play out their characters. And the showmanship was amazing. The stories varied from lightweight romance to heavy reflections of reality. Among the plays in the festival, here are my top 3:

3. Macho Dancer: A Musical

This play came as a surprise for me. I forgot that there is ‘A Musical’ from the play title and so I didn’t expect to watch amazing sing and dance performances from the actors. And they were definitely applaud-able performances! Not to mention the characters were hilarious. The main plot revolves around 5 macho dancers past their age who decided to make a final show that will end all final shows of their club. Also, the music was remarkable.

Playwright: Nicolas Pichay
Director: Ralph Pena

2. Hintayan ng Langit

Written by a spoken word artist I admire, Hintayan ng Langit is actually the play I was anticipating in the festival. The play is about two ex-lovers who met in purgatory where they spilled their unsaid heartaches for a hope for a resolution just before one of them finally leaves first for heaven.

What I liked in the play is the playful banters of the ex-lovers. Being the writer of the poem “Ang Huling Tula na Isusulat ko Para sa ‘Yo”, Juan Miguel Severo did a great job in entertaining us with well written lines delivered smoothly by the old ex-couple Lisang and Manolo.

“Sabihin mo nga, bakit inabot ka ng dalawang taon bago ka makatawid?”

“Sinadya kong magpa-delay dahil baka sabihin mo na naman hindi ako naghintay!”

Playwright: Juan Miguel Severo
Director: Raffy Tejada

1. Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala

Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala is definitely the best among all plays during the festival. It was the only story that touched my heart in depth that lasted until the next few days. Hands down, the choreography was charming and the play’s production design was definitely outstanding. The shadow and puppet play was a surprise and it was beautiful, so was the storytelling.

The plot is about a teenage girl who admires a boy who’s described to have eyes only for the stars. She wanted to be seen by this boy so she decided to do what it takes just to wave her hand to this boy and be waved back upon. She asked for the help of an expert kite-maker to create a large kite that can take her to the skies. Her request entails a lifetime of adventure with a boy she considered a dear friend just to find the materials needed for the kite.

The story was something that pulled my heartstrings to the point of sobbing.

When my boyfriend and I watched the show, the main character, Maria Isabella, was radiantly played by a substitute actress, Ness Roque-Lumbres and she totally nailed it. We can’t imagine how the original artist could top the performance of Ms. Roque-Lumbres. Her charm won us over despite the script she was holding onstage throughout the play.

It’s not hard to imagine how this play could be adapted into a full length stage play that can run for years and years as a timeless story for kids and adults alike.

Playwright: Eljay Castro Deldoc
Director: Ed Lacson, Jr.
The play is based on the children’s book “The Kite of Stars” written by Dean Alfar.

If you will notice, I picked the lightweight stories from the festival as my top favorites. Not that I am being shallow, I actually admire the courage, creativity, and boldness of playwrights who did very well in coming up with strong and striking stories that mirror the reality our country is facing today. However, the humor in the plays I picked appealed to me in a much stronger way, making a lasting impression in my head.

The three plays chosen as Revisited for next year’s Virgin LabFest 12 are Eljay Deldoc’s Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala (no question about this), Maynard Manansala’s Dalawang Gabi (a noteworthy story on love and decisions), and Juan Miguel Severo’s Hintayan ng Langit (congratulations to Gege!).

The festival was truly a success. Also, Tuxqs Rutaquio is a delightful festival host.

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