Saturday, July 14, 2018

VIRGIN LABFEST 14: Set A

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

MGA BATA SA SELDA 43 – Ino (JM Canlas) and his older brother Philip (Tomas Santos) find themselves in what seems to be a jail cell labeled #43. What they have done to end up there is unclear, but the bond between the two is evident. They deal with the uncertainty of the situation by sharing anecdotes and annoying each other like typical siblings do, but their musings are interrupted by the arrival of Ed (Rafael Tibayan) who emerges from the shadows explaining how he has been trapped there for the last three decades. He also reveals the truth to his two new inmates, a fact that they might not just be ready to accept.

This one starts off making you think that it's going to be another play with a lot of talk and reflection about life, but the spick and span nature of their jail cell is just a little bit too unrealistic for the Philippine setting. This leads you to believe that there is a twist halfway through, and there is indeed. In any case I couldn't have guessed it. All the while I thought it was going to turn into some X-Men wannabe of sorts. The twist is heartbreaking, even more so when you see what happens next. For that alone I'd even dare say that this is one of the best entries this year as far as emotional impact is concerned, if only for the wet eyes in the audience when the lights finally turned on.


MGA EKSENA SA BUHAY NG KONTRABIDA – Jake (Jay Gonzaga) is the black sheep of the family, at least according to his relatives. His father Ricky (Richard Manabat) is disgusted by his gay sugar daddy. His cousin Joe (Lian Silverio) thinks he is the father of his 17-year-old daughter's newborn child. His half-brother Tom (Earle Figuracion) hates how he brings chaos into the compound they are living in. Only his other half-brother Mike (JV Ibesate) seems amicable, even though he still has his own set of doubts. When the family situation spirals out of control, all the blame is pinned on Jake, but is he really the "kontrabida" that everyone paints him to be?

This narrative is 50-50 in terms of audience impact. The humor is there and the transition by changing the hue of the lighting is cool, but the way the plot unfolds feels a bit tedious and more like a game of "He Said, She Said". It feels like you are caught in some sort of family mediation where everyone has his own version of the story but nothing can be reconciled. Who really wants to be caught in a family drama that is not his own? Especially if it is compelling you to take sides. In the end, the narrative leaves us with some lessons applicable to real life, basically focused on how we view ourselves vis-a-vis the judgment of those around us. After all, everyone is the protagonist in his own story, right?

ANG INYONG MGA ANAK: SI HAROLD AT NAPOLEON – Napoleon and his ex-military father are ambushed in a parking lot. Father and son end up dead, leaving a woman to live her life childless and a widow. Harold (Joshua Tayco) is by no means close to the young lad. In fact, he actually hates his guts back in college. Nevertheless, he can't help but ask his mother (May Bayot) why there has been no outcry. She thinks it is tragic, albeit irrelevant, since their family is not involved anyway. As the teenager recites poetry to his ailing grandmother Inang (Edna Vida) who can barely remember them, his mother soon realizes that her son is writing more than love poems, something that might eventually endanger his life.

If you don't read the synopsis, then this play's title can be misleading as it is more of a figurative take on the wording. It is definitely not a sibling drama, and Napoleon is only mentioned but never appears. The socially relevant and timely issue that it tackles kind of hijacks the story, but the narrative mainly deals with how it is like to witness your child find his place in the world by honing his beliefs and doing what he thinks is right to contribute something to the greater good. An eye-opener, indeed, but a bit too niche for a mainstream audience.

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