Theater: F(r)iction, A New Musical

"F(r)iction"

“It’s the stories we believe that make us who we are”. Life is full of twists and turns, dead ends and blank spaces. “Friction: A New Musical” follows the journey of a brilliant upcoming writer who finds help from a stranger that challenges his whole concept of reality.

It’s never easy giving birth to new material, and it’s never easy to hear what other people have to say about your work when they see it. Which is why I want to commend the creative minds behind Friction for venturing out with a new musical after the diamond-in-the-rough production of Toilet, the Musical.

Unlike Toilet, Friction knows and celebrates its limits. And, most importantly for me, it doesn’t feel overcrowded. Not with just three actors on stage.

Red Concepcion is serviceable in the lead role. He takes on his character with gusto, but I felt certain hesitations in scenes where I needed to see him more vulnerable. Gabriella Pangilinan, as the girlfriend, is a little better. In the entirety of the first act, I felt for her, and I empathized with her. And then we get to the second act. As she confronts the lead character, we see her pull back a little. I didn’t feel the rage that I was expecting her to feel, nor the despair at her realization of what was going on.

The one actor I can’t say anything bad about is Fred Lo. I liked how he gave two distinct voices to the two character he plays. There is strength in the way he voices the psychiatrist that’s supposed to help our lead character write, and there is a palpable uncertainty in the way he voices the stranger. I don’t know if it was a directorial decision, if so, good on director Toff de Venecia for having that sight because not every director would have an actor do that–not for any theater production with a short run like Friction.

And that brings me to the direction; Friction was staged at Saint Benilde’s black box theater–a small space that director de Venecia utilizes really well, along with the sparse furnishings. The entrances and exits of the actors tell as much of the story as the dialogue, and if there is one thing I would wish for this production, it’s just enough budget to allow for Gabriella’s wardrobe to reflect the passage of time that her movements are supposed to invoke.

Now, let’s talk about the story–

Friction feels like a study on how writers’ work. I don’t know if that was the intent, I didn’t ask, but it sure felt like one. Especially in the first act when we’re not entirely sure what the musical is about yet. Truth be told, the first act felt formulaic. You can see clearly where the story was going, and you can even draw comparisons to Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom. I’m still on the fence if that’s a good thing. Friction just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Until the second act begins.

In case Friction gets staged again, I will refrain from spoiling what actually happens.

The second act takes a foreshadowed twist into a direction that is expectedly unexpected. Because it’s well plotted, the twist doesn’t feel out of the blue, but it definitely gives the musical new life wherein the audience is taken to the edge of their seats. You will want to know what happens next because everything is up in the air, because nothing is safe, because there are people involved who will get hurt… And, let’s admit it, for a story to be good, there has to be something that needs to be at risk somewhere–something that the characters and the audience are supposed to care about. And Friction delivers in how it wraps up its story.

I like how it ended. I don’t love it because the writers went the Nicholas Sparks route during the denouement… But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My dislike for the Nicholas Sparks way of dealing with problems is a personal preference. It works for most people. So I don’t hate it. Let’s settle with like. Especially since I don’t regret watching the musical, and I didn’t feel the need to tear it to pieces after watching.

Friction is a good musical. Solid and dependable. And a good follow-up to Toilet, the Musical, which I hope will still see the light of day in the future–with a better script.

Book: Symbiont

"Symbiont"

The enemy is inside us.

The end began in a thousand places at the same time, sending little cracks through the foundation of mankind’s casual dominion over the Earth. It was born of hubris, and it started slowly, only to gather in both speed and strength as the days went by.

The SymboGen tapeworms were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world’s population began attacking their hosts, turning them into a ravenous horde.

Panic spreads as these predators begin to take over the streets, and those who do not appear afflicted are gathered for quarantine. In the chaos, Sal and her companions must discover how the tapeworms are taking over their hosts–and how they can be stopped.

After a long time of waiting for Symbiont to be released here in the Philippines… I finally decided to just have Fully Booked order it for me. And I don’t regret it.

Granted, the book took a wee bit too long for me to dive back into the action. Mostly, I think, because it’s been so long since I read the first book, but also because the sequel doesn’t dive back into action. And it’s something that the characters themselves point out in the book. There is a safety cocoon surrounding the characters in the first third of the book, and it made me feel like nothing was happening.

I mean, yes, I understood the need to lay down foreshadowing, and world-building, and mythology-building… but there was just no sense of urgency in the first third. It wasn’t until the second third of the book kicked off that I started to feel that something was happening.

There were times when I felt Symbiont lost the edge that made me intrigued in the world Mira Grant was building with her Parasitology series. But the way Grant handles her main character, Sal, makes me want to continue holding on. Not because I cared about her, but because I was curious to find out what exactly she is–and why she’s different.

Grant doesn’t have strong characters in this series, but their gray moralities make them interesting enough that you don’t want to leave them behind. And that’s what made me keep reading Symbiont during the times when I was starting to feel bored at the lack of anything happening.

Sure, I understand that events can’t happen in rapid-fire succession. Things breathe. Plans take time to be built. And I commend Grant for not losing hold of a logical timeline. Or, at least, one that’s logical in her world. But I really, really hope that the last book in the Parasitology series is better paced than Symbiont.

Right now, I’m not understanding the need to expand this duology into a trilogy. Even if I am glad I get to spend more time dissecting the motivations of Sal, her allies, and her enemies.

Don’t be a Peter Jackson or a Christopher Paolini, Ms. Grant. Do the right thing: tell the story the way you intended for it to be told originally. And don’t let your falling in love with the research pull you into writing more than what you had planned.

Because I cannot be the only one who thought that Symbiont was overlong and overwrought. Right? Let’s see what other people wrote about the book:
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
The Discriminating Fangirl
Booking In Heels

Book: Crazy Rich Asians

"Crazy Rich Asians"

When American-born Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to provide a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace. Two, that he grew up riding in more private planes that cans. Three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

Here’s the thing with the Chinese– No matter where you are, if you were not born and raised in Mainland China, you pretty much get the same upbringing as every other Chinese person in the world. At least, that’s how I see it after reading Crazy Rich Asians, which spoke to my Chinese upbringing although I’ve never been to the US, to Europe–and have only seen Singapore through tourists’ eyes. And this idea is further cemented by the fact that Fresh Off The Boat, a new Chinese-centric sitcom in the US, is nailing all these quirks that the Chinese have.

We are stingy and we love a good bargain–even if we can afford to splurge, or to buy something more expensive. We subscribe to the idea of ‘why spend more when you can get the same for less.’ And yet, when we are looked down upon, we relish pulling the carpet from under the ignorant supremacists who would dare belittle us. Figuratively. Literally pulling the carpet from under someone is not very polite and is looked down upon by society. And this weird characteristic of the Chinese is alive and well in Kevin Kwan’s book.

Crazy Rich Asians sounds like a romance novel, and it is that. But more than the relationship of the two lead characters we are given with, the book focuses more on the romance between our main characters’ race and power. And it is the most engaging and most entertaining love story I have ever read. Most of the characters have some grandiose plan of getting what they want, and the whole sordid affair is so self-aware that, if you’re Chinese, you won’t feel offended. Author Kwan doles out the humor in perfect doses that the observations about Chinese eccentricities never feel like an attack on character. It’s as if Kwan wants to say that ‘we are who we are, so why not just laugh about it?’

Now, don’t get me wrong: the book is far from perfect. I have some issues with pacing, with plot points that are abandoned with… well… careless abandon, and with the ensemble cast of characters that come and go. But at the end of the day, the book delivered what it was supposed to deliver: entertainment.

Crazy Rich Asians is a gem. And now I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in Kwan’s sequel: China Rich Girlfriend.

In the meantime, let’s see what other people have said about this book:
The New York Times
Pop Matters
Books Etc.

Book: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

"The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had"

The last thing Harry ‘Dit’ Sims expects when Emma Walker comes to town is to become friends. Proper-talking, brainy Emma doesn’t play baseball or fish too well; but she sure makes Dit think, especially about the differences between black and white. But soon Dit is thinking about a whole lot more when the town barber, who is black, is put on trial for a terrible crime. Together, Dit and Emma come up with daring plan to save him from the unthinkable.

I’m a little on the fence about this one.

I do like the book. And by that, I mean I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But now, trying to put down into words why I like the book? I… I can’t. I mean, the characters are standard, the events are commonplace…

Maybe it was the innocence.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is set in a time where racism isn’t politically incorrect. It’s an accepted fact. Although, let’s be real, racism is alive and well today still. Thing is, here, no one looks away when it happens. African-Americans are supposed to take it, look down, and just move away.

But it’s been a couple of generations since the emancipation. The children in this story are no longer aware of what happened in the civil war. Most of them have been raised with Africa-America neighbors, and while racism is unapologetic, the children doesn’t really know where it stems from. They’re slurs. Insults. It’s the adults in the story who are more caught up in the implications of inter-racial friendship, of an African-American girl headlining a school play from the white school.

The book’s main draw is friendship. It’s a simple enough theme that children of all ages can relate to it. But underneath the story of a boy’s realization that girls can be as cool as his male friends, that the girl he thought would become a hindrance is actually teaching him more about himself, is the politically-charged tension between the whites and the African-Americans.

The synopsis tells us that Dit and Emma have to come up with a daring plan to save an African-American from the unthinkable. It’s the why they have to that will surprise you.

Innocence makes one question the whys of the world, but it is also this innocence that gets us into trouble. And author Kristin Levine manages to weave a magical story about the importance of questioning, of crossing boundaries, and of growing up with our childhood innocence intact.

Check out what other people have written about The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had:
Kids Reads
Sprout’s Bookshelf
Rated Reads

Book: The Probability of Miracles

"The Probability of Miracles"

For the last five years, seventeen-year-old Cam has been in and out of hospitals, fighting the cancer that is waging a war on her body. So when she’s told she needs a miracle, moving 1,500 miles north to Promise, Maine–a place where amazing, unexplainable events are said to occur–is not how Cam wants to spend the short time she has left. If science can’t cure her, what makes her mom think the mystical powers of a “miracle town” will?

But even Cam can’t deny that strange things happen in Promise. A field of electric purple dandelions grow on a hillside. The sunsets last for hours. Hot pink flamingos come to rest in the frigid Atlantic. An adorable boy named Asher keeps popping up, exactly when Cam needs him. And then, a mysterious envelope arrives, containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies. As she checks each item off the list, Cam finally learns to believe–in love, in herself, and maybe even in miracles, improbable as they seem.

I was looking for a miracle when I picked this book up. Something to cheer me up, against all odds. Instead, I had to plow through the book like it was an assigned reading from a difficult English teacher. And I don’t think it’s the story’s fault so much as it is the realization that… well, I’m not the book’s intended audience. I was looking for something too particular, and I didn’t let the book just be what it was.

Or maybe I got used to books with cancer patients where the protagonists are more sympathetic. Because Cam definitely isn’t your average cancer patient. She’s too human. She makes mistakes. Lots of them. She loves unconditionally–and yet with so much restrictions. She steals. She has no tact. She expects things to be given to her, and yet still has such a low self-esteem. Cam is definitely flawed, and I should love her for it. But I don’t. Because I feel like she gets away with everything just because she’s a cancer patient.

Wendy Wunder, the author, doesn’t come through with the ramifications of Cam’s actions. She bitches to her mom? It’s swept under a rug. She gets a live lobster to live in the basement? The characters shrug. She kidnaps her younger sister for a three-day trip to Disneyland? Her mother just gives her a silent treatment.

I know Promise, Maine is supposed to be a place where miracles happen–but I thought it would still have a semblance of reality. Because, to be very honest, none of the characters in this book feel real. I couldn’t care less what happens to them. And when the book ends? I’m just grateful that I managed to finish the book finally–almost two months after I started reading it.

Yes, I said it wasn’t the story’s fault why I didn’t like the book. And I stand by that. The reason I picked this book up was because I liked the premise. The promise of change, of growth, and of acceptance. But I completely blame the utter lack of characterizations and ramifications for the book’s failure at being anything more than fluff.

I’m not asking the book to be depressing. I just want it to feel real.

But these are just my thoughts. There are other opinions about the book that you can look up. Like:
Pretty Books
West Allis Public Library Teen Events
Kirkus Review

Book: High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)

"High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)"

The unceasing rain muffles the screams of the victims being pulled down, down into the murky flood waterse.

In the places too high to be reached by teh flood, the party continues for the priviledged, who indulge in a new designer drug which grants them the supernatural abilities of enkanto and aswang.

These are the murders and mysteries Alexandra Trese needs to solve as the tide continues to rise at the stroke of midnight.

I subscribe to the belief that rain washes away the past and affords us new beginnings. And what better way to start a new beginning here at the blog than with a book that revolves around rainfall–and the things that come with it? Trese‘s sixth installment: High Tide at Midnight.

In this collection, the Trese siblings and their allies face off against the growing threat of evolved monsters–and paves the way for an actual big bad that sets out to make the world of Trese more complicated. And engrossing.

Now, I am not blind to the dissatisfaction some readers are feeling from the recent releases of Trese. Some readers feel like the novelty has worn off, and that the stories are too fast-paced. Rushed, even. Personally, I like the no-time-to-breathe storytelling that Trese employs. But I do see why there might be unrest with other readers.

Because as fast-paced as Trese is, there is still that unshakable feeling of statis. That no matter how dire things become, the status quo will remain the same. One, because the main characters are too invincible. And two, because you do not actually care about said main characters. Especially the titular one.

Alexandra Trese can die and you’ll only feel sad because it means Trese is probably done as a series.

Trese stories are fun because of how writer Budjette Tan and artist KaJO Baldisimo bring to life old mythological creatures in our modern world. But if the novelty is no longer enough for a reader, then I think the series has nothing else to offer.

Yes, I really mean that.

Trese, six installments in, is about the adventure and the action. It is not about the characters. If it were, our heroine Alexandra Trese wouldn’t be as one-note as she is. There would be more peripheral characters whose lives would actually be changed by the supernatural goings-on. And you will actually fear for the lives of said characters. Because we do not have these, any development that happens will be plot-related, and everything continues to feel… unmoving. Static. But fun. And thrilling. And still.

The sixth book is no exception. I love the introduction of the new one-note characters: the gruff guardian, the chaotic-good husband-and-wife team, the metal smith, and even Manang Muning. It all feels exciting. Especially when they fight with the flurry of sea monsters who want to take over the mortal world. But at the end of the book, there was no lesson to be learned. There was no emotion to be felt. Just exhilaration. And the desire to see what happens next, not because I cared, but because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. How will the creators end the story? How else are they going to twist the world of Filipino mythology?

But I could care less if Trese 7 completely revolves around Maliksi and the Kambal. Or Hank defending the Diabolical while the Trese siblings take care of the action off-frame. I will still feel the adrenaline regardless of who is in the pages. The Trese siblings don’t make the Trese books. The modernized mythologies do. And while I continue to love it, I know and accept that I will also lose my interest in the series eventually.

Yes, I worry that if the creators don’t push the story beyond the plot twists and the big bad, then there will come a time when I will stop feeling excited for the new releases. And like with some of my friends, Trese will become just one of the comics I used to read.

Book: The Blood of Olympus

"The Blood of Olympus"

Nico had warned them. Going through the House of Hades would stir the demigods’ worst memories. Their ghosts would become restless. Nico may actually become a ghost if he has to shadow-travel with Reyna and Coach Hedge one more time. But that might be better than the alternative: allowing someone else to die, as Hades foretold.

Jason’s ghost is his mother, who abandoned him when he was little. He may not know how he is going to prove himself as a leader, but he does know that he will not break promises like she did. He will complete his line of the prophecy: To storm or fire the world must fall.

Reyna fears the ghosts of her ancestors, who radiate anger. But she can’t allow them to distract her from getting the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood before war breaks out between the Romans and Greeks. Will she have enough strength to succeed, especially with a deadly hunter on her trail?

Leo fears that his plan won’t work, that his friends might interfere. But there is no other way. All of them know that one of the Seven has to die in order to defeat Gaea, the Earth Mother.

Piper must learn to give herself over to fear. Only then will she be able to do her part at the end: utter a single word.

Heroes, gods, and monsters all have a role to play in the climactic fulfillment of the prophecy in The Blood of Olympus, the electrifying finale of the best-selling Heroes of Olympus series.

I had no expectations coming in to this last book off the Heroes of Olympus series. Mostly because I didn’t like the book that preceded it. House of Hades felt cluttered and all over the place. And honestly? I feared the same would happen in the last book with so many loose ends needed to be tied up still.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Rick Riordan manages to give proper spotlight to all the characters without short-changing anyone. Yes, I would have preferred more time for Percy, Annabeth, and especially Grover, but that’s mostly because I came into Heroes of Olympus wanting to catch up with their characters. I’ve grown accustomed to Jason and the new host of characters, and I actually do like some of the new ones as much as I do the old ones. So much so that I wouldn’t mind if author Riordan releases another series featuring the whole gang. Or maybe just a one-off.

Going back to The Blood of Olympus, what I liked most about it was the palpable tension you feel as events unravel. It’s pretty much common knowledge by now that Riordan prefers his chapters to be brimming with action, to the point that a scene of introspection surprises when it pops up. But this last book has a good balance of the action and the introspection, and I feel like Riordan has realized that his readership is growing up. Which is a good thing, because while an action-packed book is thrilling when you read it, it’s character development that keeps you going back. It’s character growth that makes you want to stay with a series.

I mean, look at Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin. The action is repetitive, as a book about the zombie apocalypse is wont to be, but because our characters are growing every chapter, every book, you want to keep moving forward with them. You want to stick with them. And whenever something bad happens, you hope that they survive whatever it is they have to go through. And then there’s James Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series. Everything is new, but the characters feel like retreads. They don’t grow, they just flow with the plot. And suddenly you’re justifying to yourself why you have to finish the book. And you shouldn’t have to justify when you’re immersed. When you’re involved.

And that’s what Riordan has done in the final book off the Heroes of Olympus series. He makes the readers involved. There is something at stake, and as the characters reach the end of the prophecy they’ve received, you can see them growing up to become better people–you see them making decisions that you know doesn’t come from the author’s desire to make a book action-packed. The decisions come from characters whose previous adventures have molded them to become who they are in the final pages.

That’s what’s makes a book series satisfying. The realization that you have gone somewhere, that you have learned something, and that you did not waste your time.

Rick Riordan, although I still do not like House of Hades, I thank you for not wasting my time.