Theater: ‘night, Mother

"'night, Mother"

A supposedly normal evening in the mother-daughter household is shattered when Jessie announces to her mother Thelma that she plans to kill herself before the night is over. The play happens in real time. Over the course of 90 minutes, Thelma desperately works to convince her daughter that life is worth living.

I didn’t know anything about ‘night, Mother when I came to watch it. I was told only two things: the actors were phenomenal and the story was ‘heavy.’ While waiting to get in the theater, my friend informed me that there was going to be a trigger-warning at the start of the production. Which, I admit, scared me.

Theater has always been an escape for me. More than television, more than movies or even books, it’s theater that allows me to let my mind loose. This is why I have a preference for musicals. Bright, loud, happy musicals that present a simple problem that they then resolve with a dozen or so songs. Sure there would be crying, some time’s there’s righteous indignation, but the end is almost always the same: you are given a semblance of a solution. You will be made to think, but you will also have closure.

Plays aren’t always as considerate.

‘night, Mother revolves around the relationship of one daughter with her mother–and, as the synopsis above says, her plan to kill herself before the night ends. Her matter-of-fact announcement is actually what jump starts the whole play. And ‘heavy’ is an understatement for the ninety minutes that follow her announcement.

But what makes ‘night, Mother heavy? Why is there a need for a trigger warning, and why are there mental health specialists at the end of the production to help the audience process what happens in the play?

The material was written in the early 80s. As shared by director Melvin Lee, ‘night, Mother was first produced in 1982. Back then, the daughter’s planned suicide is an inciting incident–not the focal point of the play. True enough, while watching, it is not the suicide that moves you from one emotion to another: it’s the relationship between the two characters.

There are many ways to read the play. Director Lee posits that it’s about two different mind sets, two generations trying to stay relevant in each other’s lives and failing. The difference is while one point-of-view is remaining stubborn and steadfast, the other is ready to throw in the towel. My own take is that it’s a commentary on societal expectations; that it scrutinizes the way other people want us to behave, as opposed to who we actually are.

The suicide as a symbol can be read as giving up–but it can also be about taking back power. It really depends on where you stand in society: are you the one making decisions and maintaining hierarchy? Or are you part of the generation that wants to break out of the box?

But, again as Director Lee points out, something has changed in the last almost forty years. In the last five years alone, actually. People are more aware about mental health issues now. And suddenly, the surface drama of a person committing suicide isn’t just a symbolism anymore. It’s a very real possibility. And this is what’s pushes the conversations about the production.

Sure, actresses Eugene Domingo and Sherry Lara are both astounding. The set design by Ben Padero is exceptional. And TJ Ramos provides a haunting tone that you don’t actually notice until the end, which means he did spectacular work. So many people should be getting recognition with PETA’s adaptation of Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother, and yet everyone is talking about only one aspect of the play:

Suicide. And depression, in connection to it.

Those are not topics I’m qualified to talk about, let’s be real. They are subjects that I, admittedly, have had thoughts about. But the bottom line is this: I’m not a specialist. I’m not an expert. I’m someone online who has read things about the two, who may have depression and is dealing with it. That still doesn’t mean I can write about these things in a way that would be of comfort to those who also deal with them.

So here’s my advice: talk to someone about it. Find help. Here in the Philippines, we supposedly have a suicide prevention hotline (+632 804-4673) but don’t rely on just that. Google for counselors near your area. Risk opening up to a trusted friend.

Beat the stigma.

Being depressed and having suicidal thoughts doesn’t make you any less of a person. You matter.

Going back to ‘night, Mother, if you think you can handle a play that deals with suicide and a person’s thought process in ending her life, then catch the final weekend of the play today (March 16) until Sunday (March 18, 2018) at the PETA Theater in Quezon City. Then stay, after the play, to talk about your concerns–or to listen to other people’s experiences.

Be open.


Theater: Kinky Boots

"Kinky Boots"

Winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Kinky Boots features a joyous, Tony-winning score by Cyndi Lauper and a hilarious, uplifting book by four-time Tony winner, Harvey Fierstein.

Charlie Price has reluctantly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola. A fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man that he is meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible… and discovers that, when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.

Kinky Boots had its first Manila run last year, and I didn’t watch it then because of certain casting choices. But because my mom really wanted to see the show, we ended up watching it while we were in New York last August. But this post isn’t about the Broadway production.

Atlantis Theatrical decided that the first Manila run of Kinky Boots was successful enough to warrant another series of performances. Having seen the show in its full glory, I became very curious as to how the local production stages it. (The discounted tickets also helped a lot in my decision making, because the casting choice I disagreed with is still present in the current run.)

I have to say: Atlantis and director Bobby Garcia do a bang up job in putting up the musical.

For a show that features a drag queen who is loud and proud, Kinky Boots works best during its small moments. Because at its heart, the production’s main selling point is acceptance–not just of other people and their truth, but of one’s choices and self as well. And behind the big production numbers that feature splits, spread-eagles, back flips, flip-flops, one right after the other–the thorough-line of each line of dialogue, each lyric sung, and each choreography danced is the longing to be accepted. And as long as the actors can convey that longing, you can lessen the glitters, you can take away a few conveyor belts, you can subtract a door or two, and no one would notice.

In the case of scaled-down productions, it is the actors who have to unenviable task of making the audience believe the magic. It is the actors who have to fill in the missing set pieces, to stand out even when the lights fail to illuminate them–or when they’re burnt beyond recognition by too many spotlights, and to make us think that a pair of boots can indeed save a whole shoe factory.

Nyoy Volante and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante both rise to the occasion as Lola/Simon and Lauren, respectively. Nyoy manages to balance Lola’s confidence and Simon’s vulnerability in every scene he’s in, and in every note he sings. Nyoy really has come a long way from his singer-songwriter roots. He is now a theater actor to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, Mikkie infects her Lauren with so much happiness that she easily stands out as the best Lauren I’ve seen (which, so far, includes the original and the tour version of Lauren, on Youtube, and the one I saw last August on Broadway). Her charm is magnetic, and she draws the gaze even when she’s surrounded by larger-than-life drag queens.

Unfortunately, Lauren is just a supporting character. Lola’s actual co-star, Charlie Price, isn’t as impressive.

Laurence Mossman’s portrayl of the down-on-his-luck guy who doesn’t know what he wants in his life is memorable in all the wrong ways. Vocally, he can’t compete with his co-stars, and acting-wise… He comes off as whiny and spoiled instead of downtrodden and desperate. I found myself wishing for time to speed up during his scenes, just so we could move back to Lola, or anyone else.

All this said, Atlantis Theatricals production of Kinky Boots is a must-watch… just not for the price of their tickets. But if they decide to have a different actor playing leading man Charlie Price though, I might change my tune.

Movie: Tomb Raider

"Tomb Raider"

Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Hong Kong. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.

If you’re a video game fan, it’s highly likely that WB’s reboot of Tomb Raider‘s film franchise is something you might enjoy. Unless you’re a Tomb Raider fan. Then, it’s either you will love the film they produced–or immensely dislike it.

I can’t say I’m a gamer; and although I am familiar with the Tomb Raider franchise (both the games and the Angelina Jolie films), I can’t say I’m a fan. But, that said, I did enjoy this new iteration of Tomb Raider for the thrills it provided. All I had to do was shut off all logical and critical thinking, because that’s when the problems come in.

Warner Brothers’ Tomb Raider plays off like a video game. Like a Tomb Raider video game, actually. You have puzzles, you have bad guys, you have adventures, and you have heroine Lara Croft hanging off edges and climbing things. Over and over. Unfortunately it also has something the Tomb Raider franchise usually don’t allow: accountability.

The entire plot of the film hinges on the fact that Lara Croft’s father obsesses over a piece of Japanese myth. And the film only moves because of Lara’s drive to find her father. Everything that goes wrong afterwards is because of their accountability. And while it is good for heroes to be held accountable for their actions, it is extremely frustrating for a moviegoer to have a heroine who causes the film’s conflicts in the first place.

I’m sure the film’s writers did their best to make the film grounded, and for Lara Croft to not come out of the movie a two-dimensional caricature of her video game persona. On top of the brains and brawn that was inherent in the character, they also gave Lara heart and flaws. But it’s one thing for a character to overcome their flaws to save the world, and a completely different thing for the character’s flaws to be the reason the world needs saving in the first place. And there lies the one reason I can’t fully get on board with this new Tomb Raider film:

Lara Croft’s flaws don’t make her human–they make her a problem.

If you’re not the type of moviegoer who scrutinizes plot and character details though, Tomb Raider is still a fun action-adventure film. Roar Uthaug does a great job making the film feel like a video game–in a very good way. Alicia Vikander is no Angelina Jolie–which is also a good thing–and delivers a Lara Croft unlike any other.

Bottom line: Tomb Raider is a good enough film with lots of exhilarating action sequences, but I’ll probably pass on a sequel if they make one.

Big thanks, by the way, to Chris Cantada for inviting me to the premiere. Watch out for his review soon on his Cantada Force Reviews channel on YouTube.

Book: They Both Die at the End

"They Both Die at the End"

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure–to live a lifetime in a single day.

What do you do when you’re told you’re going to die within the day? It’s a great question, and I love that They Both Die at the End tries to answer it in multiple ways. We have two main characters that are very different from each other, who then fate brings together to help them grow. I love that author Adam Silvera doesn’t go for the saccharine and goes deep into thoughts that most people probably have had, about what to do when confronted with the idea that they are about to die.

I love the book… but I’m not in love with it. Probably because it veered into romance territory near the end.

Spoiler alert?

I’m not going to say much. It’s just– I thought the book was amazing, and the way Silvera handled the multiple points-of-view was particularly outstanding. I love the way he threaded the stories together, and how passing characters in the beginning make quite an impact in the latter chapters.

But the love story felt out of place for me.

I understand that the characters would grow to care for each other. That they would grow to love each other. And there were hints throughout the book about the eventual… relationship development. It was not sprung on us. I just felt like, if the book really wanted to go there, they could have prepared the readers better. Or have been more upfront about it. As it was… the romance in the latter part of the book made me like it less.

Still– I do still love the book enough to recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a great story. Maybe other readers don’t (or won’t) feel the same way I do about the love story in the end.

Book: Revelations (Book Two of the Naermyth Series)


It’s been six months after the events in Capiz. Athena fears her developing powers, knowing it’s only a matter of time before she loses control.

Meanwhile, the tension between Naermyth and humanity is growing. Macky believes Mamon is again engaged in shady operations. When Athena is sent to Intramuros to investigate, she triggers a chain of events that pit her against an entity far more malevolent than anything she’s ever encountered.

Full disclosure: I didn’t reread the first Naermyth book before cracking this book open. I wanted to see how this book holds up, considering it’s been a decade since Naermyth, the book it’s following, came out. That, and because I didn’t really have the time.

Good news: it’s easy to jump into the action. Although Revelations references a lot of events from the first book, it also provides enough context to make sure the readers understand what’s going on. I do have to admit that I got confused about how characters were related to everyone–but that was only in the beginning. Author Karen Francisco gave each character, especially the supporting ones, a broad enough stroke that you can pinpoint who they are in relation to our heroine.

And now comes the bad part–

Although my memory of Athena Dizon as she was in the first book is hazy, I still prefer her there than who she has become in Revelations. There’s a good chance this is nostalgia talking, but I thought Francisco handled Athena’s stoic nature better in Naermyth. In this book, I felt like the author relied a little too much on the reader being privy to Athena’s thoughts to justify her actions.

And speaking of being privy to Athena’s thoughts– I have a bone to pick with Revelations being in first-person. I admire how Francisco handled foreshadowing, and planting things to make certain twists not come left-of-field… But it made Athena’s character weak. We establish that she’s smart and savvy, that she notices a lot of things–and because the book is in first person, she takes note of Francisco’s planted plot devices too. So when the twists finally come, and Athena is taken aback, it makes her look stupid. She already noticed the discrepancies. Why wasn’t she able to put two and two together? (This was also my concern with Pierce Brown’s Morning Star.)

Athena’s character and the first-person perspective aside though, Revelations does show Karen Francisco’s growth as a writer. This book had better plotting and pacing, there’s a better sense of urgency and gravity, and most importantly, although this book is double the size of the first book–it’s an even faster read.

Francisco has improved exponentially as a story-teller. Her editors, on the other hand, might want to take another pass at the book, because some of the typos were jarring.

So was Revelations a good sequel to Naermyth? Yes. Was its release worth the wait? Yes. Does it end on another cliffhanger? Well… the fact that they’re calling it the second book off a series should answer your question.

All I’m hoping for now is that Francisco and Visprint don’t let another decade pass before the next book comes out.

(Disclaimer: A decade didn’t pass between the two books. I was exaggerating. But it has been almost eight years since Naermyth came out.)

Book: Through the Window

"Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window"

This beautifully produced book recounts the journey of the show from its inception nearly a decade ago to winning six Tony Awards in 2017, including Best Musical. Filled with interviews with the extraordinary cast and creative team, original photography by acclaimed theater photographer Matt Murphy, and the libretto, annotated by book writer Steven Levenson and songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window gives readers an intimate look at this deeply personal, yet profoundly universal, musical.

This book does more than tell the story behind Dear Evan Hansen. It also explores the many provocative ideas and themes at the heart of this contemporary story, and examines the powerful emotional connection forged by thousands of audience members, listeners, and fans to this groundbreaking original musical.

I didn’t know I was going to love Dear Evan Hansen. Prior to seeing the show, I was ready to be disappointed with it. When things are hyped, there’s a tendency for me to set up too high an expectations. So I went in to see the show with the lowest possible expectation. And I was just whelmed.

A little disclaimer: the matinee I caught didn’t have Ben Platt. And although my eyes did water during two of the latter numbers, my overall takeaway from the musical was that Evan Hansen wasn’t a likeable character. So I don’t understand all the love for him. And then I started watching the YouTube videos.

Here’s the thing: to set up the low expectations, I purposely didn’t watch any video or listen to any of the songs from the production. My only exposure to Dear Evan Hansen were the good word-of-mouth, and the Tony Awards performance featuring Ben Platt. It wasn’t after I saw the show that I started scouring the internet for other performances. Because I really wanted to see why people loved the titular character.

Ben Platt was very good. But saying that would mean the actor I saw, Michael Lee Brown, was bad… Or, just good. Brown was just as good as Platt. He had great control over his voice, and his acting was exactly the same as Platt’s. But something about his performance rubbed me the wrong way. And I thought it was just the character of Evan Hansen that I couldn’t connect to.

But then I read the published Dear Evan Hansen book. Not the one I’m going to be writing about. The other one; the smaller one. With just a foreword and the libretto. And I fell in love with Evan Hansen’s character and the mistakes he makes throughout the musical. So I became even more confused about why the musical didn’t resonate with me when I saw it.

It wasn’t until this book, Through the Window, that I realized the reason why. Evan Hansen was tailored for Ben Platt. His movements, his mannerisms, even the way he dresses–it’s all Ben Platt. And anyone else who would do the role, who would inherit the tics and tirades? They’re never going to be fully Evan Hansen unless they’re allowed to make the role different.

That’s not meant to be a dig. But it is an illuminating fact that I gleaned from Through the Window. This book opens up the world of Dear Evan Hansen from the moment it was conceptualized to the time it won awards on the Tonys. It shows us the decisions and the missteps that shaped the show into what it became, and it’s educational.

Through the Window is a must read, not just for fans of Dear Evan Hansen, but for anyone who wants to make a career in theater–whether on stage or behind the scenes. The book allows its readers to get insight on the script, the songs, the direction, the costume, all the way to the decisions the actors make from the workshop to the opening performance.

Most importantly, this book bares the creative team’s thought-process on the show. And that allows for us to appreciate the material and its actors more. Or, in my case, it makes it clear why a certain actor–no matter how good he is–can make a character so very different just because he is required to be the same exact character the main actor is portraying. Do you get what I mean?

Now, if the behind-the-scenes and the road-map-to-Broadway isn’t your cup of tea; the annotations from writer Steven Levenson and the team of Pasek and Paul are a joy to read. And Matt Murphy’s photos are absolutely gorgeous. The photos alone are worth the price of the book, to be honest.

I fell in love with Dear Evan Hansen because of the libretto. Through the Window helped me appreciate the production and the creative process behind the show even more. If you’re a fan and you have the extra money, this book is a definite must-buy–because it truly is a beautifully-produced masterpiece.

Book: Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat

"Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat"

A world that’s full of mystery and wonder. This is the world of Andong Agimat.

Yeah, the book synopsis doesn’t really give much away–but then again, Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a graphic novel. If it had a normal synopsis, it might have given the whole story away.

Yes, that’s a dig on how very short Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is (and most other local graphic novels).

The thing about Arnold Arre is that he is a master at creating these fascinating worlds based on what we know and on what is real, mixing the two to produce something that’s familiar yet new, shockingly present yet timeless. It was apparent in Mythology Class and in Trip to Tagaytay, but it’s on a completely different level here in Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat.

For something that was produced in 2006, this book still holds up really well. I credit this to the fact that Arnold Arre’s works are always grounded on human emotions. The new edition’s foreword has a lot to say about the author being unsatisfied, and how that underlines the story that the book is telling. But I would beg to differ. I think Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is all about fear: The fear of power. The fear of loss. The fear of excelling. The fear of being ordinary.

The fear of the inability to change.

Our main character, Ando, has a very checkered past; one that he’s trying to atone for, and feels that he will never leave behind. His past is what pushes him to be a hero–but it’s also what haunts his every moment, waking or otherwise.

Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a study on that fear–of never being more than what one has already become. Even after all the heroics, Ando never feels he is worthy to be a hero. So he doesn’t try to be one. That is, until he’s forced to.

This is where my complaint comes in. Arnold Arre creates this world with a very rich mythology: you have people yearning to be special, and being given the opportunity to do so at the risk of losing their innocence; you have an epic romance that spans lifetimes–and one that is more recent and more hurting; you have villains that have layers upon layers… And we get one rescue story out of this very rich world that the author created.

I don’t know if it’s the soap opera writer in me talking, but I felt cheated off the possible growth and development the characters could’ve had. I felt like the layers he gave the villains could have been explored more, while going into the backgrounds and drive of the protagonists at the same time.

I felt unsatisfied, to borrow a word from the book’s foreword. And it’s not something I want to feel after reading an exceptionally good book. Because Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a very good book–

It’s just also frustratingly short. It ends as quickly as it begins, leaving you wanting for more. And you will want more. So I guess that means I will only recommend this book to people who like getting hurt by their favorite books. Because this book will hurt you. And it will also quickly become a favorite. So if you’re a fan of being left wanting, then pick this book up. If you’re not… you might still want to pick the book up, and then join me in trying to find a way to get Arnold Arre to revisit this world again.