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: Pinoy Old School Komiks

"Pinoy Old School Komiks"

I wouldn’t really know about this if a friend hadn’t started looking for Combatron.

Wait, who’s Combatron? If you’re a Filipino kid in the 90’s, he needs no introduction. For everyone else, he’s an interstellar alien who crash lands on Earth after a fatal wound makes him realize that he needs to look for someone to take up his mantle–someone to pretend that Combatron lives.

Sounds like Green Lantern’s origins? I didn’t know that when I started reading Combatron back when I was a kid. Now I do. And my allegiance to the 90s komiks costumed heroes has shifted to the once-annoying Tinay Pinay.

But before I get to that, let me talk about Pinoy Old School Komiks first.

I applaud the Dayos for publishing Pinoy komiks again. And in color too! I just wish that the komiks had actual substance. I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled by Trese and Filipino Heroes League, heck, even by Zombinoy! But when I started reading the first issue, I thought I would be blown away.

Pinoy Old School Komiks had intrigue and nostalgia working for it–but lost me at once with The Brown Dragon. From the one issue alone, we are shown a world oppressed by a ruler akin to Roman emperors. Our hero is a gladiator, fighting for his life. Obviously, he wins by the next issue. And then, suddenly, he’s in Manila–attending the filming of an action movie.

I don’t remember komiks being this… disjointed. Buying komiks every Friday was something I looked forward to. And I read all the stories. All of them. I devoured them like there was no tomorrow. And I wanted to do the same here. But the first two pages of The Brown Dragon already drained me.

And then I moved on to Tinay Pinay. If you’re going by the first two issues, Tinay Pinay is worthless crap. The third issue though puts some balls of steel into the story. Suddenly, Tinay Pinay is very interesting. And I’m actually looking forward now to the next issue.

I just wish I could say the same for the other titles like: Planet Opdi Eyps, Twinkee Exhor (yes, it’s as gay as it sounds–and I’m apologizing if I offend any gay people with the comparison), and the aforementioned Combatron.

Planet Opdi Eyps is a brain-draining exercise in stupidity. Twinkee Exhor is a weird hybrid of Superman’s origins and the Wonder Twins. And Combatron is a carbon-copy of Green Lantern sans the personality and actual story.

It’s self-published so I don’t have to ask how these stories saw the light of day. All I’m wishing now is that the Dayos get their act together. It’s one thing to resurrect Funny Komiks, but with the number of independent komiks nowadays, they have to step up. Readers of komiks are more discriminating now, and if they’re going to buy independently produced komiks, they’re going to pick the best titles. And no amount of nostalgia will change that fact.

Book: Zombinoy #4

"Zombinoy #4"

Zombie apocalyptic, big-time, end-of-the-world scenario of biblical proportions. Pinoy style.

And so we begin the second “season” of Zombinoy, where the first issue alone has more happening than the whole of the first season combined. Well, that’s not completely true, but it sure does feel like it.

I think the problem with the first three issues was that the people behind Zombinoy wanted to create the world first, to introduce the characters and the zombie plague at the same time. I don’t know why, but I think it may be because they wanted readers to connect to the characters first. Having read Issue #4, I don’t think they had to.

Issue #4 has us facing the problem of zombies in our land, with the Americans very gung-ho about helping us because of nefarious reasons. Prior to this, we had a lot of government drama that tiptoed around this issue. I think #4 had the better execution, as you’re seeing things in action while discovering that things are not what they seem.

The characters feel more real too, even though “screen time” is more spread out. At first, I attributed it to the fact that I’ve read the first three issues. I already know these characters. But that’s not exactly true. Zombinoy, while a brilliant idea, wasn’t completely remarkable nor was it unforgettable. The characters in this issue really lived and breathe, that despite not knowing who they were before, you already have a sense of who they are as a person.

The writing’s brilliant, actually. It shows just how much writer Geonard Yleana had grown from the time he wrote the first three issues to now.

I’m still not a fan of the art though. This is more personal preference though, as I’m not exactly an artist. It’s just that–the glossiness of the drawings and the shadings doesn’t fit with the world they’re trying to build. The Philippines is going to hell, and it’s presented in the cleanest way possible.

It’s a little jarring.

But it’s not something you can’t get over. Especially with a story as strong as the one presented here in the fourth issue. And if Yleana continues to grow, I can’t wait to see what he (and the rest of the Zombinoy team) has in store for us next issue.

Book: Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila

"Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila" by Carlo VergaraAfter defeating a giant frog, a horde of zombies, and the extraterrestrial Amazonistas, small-town beautician Ada begins a new chapter by moving to the big city with hunky Dodong, and taking up residence in the old house of his friend Gwyneth. Not only does earning his keep prove more difficult, Ada also finds himself dealing with a haunting past, the return of the Zaturnnah stone, new enemies and allies, startling revelations, true confessions, and the prospect of a new–and complicated–romance. Can Ada survive a place that seeks to wear out his mind, his body… and his heart?

I’ve been looking forward to the sequel to Zsazsa Zaturnnah for a good long while now. Carlo Vergara gave teasers on his blog site, but it wasn’t until early this year that the book was finally–finally!–released. And, I have to say, Mr. Vergara lost none of the wit and drama that made the first volume a hit. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s the fact that it’s short. Then again, this is only the first of a three-part volume. Now, it’s just a question of when Mr. Vergara will have the time to finish (and release) the continuations.

The story doesn’t start immediately after the events of the first volume–and yet, it sort of does. We follow Ada and Dodong as they start their new lives in Manila, and finally we meet the wo/man who created the Zaturnnah costume. Things seem to be getting to normal for Ada, when an impromptu singing session sends a very familiar rock crashing into our hero/ine.

Zaturnnah is back! And with her return comes new characters, new villains–and a new ally. But it’s hard to judge the story based on the first act alone, so I’ll leave this reaction post to this: the first part of Zsazsa Zaturnnah‘s second volume definitely leaves you craving for more!

I do have one question though: whatever happened to the beloved Didi? She gets mentioned twice early in the story, one of which was a question on where could she be–and it doesn’t get answered. I do wish that Didi would make an appearance in the second volume, if only to answer the question of her current location. Gwyneth is a fun (and snarky) sidekick (who isn’t really a sidekick), but no one can beat the resilience of Didi.

Zsazsa Zaturnnah is available in all local bookstores here in the Philippines.

Movie: Rakenrol

"Rakenrol" directed by Quark HenaresOdie and his best friend Irene are two outsiders who find a second home in the Philippine underground music scene. The two decide to form a band and put together an unlikely crew that consists of the school bully, an ex-punk-turned-barista, and a former-childstar-turned-band-manager. The film follows their misadventures as they face satanic S&M bands, samurai swindlers, narcissistic rockstars, the pretentious Philippine art community and the freakiest music video auteur ever. Co-written by Diego Castillo, the guitarist of one of the Philippines’ biggest rock bands SANDWICH, and directed by multi-awarded music video director Quark Henares, Rakenrol is a heartfelt ode to the underground scene both filmmakers spent their formative years in.

After two years of waiting (and a year of mentioning it in articles I wrote about Glaiza de Castro for my old job), I finally got to watch Rakenrol–and it was totally awesome.

And let’s get this out of the way:

Yes, Rakenrol is about a boy who falls in love with a girl. It’s about growing up and learning about the complexities of life. But when you watch Rakenrol, the one really clear thing is this: the movie is a love letter to Pinoy rock and roll.

My friends know that I don’t like staying up late. I’ve only been to a handful of gigs in my entire 26 years here on Earth, and all of them (save one) were to support friends who were launching their albums. The other one was a gig where friends in bands were supporting us to raise funds for our fine arts festival–where I didn’t even get to go to our thank-you gig because I was so exhausted. I heard there were fireworks. Which cost us five grand. But I digress, and that is a matter for another blog post.

Going back to Rakenrol, it seemed fitting that it would close Cinemalaya 7. And in true rock and roll fashion (if there is one), the bands involved (however indirectly) with the film staged a concert across the CCP after the film showing. I didn’t get to go as I was watching Zombadings at the time, but a friend said it was a great concert and a great sendoff for director Quark Henares. Imagine, having your friends stage a concert for your film, in the same night when your film was loved and applauded by the people you had in mind while making it. Quark must be in heaven right now–if he’s not sporting a hangover.

One of the things I loved about Rakenrol is its simplicity. The story never wavered from lead character Odie’s tale of his love for his best friend Irene. And while the story does branch out into the world of the Philippines’ local music scene, it never forgot that the main story it was telling was the one about Odie and Irene. Well, about Odie and his love for Irene.

I’ve only seen one other work of Jason Abalos, in 2008’s Endo, which had him portraying a similar character–or maybe it felt similar because he delivered the same kind of acting in both films. Which worked for both films. And he has the quiet sincerity and the unintentional comic down pat. Now, I wonder what else he can do.

Glaiza de Castro is, as always, a joy to watch. Even in 2009’s Astig, which didn’t really live up to expectations, would provide Glaiza with good scenes for her demo reel. She always has something different to show in her every project, and it was fun to see her be a kid and a girl in Rakenrol. Also, her love for the Filipino music scene really shows in the way she delivers her lines. There’s truth in them.

As for Ketchup Eusebio and Alwynn Uytingco… Well, you can’t really call them supporting players, as they also play majorly into the events of the story. True, they’re only supporting characters in the main Odie-Irene story thread, but they also brought their own A-game to the table–and matched the intensity that Glaiza and Jason gave their roles. As did Matet de Leon in her standout role as Matet, former child star.

I love how some local celebrities are now willing to play a fictional versions of themselves. Eugene Domingo in Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank was hilarious–as was Matet here in Rakenrol. There’s just something about breaking perceptions, even though fictional, that makes for intentional comedy.

I won’t get technical about the shots of the film, as we both know I’d just embarrass myself. But I do have to say this: it managed to do what it was supposed to do: which was tell the story the way the director intended it. There was one particular scene where I found the framing a bit odd, what with that one camera jerk that tried to include a departing character before just settling with the static one. But who knows? Maybe that was intentional too.

And I won’t get too lit-crit-y about the importance of music and their choices of songs in the story. It told the story it was supposed to tell, with the music that best fit scenes–especially the original ones that were, I’m guessing, written especially for the film. It figures that music plays an important part in the story, it is called Rakenrol after all–but while local music scene fans would love the nods the film gave to local greats (and the barbs targeted at the genre they dubbed a “pogi-rock”), I can’t wait to have non-fans discover the treasure trove of original Pinoy music that the film has provided.

I won’t be able to stop saying good things about Rakenrol, so instead of going on and on, I’ll just share this bit of information we gleaned from the concert that came after: Rakenrol will be hitting theaters come September 21. And the best thing, I feel, I can say about the move is this: watch it and you’ll love it as much as I did.