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.

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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.

Theater: The Woman in Black

"The Woman in Black"

The Woman in Black tells the story of a solicitor, sent to a far provincial town to put to order the paperwork of a recently diseased, and his brushes with the titular character. And while, in essence, the play is about the same thing as the novel (and the many film adaptations)–it’s also a different entity all together. Mostly because the stage play of The Woman in Black takes the setting from the small English town to a theater stage–literally.

In the stage play, after surviving the horrors of the woman in black, Arthur Kipps sees a man to help him tell his tale. Except, the man misunderstands and sets about in staging the unusual horror story that Arthur Kipps has brought. Constantly chastised, Arthur decides to go along with the reenactment of his experiences in the small town; and through various set pieces, manages to recreate the horrors of meeting the woman in black.

And they do manage to recreate the horrors. On stage.

I’ve seen the most recent film adaptation, which tackles the story a little different from the novel too, so I already kinda knew what was going to happen. But seeing as the stage play isn’t exactly like the novel either, I knew there was bound to be different twists as well. What I was really looking forward though is to see how Dulaang Kalay, the theater group behind this local production, would go about doing the scares.

The crown goes to the lighting director (and staff)–and really fast stage hands. Those two, plus Teatrino’s unique theater layout, made the production live up to the title’s promise of horror.

As for the actors, Jeremy Domingo was wonderful as the real Arthur Kipps–and the host of other characters he had to play, with different accents to boot. But as for Reb Atadero… While manages the swagger of his character well, and the vulnerability of Arthur Kipps during the reenactments, there were times when it was hard to understand what he was saying. His British accent was, for the most part, unnatural. It was all the more noticeable because his co-actor, Domingo, was doing exceptionally well in the accents department.

And you can’t exactly say that British accents are harder to understand–because as a theater actor, it’s your duty to make sure the audience understands your every word.

In the end though, what matters is that the production was able to give its promise of horror.

Though, I think I like the film adaptation better for it’s clearer explanation of what happened to the woman in black, and its attempt at explaining why it sought revenge against Arthur Kipps–who shouldn’t have been part of the curse–as well.

advert: the wedding singer, the musical

"the wedding singer" produced by 9 worksa friend of mine is selling tickets to a local production of THE WEDDING SINGER musical, and i thought i’d help out by posting about it here.

THE WEDDING SINGER, in a nutshell, is about “Robbie Hart, a New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer whose fiancee leaves him at the altar. Heartbroken, he is forced to reexamine the meaning of love and marriage with the help of Julia, a waitress from one of his wedding-singing venues.

i liked the movie (starring adam sandler and drew barrymore) that spawned the musical, but i have no idea what goes on in the musical: what they kept, what they changed, and what they added. and since previous musicals i’ve watched live are musicals i’m already familiar with, i’m coming in cold with this one.

the 9 works theatrical production of THE WEDDING SINGER opens october 23, and ends its run on november 17. my friend is selling tickets for the november 7 show.

for more information about the local production, check out this blog post from gibbs cadiz.

and i’ll post my thoughts on the musical after watching it on november 7. i do hope it’s better than their production of RENT, which was okay but was cringe-worthy during some parts.