Monday, August 20, 2012

Walang Sugat

Walang Sugat cast members

Last week, horrible weather led to the cancellation of classes, suspension of work and the flooding of the whole metro and its nearby areas. The opening night of Tanghalang Pilipino’s Walang Sugat was just one of the many cultural events that got cancelled. The weather eventually improved and although pushed back a week later, the curtains rose at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater) and Walang Sugat finally had its opening night. Notable in this sarswela is Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s first foray into directing live theater and also the return of Noemi Manikan-Gomez to the stage after a long hiatus. What interested me most about this production was to see if this work penned by Severino Reyes, current and timely when it premiered 110 years ago, would still hold up in these modern times.

Walang Sugat tells the story of childhood sweethearts Julia (Cris Villonco) and Tenyong (Noel Rayos aletrnating with Antonio Ferrer), and their secret love affair amidst the final salvo of the Philippines’ revolution against Spain. This love is put to the test when Tenyong enlists to join the Philippine forces after his father’s abduction and eventual death while being a prisoner of the Spanish. While Julia waits patiently for her sweetheart’s return from battle, her mother Juana (Noemi Manikan-Gomez) is eager to have her married to Miguel (Nar Cabico), the son of the wealthy Tadeo (Red Nuestro). When news arrive that Tenyong got wounded in battle, Julia resorts to marrying Miguel albeit reluctantly. And on the day of the wedding itself, a wounded Tenyong arrives and asks to be married to Julia as his final wish. What happens next needs to be seen and I am glad that I didn’t read the detailed synopsis since the twist in the end did catch me by surprise.

There were strong performances from all the cast members during the opening night. Cris Villonco did a commendable job in making Julia distinct from Maria Clara from Noli Me Tangere which was the opening show for last season. Cris infused a lot more stubbornness and naughtiness in Julia which wasn’t present at all in Maria Clara. Noel Rayos on the other hand sounded very much like a crooner heard from old vinyl records. I got tempted to close my eyes and just listen to him sing and all the while expecting to hear crackles and pops. I pointed this out to him afterwards and he said that he did aim for that old sound evoking a bygone era. Antonio Ferrer, a classically trained vocalist, plays Tenyong in other performances and I do hope that I will be able to watch him soon to see how he portrays the role.

There were a couple of flirting scenes with corresponding song numbers that made me want to verify if Walang Sugat was indeed written back in the day when people were supposed to be more reserved. The first flirting scene was with Monica, played by the always vocally strong Jenny Villegas, and Lucas, played by the ever dependable Jonathan Tadioan. I had to raise my eyebrows when it was implied what happened after their delightful number. The next flirting scene was the unexpected duet between Juana and Tadeo. While the number was also a delight and the moment for Noemi Manikan-Gomez to show off her vocals, I had to shake my head in disbelief that future in-laws even entertained the notion of hooking up after marrying off their children. I tried my best to imagine how audiences back then reacted to this scene.

Noel Rayos

I admit that Act One was hard to get myself settled into, not just because of the language used which required a lot of effort for me to grasp and understand, but also because the cast looked like they haven’t settled into the performance as well. It felt rough with too many noticeable kinks particularly with the microphones that distracted me a lot throughout the performance. But Act Two ran more smoothly and things got a lot tighter and stronger as the show went on. I also noticed that the music track sounded shallow, muffled at times and lacking in clarity and crispness. This was very evident even during the overture when I focused on the music more, trying to catch themes and leitmotifs that might be heard later. Many times when the chorus was singing exceptionally I found myself thinking if only the backing track was up to par. I found out after the show that the production still used analog tapes from the earlier production of Walang Sugat back in the 90’s. It’s sad to know that a digitally remastered backing track for this doesn’t exist at all which could have brought out the beauty of the music more. Looking at the program, I noticed a trio of composers who contributed songs to this sarswela namely Mike Velarde Jr., Fulgencio Tolentino and Constancio de Guzman. Their contribution came years after the show premiered which I think is an interesting topic in itself: the history of the piece and the revisions made in the material.

Tanghalang Pilipino's Walang Sugat is not much of a visual spectacle if one expects grandiose sets and a production laden with numerous special effects. The minimalist set required the audience to rely heavily on their imagination. Walang Sugat’s main draw is still the material penned by Severino Reyes. It’s remarkable that a piece of work for the theater written more than a century ago still resonated with such relevance in these modern times. The courtship may seem dated, but the struggle to gain freedom and to achieve desires still ring true. And Bayan Ko, a recurring song that was used to end each act, never failed to send shivers down my spine even if I've heard it over and over again.

Walang Sugat has now become a very limited two weekend run due to the unavoidable circumstances that led to the cancellation of its first week. Catch it on its last week this August 24-26, 2012 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater). I was told that Tanghalang Pilipino has added morning performances to accommodate more people. Call TicketWorld at 891-9999 or text 0917-7500107 for more info.

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