Walang Kukurap: Unsettling reality
MANILA, Philippines - After presenting a 110-year-old sarswela for its season opener ("Walang Sugat"), Tanghalang Pilipino goes all the way to the other extreme of the theater spectrum by giving us a contemporary political thriller for its second offering.
Publicity defined "Walang Kukurap" as a "production which blurs the lines between art and life, fiction and reality, as it vivisects the darkest parts of the Filipino soul."
With such a stark description, I had no idea exactly what kind of play I was bringing myself to watch.
I only knew of playwright Layeta Bucoy recently when she adapted Lino Brocka's movie "Bona" for PETA, as a serio-comic theater piece for Ms. Eugene Domingo.
With the excitement built around Ms. Bucoy's script for "Walang Kukurap," we understand that her success with "Bona" is no fluke. Bucoy has certainly gone a long way from writing tabloid erotica or ghosts stories — she is now a playwright to reckon with.
In "Walang Kukurap," we are presented with what is supposed to be a typical small town in the Philippines. Director Tuxqs Rutaquio calls it a modern-day version of Rizal's San Diego.
As the characters play mah-jong in the first act, we immediately know this will not be just an ordinary play about an ordinary town.
We are shocked right away with its frank and graphic violence, not only in the dialogue generously peppered with crisp profanity, but more so in the unspeakable action that unfolds.
This tense atmosphere pervades through the play's two acts and 25 scenes. Within its span of two hours, we are treated to scenes of bloody torture, mutilation, assassination, murder, as well as multiple scenes of double-crossing, underhanded deals, political gimmickry and intrigue in all its forms.
Is this really how corrupt politics is in a typical small town in our country today? If Ms. Bucoy wants us to be disturbed, I assure you, you will definitely be disturbed with what you will see in that small, intimate space inside the Teatro Huseng Batute of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Ms. Bucoy is not dubbed "the female Quentin Tarantino of Filipino theater" for nothing.
Actors that stood out
The senior cast is composed of actors we also see in other plays, movies and television.
In my opinion, the female actresses and characters are the most memorable.
Suzette Ranillo plays Cristina, the widow of the beloved ex-mayor who is now running to be vice mayor. It is her character who witnesses the corruption around her and who struggles as it starts to consume her.
Ranillo's acting style and line delivery can be distractingly reminiscent of Ms. Nora Aunor at times. Her scene with the intense Lou Veloso (who plays her Papang) and another one with brash Peewee O'Hara (as Panchang, the tricycle driver mom whose son is killed in a brawl) are outstanding!
Sherry Lara plays the proud and wily Mayor's wife Purita.
Her scenes preparing the statue of the Virgin Mary for the procession show her fluidly-transforming character as she interacts with her husband and incumbent mayor Molong (Crispin Pineda) and, later, her brother-in-law Paquito (Paolo Cabanero). She is amazing.
Mymy Davao plays the ruthless and opportunistic accountant Melba. She dominates the scene whenever she is onstage with her strong stage presence.
Davao's scene as she strikes a cruel deal with the young lawyer Vic (Remus Villanueva) is particularly chilling.
The other senior members of the cast are Ced Torrecarion (who plays Christina's cousin and town gambling lord Alex) and Ding Navasero (who plays the rich and influential trapo Santiago, Sr.).
On the night I watched, Mr. Navasero majorly flubbed his climactic campaign speech in the final act. This considerably diminished the final impact. Ironically, this was just after he had a great scene with his son (Nicolo Magno) talking about how he had manipulated the town's politicians to his benefit.
The younger cast members are mostly from the Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) Actors Company, who regularly undergo intensive training programs under the TP. These young talents all have the potential to be the next Nonie Buencamino, Shamaine Centenera, Allan Paule, Irma Adlawan or John Arcilla, all of whom owe the honing of their craft to the Actors Company.
Again, the more memorable performers from this (younger) group are the ladies.
Doray Dayao plays Doray, the poor and idealistic mayoralty candidate. It was surprising to read from her CV that she is just a new Actors Company scholar.
Dayao completely won the audience's attention and sympathy as she quixotically rallied against illegal logging and floods. The scenes where she interacts with her SK-chair son Gutierrez (Nar Cabico) are the liveliest in the play.
(I was jarred to watch this one character who sincerely wanted to do good for the community playing the comic relief in this dark play.)
Regina de Vera plays Rhoda, the socialite daughter of Melba, whose life had been molded by the political whims of her mother.
De Vera always stayed in character, with her sassy and snappy kolehiyala Tag-lish lines. Whether the scene is funny (like how she defends herself wearing stiletto shoes while campaigning) or dramatic (as in a couple of dramatic scenes with her cousin Marky, played by Marco Viana), de Vera remained "sosyal" and consistent.
Other TP Actors Company members in this production are Jonathan Tadioan (as the Chinese drug lord Lu), Ralph Mateo (as Purita's son Dino), April Joy Inigo (as the singer August) and Jovanni Cadag (as the stuttering Pong).
What we think
Congratulations to Tanghalang Pilipino, Layeta Bucoy and Tuxqs Rutaquio for bringing us this bold and shocking piece of theater.
In her notes, Ms. Bucoy points out that "Walang Kukurap" simply aims to unsettle, not exactly to lead or inspire.
"Walang Kukurap" will certainly jolt us awake and wide-eyed to the disgusting corrupt realities of our current local political systems.
As we are disturbed by what we see onstage, we are also challenged to decide on what to do next to correct the situation.
It is then up to us to take the challenge and to do what is needed to bring our beloved country back onto the straight path, the "tuwid na landas."
And we should not blink in doing so. - Rappler.com
"Walang Kukurap" plays Fridays (8pm), Saturdays (3pm and 8pm) and Sundays (3pm) until October 7, 2012 at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the CCP. Tickets are available at all Ticketworld outlets. Call 891-9999.
Fred Hawson is a physician and surgeon by trade who enjoys blogging about movies, theater and music. To read more of his reviews, visit his blog, 3xhcch.multiply.com.