MANILA, Philippines – Live performances, the most ancient of arts, are the premium entertainment of the 21st century — the one experience that can’t be digitally reproduced, downloaded, and pirated.
Never before in recent times have there been so many commercially successful plays performing concurrently. And yet it has always been tough getting audiences to watch theater. It requires commitment for both those on stage and in the seats; theater companies need the cast and crew for every single performance and audiences just can’t walk out on real people.
If it’s good, then the live performance becomes an unforgettable personal experience. And if it’s bad, it’s torture being a captive audience to people making fools of themselves onstage.
To keep the rafters packed, local theater companies have resorted to several strategies: stage musicals, use famous plays, modernize classics, cast television and movie stars, and choose educational shows — the kind you can pre-sell to schools as a requirement for their students.
On top of all these demands, a theater company must still come out with entertaining and artistic fare if they are to retain audiences (and schools with their busloads of students) for the next season.
But when the company is none other than the highly esteemed Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), even more is expected.
And they deliver.
Rody Vera’s “D Wonder Twins of Boac” doesn’t just transform William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” into a Filipino musical set in the Tagalog movie business of the 1960s; it delivers Brechtian Theater that subversively incites audiences into introspection and action even as it makes them laugh and sing.
Shakespeare; Bertolt Brecht; the decline of cinematic creativity in the Philippines and the advent of formulaic, derivative and exploitative films — all these weighty topics are easy to swallow with a sugarcoat of comedy and melody, thanks to playwright Rody Vera; director Maribel Legarda; music composer Jeff Hernandez; choreographer Carlon Matobato; stars Cris Villonco and Chrome Cosio; stage veterans Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino and Bodjie Pascua.
Then there are also the cast members Juliene Mendoza, Gino Ramirez, Paolo Rodriguez, Carlon Matobato, Riki Benedicto, Gie Onida, Eric dela Cruz, Roi Calilong, Kiki Baento, Kat Castillo, Tricia Huseña, and Divine Aucina; costume designer John Abul; set designer Lex Marcos; and lighting designer Jon Jon Villareal.
Just like Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Vera’s “D Wonder Twins of Boac” tells of a shipwrecked heroine pretending to be a man to fit in and come under the employ of a wealthy man, who then sends her/him to beseech the hand of a wealthy dame in marriage, only to have that matron fall for her male guise even as she gets enamored to her master.
But as the title “D Wonder Twins of Boac” suggests, its heroine Viola (Villonco) has a twin brother Bastian (Cosio) and the two are a vaudeville pair from Boac, Marinduque. Separated by a shipwreck, she tries her luck auditioning for the part of a man at Campanilla Pictures looking for “the Philippine Elvis.” Unknown to her, the same studio has hired her long lost twin as a stuntman.
She ends up as the envoy of its owner Doc Orsino (Pascua/Mendoza) who wants to unite his studio with its rival, BLV Studios, by marrying its owner Olivia Nepomuceno (Buencamino). Just like Shakespeare’s heroine, Viola secretly becomes enamored with Orsino even as she evades the advances of Olivia. When the two decide to consolidate their studios, the ensuing film stars Viola as a man and Bastian as his body double stuntman.
For all the delicious dollops of sweet melodies, spicy sexual innuendos, and gender bending hilarity, this play leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth — and that’s intentional. Brechtian to the end, “D Wonder Twins of Boac” does not give its audiences the feel-good ending they expect.
Instead of a sweet suspension of disbelief culminating in a satisfying closure, the jagged pill of truth jars them to the reality that awaits them outside the theater — a Philippine movie industry that is as formulaic, derivative, and exploitative as the one portrayed onstage. The “happy ending” necessary to complete the story is up to the audiences to enact with the films they choose to see, shun, and make themselves.
PETA beautifully exceeds its didactic mandate with “D Wonder Twins of Boac.” Much more than educational entertainment, it arms its audiences with insight, incites them to action, and spurs them off to the real world to rewrite the story of our times. And it doesn’t hurt that this play provides laughter and song with its tonic of truth.
You don’t have to be a student bused in for a school requirement to watch this show. “D Wonder Twins of Boac” is a show you will want to see just for sheer entertainment.
Villonco’s crystalline voice shines in PETA Theater’s excellent acoustics. Rodriguez flips his wig and brings the house down with his comedic genius as several characters. Marcos’s fantastic stage gimmicks include a descending pylon of video flat screens and confetti. Villareal’s lighting design is ever the unsung hero. (One only needs to watch a badly lit play to appreciate what he does.)
And then there’s the winning chemistry of the cast and crew’s ensemble efforts that allow this play to shine on so many levels. And of course there’s Vera’s wit, Hernandez’s melodies, and Legarda’s leadership. Whether appreciated as entertainment, as education, or as a call to action, “D Wonder Twins of Boac” fits the bill. – Rappler.com
(Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.)
(PETA’s ‘D Wonder Twins of Boac’ is playing at the PETA Theater until March 3. For more information, call PETA at 725-6244 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For tickets, visit Ticketworld or call 891-9999.)
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