Knock 'em dead: 'No Way to Treat a Lady'

DARK COMEDY, THEATRICAL INTENSITY. Repertory Philippines's 'No Way to Treat a Lady' runs until March 24 at the Greenbelt 1 Onstage theatre. For tickets, call 571-6926. Image from the Repertory Philippines Facebook page

DARK COMEDY, THEATRICAL INTENSITY. Repertory Philippines's 'No Way to Treat a Lady' runs until March 24 at the Greenbelt 1 Onstage theatre. For tickets, call 571-6926.

Image from the Repertory Philippines Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines - These are dark days indeed: children killing their classmates with assault rifles; a global terror network commanding religious fanatics to strike anywhere at anytime; an entire world addicted to greed and waste that can't stop itself from ruining the very planet that sustains it.

Standing at the brink of the abyss, the heinous crimes of decades past seem utterly pedestrian to today's jaded eyes. Perhaps that is why we can now laugh at the seminal serial killers of yesteryears, see their misanthropy as a comedic escape, albeit a dark one.

But laugh we still will, even if it be the death of us. And laugh we did, all thanks to Audie Gemora and his wicked ways. With his nefariously talented gang of fellow thespians and stage artists, we couldn't help it.

“No Way to Treat a Lady,” Repertory Philippines's latest fare, serves up a grisly dish too delicious to pass up. Based on the novel by William Goldman — best known for his screenwriting for films such as “The Stepford Wives,” “Chaplin,” “Absolute Power,”  and “The Princess Bride” — it is pop entertainment at its slickest, a successful formula that combines comedy, crime, and romance.

“No Way to Treat a Lady”  was adapted into film in 1968. Composer Douglas Cohen adapted it into a musical comedy for the stage in 1987. 

The story tells of New York detective Morris Brummbel's dogged attempt to nab serial killer Kit Gill. Gill calls the detective on the phone from time to time egging him to publicize his latest murders so that he makes the front page of the The New York Times. This allows Gill to equal the fame of his mother, the late stage actress Alexandra Gill. She haunts him and ridicules his exploits in his imagination, propelling him to step up his murder spree a notch higher each time.

Watch a clip from the 1968 movie here:

Gill, ever the frustrated actor, assumes various identities and costumes to perpetrate his crimes. Always he leaves a lipstick mark on his victim, all of whom are elderly women resembling his mother. As all this unfolds, Brummbel falls for art gallery curator Sarah Stone, a neighbor of one of the first victims, even as he struggles with living with his own mother, the irrepressible Flora Brummbel. 

Brummbel's mother issues mirror those of Gill's, while the detective's devotion to his dangerous job makes Stone feel that the cross-dressing murderous Gill is her rival to Brummbel's heart. 

The story reflects Goldman's milieu: the protagonist Brummbel is a Jew, like Goldman, trying to fit in the sophisticated culturati scene of his beau. It is set in 1970 — just a scant decade after Alfred Hitchcock introduced the public to the world's first psychoanalytical film with “Psycho”; just a year after Woodstock and the Sexual Revolution would allow a gal like Stone to have enough elan to make the first move on Brummbel; and during the very same time when real-life serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy ran amuck slaughtering dozens of innocent women and boys in a bloody binge.

Goldman's inspiration for the novel was the real life “Silk Strangler” of Boston. As in the movie “Psycho,” the villain here is driven by psychological issues with his mother.

But while the novel made at the cusp of the 1970s is a morbidly dark comedy thriller reflecting the immediacy of its narrative, this theatrical adaptation made two decades later is blatantly blasé and irreverent. With time the black fades, leaving but the gayest colors.

Or perhaps our 21st century eyes can no longer distinguish the blackness of this comedy thriller from the darkness of our own times. It wasn't so long ago when I saw parents bring their children to watch the musical “Sweeny Todd.” So we laugh insouciantly. And with the way Repertory Philippines has brought to life this half-a-century-old piece, even the most historically informed of audiences will find it irresistibly funny. 

AMAZING CAST. 'No Way to Treat a Lady' stars Carla Guevarra Laforteza, Shiela Francisco, Joel Trinidad, Audie Gemora, and Pinky Marquez. Photo from the Repertory Philippines Facebook page

AMAZING CAST. 'No Way to Treat a Lady' stars Carla Guevarra Laforteza, Shiela Francisco, Joel Trinidad, Audie Gemora, and Pinky Marquez.

Photo from the Repertory Philippines Facebook page

As with most narratives, it is the villainous role that affords the thespian the most audacity and fun. Actor/director Audie Gemora brings the house down with laughter as he assumes the various roles his villain Kit Gill needs to lure his victims. Audiences bust a gut as Gemora essays a latin dance instructor, a priest, Sarah Stone, and more.

Joel Trinidad plays detective Morris Brummbel, Carla Guevarra Laforteza is his beau Sarah Stone, Sheila Francisco is his mother Flora Brummbel, and Pinky Marquez Cancio is the haunting stage mother Alexandra Gill. Liesl Batucan, herself a highly esteemed actress, is this play's assistant director.

Refreshingly, this play does not indulge the stereotypes associated with its era. No Summer of Love psychedelia or disco dancing flair. The focus is on the comedy.

Today, psychoanalytical narratives are no longer cutting edge. Serial killers are no longer shocking. Plot twists no longer surprise. Detective story conventions and romance seem trite. Stories that were once worthy of an entire book or movie are now condensed into one episode of a television series.  

In the the age of home theaters and digital downloads, only the most epic stories and the grandest spectacles command our presence at movie theaters.

But the theater is different. Performed live, the art is in the telling. The old jokes are as funny as ever. In these dark times, it's the stage that provides the light. - Rappler.com


(Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.)

('No Way to Treat a Lady' runs until March 24 at the Greenbelt 1 Onstage theatre. For tickets, call 571-6926.)