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A role close to Cherie’s heart

DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda - The Philippine Star

Cherie Gil is a dear friend. She’s one of my favorite people in the world. I love the whole package — the stance, the honesty, the physical beauty, the raspy voice, the talent, the rough edges, the strength and vulnerability, the virtues and the sins, the kindness, the consistencies and failings, the simplicity and the contradictions, and everything that makes her no second rate in all that she is and in all that she does.

She was invited last year by Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and director Loy Arcenas to play the lead matriarch in Arbol de Fuego, the Filipino adaptation of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece, The Cherry Orchard. At first, Cherie was apprehensive. She had no idea about Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, The Seagull, although she knew about Chekhov as a great playwright.

The final draft of Arbol de Fuego arrived at her inbox five months later. Cherie went for a reading with the entire cast and realized there was no turning back. She was totally clueless that her role would be emotionally and physically daunting.

In the play, Cherie portrays the strong-willed matriarch Enriquietta “Rica” Jardeleza-Sofronio who returns home to their sugar plantation, Hacienda Carmen, in Negros Occidental after five years in Madrid. Rica’s family is on the brink of losing their ancestral home called the Balay Dako and their blazing arbol de fuegos (fire trees) that frame their vast estate. Rica needs to find urgent solutions to their mounting debt. She refuses to accept their family’s looming downfall and tries to mask it with her lavish lifestyle.

For Cherie, Arbol de Fuego is closer to home. Like the matriarch who might lose her ancestral home, Cherie remembers the ancestral home her mom’s (Rosemarie Gil) family built in 1861 in Porac, Pampanga. She used to visit the place when she was a child. According to her mom, their vast sugar lands used to reach as far as the eye could see. She remembers fondly what was once known as “ang bahay maragol” in Kapampangan (meaning “the big house”) even if most people including her family have forgotten it.

In the play, Rica deals with the death of her youngest son, Rafael, who drowns in the river when he was seven years old. Rody (Vera) had no idea when he wrote the adaptation that it was the late Mark Gil’s real name. The actor succumbed to liver cancer last year. (I fondly called Mark, Ralph. He was always kind to me even when I was a struggling, fledgling TV interviewer. Ralph was a powerful, passionate actor. I was a fan.)

According to Cherie, her brother passed on without leaving billions of pesos but he gave his heart to everything he did. And that is Ralph’s legacy.

After her brother’s passing, Cherie found herself at a major crossroad. Like her character Rica, she is starting over again. Cherie has to decide where she wants to go next. It had been a journey of hits and misses, embracing her heart along the way, restoring what had been broken and learning some hard lessons. This job of being an actor can be severely exhausting — inside and out — when you are as generous and giving an actor as Cherie is. She calls this episode the hardest chapter of her life. Equipped with truth, hard lessons, strength and bravery, and gumption, she hopes for a better one, this time.

In the play, she gets to work with some of the best theater actors in the country and Cherie is grateful. Cherie receives rave reviews from critics for her brilliant performance of a woman chained to her glorious past. One cannot deny Cherie’s stage presence with her aristocratic features and calm, raspy voice. She owns the stage as Enriquietta Jardeleza-Sofronio just like Soviet stage actress Olga Leonardovna Knipper-Chekhova’s portrayal of Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard. She is expectedly brilliant, attacking the role with fervid quiet and pathos.

I caught Arbol de Fuego last week. I sneaked into the theater just on time for the opening scene. I intended to stay for just a short while because I had to flee to a previous engagement and besides, I promised my dear Cherie that I was going to watch it even if I were to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.

The play is a must see. Bravo!

(The powerhouse cast also included Raffy Tejada, Jake Macapagal, Angeli Bayani, Anna Luna, Riki Benedicto, Leo Rialp, Kiki Baento, Lao Rodriguez, Divine Grace Aucina, Bembol Roco, Anthony Falcon and Gie Onieda. The play had its final bow last March 15 at the PETA Theater Center, Quezon City.)

vuukle comment

ANGELI BAYANI

ANNA LUNA

ANTHONY FALCON AND GIE ONIEDA

ANTON CHEKHOV

ARBOL

ATLANTIC OCEAN

CHERIE

CHERRY ORCHARD

FUEGO

RICA

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