After a dry cultural spell, July showers

MOONLIGHTER - Jess Q. Cruz () - August 2, 2004 - 12:00am
During those weeks late in June when Filipinos were anxiously waiting for the final results of the elections, activities in the performing arts came to a standstill. The counting of the ballots in Congress took center stage and it was not amusing in the least except for the admirers of Senator Pimentel and Congressman Dilangalen who must have thrilled to their marathon rhetoric.

For those of us who are into films on DVD, the more adventurous will not buy their videos from AstroVision or Odyssey. They will trek into the entrails of the Islamic Center in Quiapo, and in its bowels, if they can ferret their way through the sweaty, smelly crowds, they will discover in the multi-leveled labyrinth films that will not be seen on the big screen. Where else can you buy the likes of Jason and the Argonauts, Jack and the Beanstalk, Attila, Kundun, Monster, Being John Malkovich, Mulholland Drive, Hitler: The Rise of Evil, Radio and dozens more?

All these items are pirated and are likely to have been smuggled into the country. You can buy them at low, low prices if you feel no guilt for breaking the law.

In the meantime, by the second week of July, the cultural life of Manila stirred to life again. Young pianist Hiyas Hila has given a recital at the CCP Little Theater and Tanghalang Pilipino is staging Speaking in Tongues at Tanghalang Huseng Batute – two events that are certain to drive away post-election blues.

The CCP presents the TP production of Speaking in Tongues in cooperation with the Australian Embassy. The play by Andrew Bovell is an absorbing tour-de-force on the shaky relations of husbands and wives on or off the nuptial bed.

In a dingy hotel room, Sonja (Mailes Kanapi) climbs into bed with her pick-up, Pete (Robbie Guevara). In another seedy hotel room at the same time, Jane (Tess Jamias) hops into bed with Leon (Roeder Camañag). As the two pairs of lovers carry out the age-old game of indiscretion and deceit, they reveal their respective reasons for going to the bar where they chance to meet one another, their voices often blending in unison. Jane is married to Pete. Sonja is Leon’s wife. How this round-robin sort of situation begins and where it leads to along with certain incidents that seem to throw the plot into a maze, like Jane’s account about a neighbor who throws a woman’s shoe into a vacant lot and Leon’s story about a guy who wears brogues whose girlfriend leaves for Europe and does not return, form the substance of the first act.

The first half of the play sizzles with comic irony and is lots of fun with the four actors under Herbert Go’s deft direction going to town in a tightly focused ensemble playing that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

The second half of the play is a mish-mash of disjointed scenes that are loosely (if it were not downright contrived) linked with the stories told in the first half. The play bogs down somewhat except that the actors manage to keep it going, much to their credit.

This drama is also being presented in a Filipino version with Irma Adlawan-Marasigan, Angela Garcia, Ricky Davao and Alan Paule.

If Speaking in Tongues gives you a sense of déjà vu, you might have watched the production by Dulaang Talyer at the Australian Center in 2001.

TP declares that for its 18th theater season, the company will focus on the theme "yearnings and searchings – for moral salvation, love, peace, acceptance, spirituality, sense of identity, sense of clarification in our lives, and most importantly, the Filipino’s constant longing for a better society."

Bovell’s award-winning play certainly fits the bill.

In the meantime, this writer could not allow himself to miss the solo recital of Hiyas Hila at the Little Theater for the evening following the opening of the TP theater season.

Her program included works by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Albeniz and Granados. But for Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D-minor, which she essayed with ease notwithstanding its Baroque complexities, the rest of the recital focused on the Romantics for whose pieces she displayed an affinity.

Her interpretation of Schubert’s Sonata in A-minor, Op. 42 was marked by gentle restraint, in contrast to her impassioned reading of Schumann’s Novelettes, Nos. 1 and 2. A steady pulse served her well for Chopin’s Barcarolle Op. 60 for the gentle undulation evoking the movement of a Venetian gondola.

Romanticism takes nationalistic color in Albeniz’s "Evocation" from Iberia Suite and Granado’s Allegro de concierto. Hiyas’ rendition of the first attested to the lush description by Richter quoted in the program notes: This Romantic reverie contains dynamic extremes, including quadruple fortissimo and pianissimo as well as some of the most ravishing sonorities. Although simple and sparing of notes, the "vaporous, delicate textures and haunting melodies of the work are utterly compelling."

The young pianist hushed the clamor of her admiring audience with an encore – a nocturne by Chopin that attested to her being partial to the Romantic spirit.

For Hiyas Hila the only road is that which leads to the top.
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For comments, write to jessqcruz@hotmail.com.

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