Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A journey from hell to redemption

By Bibsy M. Carballo
(The Philippine Star) 
Original Article can be found HERE

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Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Jett Pangan lead the cast of Next to Normal with Jake Macapagal, Markki Stroem, Bea Garcia and Felix Rivera.
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MANILA, Philippines –  We don’t really know if it is a comment of the times we live in that causes movies, the plastic arts, and theater to ride the dark trend and flourish in it. Perhaps it is our way of reaching out for a catharsis that will hopefully purify us in the end.

We watch a one-eyed half drunk Marshal (Jeff Bridges), master of the long distance rifle forge a strange relationship with a girl not quite a woman (Hailee Steinfeld) out to exact vengeance for her father’s killing. The Coen Brothers’ True Grit celebrates violence with humor through relentless killings, and peril from both man and killer snakes such as the wild, wild West was capable of. In the end, quiet courage and true grit triumph in man’s validation of a soul lurking somewhere in the darkness that erases what this retaliation had propelled.

On that same day, we watch for the first time a Sofia archival find of a Mario O’Hara 1986 classic Bagong Hari, touted by critic Noel Vera as the finest Filipino action film ever made. Its symphony of brutality finds us cheering on this master of all weaponry (Dan Alvaro) in his unceasing rampage on all evil until they lay dead including himself, which would have been the real ending but sadly wasn’t. The movie is a true allegory of the Philippines during the last few months of the Marcos regime.
Menchu and Jett play wife and husband Diana and Dan

And now, we sit to digest more violence in Bobby Garcia’s Next to Normal (NTN), bringing in audiences to watch the savagery one inflicts upon oneself and family that is clearly of a different genre. It is a brutality more painful than physical wounds, its emotional battering more destructive than a bullet could ever pierce one’s heart. It is that psychotic illness called manic depression or bipolar mania characterized by dramatic and unpredictable mood swings.

Its symptoms could include excessive happiness then sadness, excitement, irritability, restlessness, increased energy, sleeplessness coupled with need for sleep, a high sex drive (shown early on in the play which induced laughter in the audience), a tendency for grand unattainable plans, and thoughts of suicide and death.

While we had thought bipolarity more to be an ailment of the Western world, Dr. Honey Carandang, renowned psychologist tells us it is quite common in the Philippines. However, she says, it seems to victimize those of high intelligence belonging to the higher income level, although she is quick to declare that this may not be a fair assessment since the poor do not have the facility to come in for treatment and therefore stand and be counted. She admits that electric shock as part of a cure used in Next to Normal was previously practiced in the Philippines but is now considered quite brutal and discouraged.

Menchu as Diana living with mental illness

The bipolar victim is given life onstage by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, easily today’s first lady of the legitimate theater, having gone through the ranks and trained by the best in Repertory Philippines among them the redoubtable Bibot Amador, Baby Barredo, Celia Diaz Laurel and Joy Virata. And now she works with second generation musical theater producer-director Bobby Garcia who has tirelessly championed the cause of Filipino talent in much of the Asian region from China to Malaysia and Singapore. His projects range from Rent, Rocky Horror Show to the more recent Xanadu and A Little Night Music. He has also been associate director for Miss Saigon and was Hong Kong Disneyland’s first show director when it opened in 2005.

We last watched Menchu in Rep’s Sweeney Todd, as the conscienceless Mrs. Lovett who had no compunction in serving human flesh for dinner and ask Menchu to compare them. “They are very different,” she answers. “Diana is a broken woman who suffers from a mental illness. She doesn’t have the ability to cope…Lovett, on the other hand, is a survivor. She will do what it takes to survive... What is similar between Lovett and Diana, is that they believe the world they create in their heads.”

Menchu admits that both are dark characters but Diana is more emotionally draining.

Next to Normal which started off-Broadway then moved to Broadway winning its 2010 Pulitzer prize and three Tony awards, is part of a recent trend in rock-infused musicals pioneered by Rent in confronting issues previously the domain of straight theater. The opening of NTN with the ensemble singing Just Another Day (For just another day, for another stolen hour; When the world will feel my power and obey; It’s just another day) actually reminded us so much of Rent’s Another Day. (Another Time Another Place, The Words Would Only Rhyme…You Wanna Prove Me Wrong? Come Back Another Day, Another Day).
Producer-director Bobby Garcia

Jett Pangan who has been seduced by musical theater starting from Jesus Christ, Superstar is actually into his 13th theater project even as he continues with his rock band The Dawn’s engagements. We have watched him in The Rocky Horror Show and Dreamgirls of Atlantis, but his take on Diana’s husband Dan, he concedes, to being his most demanding as he rises to the challenge. Naturally, the rock music is part of what lures him on board. He acknowledges this in an interview, amazed how the vocal symphony in a bed of rock delivered by a few can create the sound of an entire orchestra.

But like the gloom and murkiness of our recent unplanned excursions, they all end in redemption. As Bobby has been quoted as saying, “Ultimately, it ends with hope and the possibility of change.” 

The rest of the cast are made up of Felix Rivera and Bea Garcia as their children Gabe and Natalie, Markki Stroem as Natalie’s love, and Jake Macapagal as the two doctors. 

Catch Atlantis Productions' NEXT TO NORMAL (THE REPEAT)
on October 15, 2011 / Sat / 2PM @ RCBC 

Contact Us:
Onay Sales (0918.536.2116)
RC Marzan (0922.888.5348)
Borgy Marzan (0922.888.5344)
email: watchplays@yahoo.com

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