Review Roundup: MGA AMA, MGA ANAK by Tanghalang Pilipino
Manila, Philippines--Tanghalang Pilipino, the official theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), closes its 27th theater season with the revival of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin's 1977 three-act play MGA AMA, MGA ANAK, at the CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theatre) running now until Sunday, March 9.
MGA AMA, MGA ANAK is a Filipino translation of Joaquin's play "Father and Sons," based on his short story "Three Generations," co-written by Jose "Pete" Lacaba and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario. Tanghalang Pilipino's revival features the direction by Joel Lamangan, who acted in the original production; lighting design by Monino Duque; production design by Tuxqs Rutaquio; sound design by TJ Ramos; and artistic direction by Nanding Josef.
The play explores the conflict between three generations, particularly that of Zacarias, who was famous and powerful in his town, and his sons.
It boasts a stellar cast: Robert Arevalo (Zacarias), Spanky Manikan (Zacarias), Nanding Josef (Celo), Marcio Viana (Chitong), Cris Villonco (Bessie/Pokpok), Jackielou Blanco (Sofia), Celeste Legaspi (Sofia), Peewee O'Hara (Mrs. Paulo), Banaue Miclat (Nena), Madeleine Nicolas (Nena), and Tanghalang Pilipino's Actors Company.
Now let's hear what the critics had to say:
Jocelyn Valle, Pep.Ph: Over the years, Joaquin's work hasn't lost its substance and power. It talks about the effects of having an abusive parent and why the abused child shouldn't let his oppressed past dictate his present life. It also tackles unselfish love, forgiveness, and finding one's own direction.
Lamangan's direction clearly defines the familial relationships, conflicts, and issues. He knows how to balance the heavy scenes with light moments, and how to keep the pace brisk and the storytelling engaging. He is also able bring out even more exceptional performances from his already superb cast.
As Zacarias, Robert Arevalo is both detestable and sympathetic. Yes, the old man is not remorseful for his abusive ways yet you pity him for growing old not even acknowledging his sins.
Nanding Josef's Celo initially strikes theatergoers as someone likeable and respectable but the veteran actor succeeds in exposing his character's own abusive and repressed personality.
Celeste Legaspi's portrayal of Sofia brims with brio and humor.
Cora Llamas, Philippine Daily Inquirer: The emerging archetypes do make their roles, dilemmas and struggles easily identifiable to an Internet-weaned audience with a short attention span- that's one advantage. On the other hand, the repetition of several points makes the whole thing a bit too obvious, and lessens the challenge for this young audience to read between the lines.
The scenery does not just show-it tells, and tells, and tells. Characters narrate past experiences, cry over frustrations, point out relationship gaps, confess their inner demons, and finally, in the last act, resolve their problems through conversations. No disrespect to the wonderful cast, but a viewer can close his eyes and just listen to what's going on stage-and he still would get the point.
Then again, that is the theatrical tradition represented by Joaquin's opus, and it is something that this tablet-wielding audience has to take time to get used to as part of their education. In the performance that I watched, some of the poignant lines were greeted with humor because they were, again, obvious and repetitive.
It is also recommended that the viewers catch up on their history before watching this play, or some of the nuances would be lost on them. Zacarias' dalliance with Bessie was scandalous then--now it's the stuff of teleserye. Chitong's seeking sanctuary and redemption in a religious calling and his insistence on wearing his out-of-place soutane might seem even more out of place in a modern society where churches are having a hard time looking for shepherds.
Without any idea of the context of the struggles of these characters, the audience would wonder what the big deal is. A disconnect happens--and that's when, unfortunately, uncomfortable chuckles replace empathy, and chatter fills up the silence that comes with contemplation.
Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNNews.com: But the brilliance of "Mga Ama Mga Anak" is that while it offers a compelling family saga, there are obvious undertones that comment on the changes in Filipino society, given that this play was written during the Martial Law period. And while it would be tempting to bring these out into the open, especially given Lamangan's own history of social activism, the director limited himself within the confines of the old Filipino mansion, which serves as the setting of the play, and leave it the audience - especially the young ones - to ponder on the deeper layers of Joaquin's work.
The play also provides an opportunity for today's theater audiences to become acquainted with the talented cast, many of whom are rarely seen onstage these days.
Arevalo's stature as a movie veteran definitely helped in establishing a commanding presence that reeks of old-fashioned machismo. Arevalo captured Monzon's unapologetic power-tripping manifested in his womanizing ways and physically abusive behavior without turning him into a total monster, such that it was still possible to empathize with his fall from power.