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By Precious Lee Cundangan

Manila, Philippines, December 1, 2012 - UP Playwright's Theater's restaging of the children's play "Umaaraw, Umuulan, Kinakasal ang Tikbalang," based on the short story by Gilda Cordero Fernando, is more akin to film auteur Akira Kurosawa's first segment in his film "Dreams," and to Mexican filmmakers Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron's El laberinto del fauno ("Pan's Labyrinth") than to English author Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."

Devoid from eye-candy visuals seen in most children's Theater Productions, "Umaaraw" sets, costumes, and characters are artistic achievements in every aspect, and give a clear-cut message about respect for nature and compassion. In this production, stage director Jose Estrella ("Banaag at Sikat," "Golden Child"), known for her unparalleled director's vision, does not only think out of the box, but also literally kicks it, and orchestrates an artistic coup.

In terms of production design, Lex Marcos (Disney's "The Little Mermaid", "Mind's Eye") balances creativity and relativity with his earthy and pelon set pieces bringing the audience to protagonists Barang and Jepoy's household; while at the same time with the same set pieces posing as industrially-designed trees, and clouds, among others.

Don Salubayba's ("Project Epoch") shadow puppetry provides layers to the storytelling. 

Notable too are sculptor Leeroy New's sculpted costumes that provide a unique, more three-dimensional mythical look to various characters of Philippine folklore such as Maria Sinukuan, Maria Cacao, and Maria Makiling.  We saw the original staging of "Umaaaraw" last year, and the three Marias looked too plain and generic. 

"Umaaraw" playwright Rody Vera ("Luna: Isang Romansang Aswang") intricately weaves modern quips often popularized by mainstream media as well as social media, which include the infamous "Amalayer" Youtube clip, without losing the show's core values and moral lessons.

Notable performances include Lucky de Mesa (Aling Barang), Opaline Santos (Galis), and Fitz Bitana (Jepoy); while a standout performance comes from Karenina Haniel (Paquita), a Spanish-speaking dwende (drawf) that delivers a scene-stealing turn.

Most parts of the play are entertaining, but there are redundant scenes such as the part where Jepoy shows off his dancing abilities to Galis and Paquita.  The party scene also needs trimming - some rap lines and song lyrics should be cut.

"Umaaraw, Umuulan, Kinakasal ang Tikbalang" runs until Sunday, December 9.  For tickets, contact Sam Clarin or Camille Guevara at Dulaang UP Office at (632) 926-1349, (632) 981-8500 local 2449 or (632) 433-7840.

Photos by Dino Dimar

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