|Jenny Jamora and Joy Virata star in the play "Mind's Eye"
MANILA, Philippines -- Watching the stage version of Paul Flesichman's novel "Mind's Eye," it is easy to see why the material appealed to veteran actress Joy Virata, a self-confessed book lover, so much so that she mounted this production herself, financed by her husband and daughter.
At the same time, one can also understand why she had to go this route: "Mind's Eye" is not an easy play for audiences, even if it is based on a book targeted at young adults, written entirely in dialogue. The play is talky, more character-driven and lacks the usual plot twists and big reveals that many theatergoers look for.
"Mind's Eye" is set in a room at a nursing home during a dark North Dakota winter. Courtney (Jenny Jamora), a 16-year-old who was paralyzed from a horse riding accident, has just arrived, to the delight of her roommate, 88-year-old Elva (Virata), a former school teacher. With her failing eyesight, Elva quickly sees Courtney as someone who can read to her, in particular, a 1910 copy of the Baedeker's Italy guidebook. Elva insists that Courtney join her in an imaginary trip to Italy, a promise she made to her husband Emmet, who has died. While Courtney refuses at first, she eventually relents.
At a time when theater has become multi-media productions, director Jaime del Mundo staged Fleishman's novel with sparse details, keeping true to its message about the power of imagination. While Lex Marcos's set is lovely to look at, a modern rendering of a room, done all in white, with white strips to delineate the walls, constructed at an angle to provide both depth and movement, del Mundo doesn't offer other distractions, forcing the audience to watch and listen closely.
With the help of John Batalia's evocative lighting and well-chosen sound affects and music, Del Mundo seemed to have embraced the novel's physical limitations (as embodied by Courtney). He allowed the play to unfold at its own pace and let Fleishman's beautiful words about the life-sustaining power of the humanities (represented by Elva), resound with the audiences.
Indeed, "Mind's Eye" took flight every time Courtney and Elva embark on their mind trip, taking the audience with them, as we listen to Elva's thoughtful musings on famous artworks, vivid descriptions of the landscape and fond recollections of lost love.
Virata has never been this effective as an actress, her passion overflowing as she recited her lines with obvious enthusiasm. Her references to poetry and literature were more heartwarming than scholarly,as she provided the play with that unceasing sense of wonder and gave probably the performance of her life.
Jamora had the more difficult task, given that the transformative message of the play is anchored on her character. Courtney must evolve into an angry teen and then unmask herself as someone who just yearns to be loved. And Jamora suceeded in doing just that. Her monologue about a "solo" trip on a train where she finds love was probably the most affecting piece of acting I've seen from her yet.
Even the supporting actors -- Red Concepcion, Caisa Borromeo and veteran theater actress Naty Crame Rogers, who all appear in just one scene each -- were uniformly natural in their brief time on stage.
At curtain call during the play's world premiere last Friday, Jamora and Virata were greeted by a quiet and well-deserved standing ovation.
Virata had said that she wanted "Mind's Eye" to be seen by students, teachers and actors. Students and teachers certainly can learn much about the beauty of the humanities and the arts from this play, while actors can certainly appreciate the wonderful and difficult job the two female leads gave.
Although "Mind's Eye" originally was supposed to run for only three performances last weekend, you can still catch it at the ongoing National Theater Festival at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Nov. 16 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
"Mind's Eye" may be an acquired taste as far as theater productions these days go but it provides plenty of food for thought and nourishment for the soul.