MANILA – Just days after the primetime series “Till I Met You” aired its finale, the show’s breakout star JC Santos returned to his first love.
Santos, who honed his acting chops at the University of the Philippines where he took up Theater Arts, is one of the stars in the 2017 restaging of Chris Millado’s politically charged “Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major,” which opened to a rousing standing ovation at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center in Quezon City last week.
The play marks Santos’s stage comeback since he became a household name for his portrayal of Ali in the James Reid-Nadine Lustre teleserye. His last stage play before “Till I Met You” was the critically received “Constellations” opposite Cris Villongco.
Santos admitted that he had to get used again to performing onstage after months of working on the TV series. But the young actor showed no rust in his well-controlled performance as a priest taking care of Itawis refugees who left their ancestral lands after a military operation.
Moreover, he provided generous emotional support to acclaimed film and theater actress Angeli Bayani, whose heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman whose father was killed by the military during the Marcos regime, is undoubtedly the dramatic highlight of this play, which was first staged back in 1985 by PETA.
Even if her lines were all in Itawis, Bayani managed to convey her character’s anguish, fear, anger, despair and torture in a deeply moving performance that left many in the audience in tears.
The episode with Bayani and Santos is among the five stories in “Buwan at Baril,” which are all set during the latter part of the Marcos regime in the early 1980s.
After a prologue showing the various characters, “Buwan at Baril” opens with two brothers – a farmer and a laborer – who meet again during the historic May 1984 Lakbayan march, which sets the tone, in terms of subject and structure, for the rest of the play.
The audience then gets an early dramatic jolt with the episode on the Itawis. Director Andoy Ranay explained that he wanted to take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster and that the only change he introduced was to have an intermission, as well as the use of historical footage to introduce the different segments.
Indeed, after the heavy drama of Santos and Bayani, this was followed by a more humorous monologue with Jackie Lou Blanco, who gives a spot-on portrayal of a politically awakened socialite who escapes the comfort and security of their gated subdivision to join the street protests.
Act 2 begins with another tear-jerker with Cherry Pie Picache’s wonderfully restrained performance as the wife of an NPA guerilla who has been killed. While her attack seems more suited for steady camera closeups, one can still feel her sense of loss and empathize with her situation.
The play ends with the interrogation of a student activist by the arresting police officer that nervously moves between comic and frightening. Throughout the play, much of the violence was merely narrated but here, the audience get a glimpse of the terror and the mind games played by the government forces.
“Buwan at Baril,” which also marks the debut of Sugid Productions as the newest theater group in town, comes on the heels of last year’s successful “Never Again,” a collection of one-act plays all set during the martial law period, which was also staged at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center.
With talk of martial law being revived, Sugid hopes to bring this production to colleges, universities and local government units in Metro Manila and the provinces to remind young audiences “about what really happened during martial law.”
Ranay said his real contribution to this revival is to assemble this star-studded cast.
Indeed, this rare gathering of stars from the stage and mainstream showbiz will leave audiences impressed -- whatever their political affiliation.
“Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major” will have performances on February 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11 and 12 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center in Quezon City.