Review: Before the teleserye, here's the play version of Janus Silang

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2017 07:31 PM | Updated as of Feb 09 2017 08:20 PM

The young actors of Tanghalang Ateneo's 'Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon.' Handout photo

MANILA – Tanghalang Ateneo gets first crack at bringing to life the young adult bestseller “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon” ahead of the upcoming ABS-CBN series.

Prolific young playwright Guelan Varela-Luarca adapted the first book in the series of Janus Silang books by Palanca winner Edgar Calabia Samar, while Tanghalang Ateneo alumnus Charles Yee directs the largely student cast, led by high school senior Earvin Estioco in the title role.

Samar, who saw the play for the first time only last Saturday, admitted that his participation in the production was minimal. “’Di ko kaya maging hands-on,” he said, adding that he is still finishing the series.

But he has always been impressed with the work of Varela-Luarca, whose work included translations of William Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” for Dulaang UP and the upcoming “Eurydice” for Tanghalang Pilipino; as well as original one-act plays for Virgin Labfest. “Buo ang pagkakatiwala ko,” he declared.

Samar admits that he doesn’t write plays. He also wasn’t thinking of how his story can translate to the stage when he was writing it. “Hindi ako sigurado kung paano siya ii-stage. Puwede pala,” he said.

Indeed, the main reason to watch this campus production is to see how Yee and Varela-Luarca bring Samar’s fantastic story to life. 

Earvin Estioco in the title role with Cloie Hilomen as his love interest Mica. Handout photo

“Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon” is about a teen in Balanga, Bataan who is one of the top players Tala Online, a video game set in a world populated by Filipino mythological creatures. But when five of his fellow gamers were found dead at their neighborhood internet café, Janus is “forced to confront the mystery of his bloodline and his destiny.”

Tanghalang Ateneo’s artistic director, award-winning playwright Glenn Sevilla Mas, admits that the first book is basically just a setup for the adventure series, much like the Virgin Labfest version of “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady,” which is also about an unlikely hero.

But despite the cliffhanger ending, the stage version should satisfy Janus Silang fans with its rather faithful adaptation. Despite the book’s talky nature, the play hooks the audience as it zips through its 90-minute running time without intermission. 

While it didn’t quite match Natasha Ringor’s creepy imagery in the graphic novel, the company went to great lengths to create costumes of local creatures like the tikbalang and the tiyanak.

Yet it is when Yee resorts to imaginative staging that the play truly takes wondrous flight. The thrilling Ondoy sequence, for instance, used the ensemble carrying umbrellas, effective lighting and sound design, and Jacob Whittaker’s animated narration. Ditto with the Janus’s bus trip to Manila to meet the mysterious Joey.

The well-staged Ondoy scene. Handout photo

Yee also made good use of set designer Gwyn Guanzon’s backdrop that resembles a giant computer board with hexagon-shaped screens used to flash the exchange of messages of the characters.

The student actors were also put the great use since they gave the play an authentic youthful vibe that fits the overall tone of the story.

This play is like a delicious appetizer for the TV series but one that can be also enjoyed on its own.

“Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon” runs until February 25 at the Rizal Mini Theater, Ateneo de Manila University. Performances start at 7:30 p.m., while Saturday matinee shows start at 2:30 p.m.