JC Santos returns to theater with 'Red'

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at May 11 2023 02:53 PM

MANILA – Ten years ago, when actor JC Santos was still working in Hong Kong’s Disneyland, his friend Faust Peneyra gave him the script of “Red” by John Logan.

Since the play is a two-hander, Santos kept asking people to read it with him. “I was obsessed with the material,” Santos told ABS-CBN News.

“Then they were doing ‘Red’ in the Philippines at that time. I told myself, ‘Kainggit naman. I wanted to do ‘Red.’ But it is only now when I got the opportunity. And I’m working with the master.”

At that time, veteran stage actor Bart Guingona teamed up with now UK-based artist Joaquin Valdes to stage “Red.” This time around, Guingona was tapped anew to play artist Mark Rothko in the restaging of “Red,” by The Necessary Theatre.

With “Red,” Santos returns to his first love which is theater. He plays the role of Ken. Before he was seen in memorable teleseryes and played romantic roles on the big screen, Santos displayed his acting prowess in many plays onstage.

In 2016, Santos won Best Actor at the Broadway World Philippines Awards and Gawad Buhay when he starred opposite Cris Villonco in Nick Payne’s unusual love story, the two-hander, “Constellations,” staged by Red Turnip Theater.

In 2019, Santos acted in his last play, Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Lam-Ang,” before the pandemic thwarted all action happening onstage.

“Red” is a project that had long been on Santos’ plans. He didn’t have anyone else in mind to play Mark Rothko rather than his ABS-CBN’s “Dirty Linen” co-star, Guingona.

“This is an exhilarating challenge for me,” Santos said about “Red.”

“If Bart did not give his nod, I will not push through with the project. I really want to work with him in this play. No one else can do the role but him.”

“Red” is Santos’ first producer job. “I really wanted to do a play, that’s why I really produced ‘Red’,” Santos admitted. “I did not wait for anyone to hire me.”

Santos missed performing live onstage and that also prompted him to return to theater. 

“I missed making the audience think,” Santos said. “I want to disturb the audience and make them appreciate art work again.

"This could be a reminder of how it is to be an artist again. To all those who were affected by the pandemic who didn’t have a chance to practice and do their art. You want to sink in that fire inside.

“We met a lot of Rothko during our time. It’s nice to be reminded to be inspired again.”

Now that he’s also a family man, Santos admits he’s very vulnerable now. “Anytime, I can cry now,” he said.

“When I was returning to theater, I need to have a software update. Nakakalawang. I need to rehearse. I love the whole rehearsal process, reading the script and how to make it extra natural.

“Especially ‘Red,’ how can we make Mark Rothko extra challenging to the audience? So for me, it’s a software update.”

When Santos returns to TV after doing theater, he is simply more aggressive to work and act again.

“Ang dami kong bala,” he said. “Ang dali. Ang dami kong pwedeng bagong gawin. I’m extra confident working. They can give me anything, I am very eager to do it.”

Meanwhile, Guingona, who is marking his 40th year in theater this year, is happy the theater scene is alive again.

“The musicals have their place,” he maintained. “Entertainment has its place, but there is theater that is necessary. I’m glad I have the opportunity to bring it to an audience.

“The writer’s medium is television. The director’s medium is cinema. But the actor’s medium is theater. The moment you’re in theater, for two hours, the director is powerless, the writer is powerless.

“The actor has all the power for two hours. Mas nakakabusog. Theater is an actor’s medium. Nauuhaw din ang actors for work that challenges them.”

“Red” will run on June 9, 16, 10, 11, 17, and 18 at the PETA Theater Center.