Review: Musical rails against Martial Law revisionism

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 05 2016 06:02 PM | Updated as of Aug 05 2016 07:24 PM

A scene from 'Katips.' Photo by author

When I heard that the title of the PhilStagers' latest project this year is entitled "Katips," I thought it would be about the Katipuneros. However, since they had already tackled Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan back in 2013, this new show must be about something else.

Just a few days ago, I read an article in the newspaper that this play would actually be about Martial Law. Wow, that is one tough subject matter, very touchy and sensitive, especially with the election just past when "the Martial Law thingy" was again brought up. After seeing how skillful Atty. Vince Tanada was in creating full-length musicals about events like World War II (in "Filipinas 1941") or people like Pope Francis ("#Popepular"), I was eager to see how he would navigate this darkest time in our country's modern history. Musical direction was again by Pipo Cifra, Tanada's longtime collaborator in his shows.

The play opens in 1970 on Mendiola Bridge in Manila during the so-called First Quarter Storm. Among the activists out there are Panyong (Vince Tanada), a writer for the Philippine Collegian, and Greg (Kevin Posadas), a medical student. Panyong thinks of himself as Bonifacio, while he calls Greg, Rizal. The Metrocom comes to disperse the activists in a violent manner. Some leaders, a UP professor among them, are killed.

"Katips" refers to the house of Alet (Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim), a lady who has opened her home for student activists from UP to meet and stay over in, earning her the monicker of "Tandang Sora." Lara (Maya Encila), a Fil-Am actress from New York City whose father was one of those killed in the first rally, is the newcomer at Katips. Lara will get a rough awakening from her inherent bias and apathy as she gets to learn firsthand what Martial Law is really all about.

It won't be all serious political issues though. As before, there will also be personal love stories among the characters interwoven into this story. There was a noteworthy part where four pairs of lovers get to converse with each other in a witty interconnected manner, culminating in one big song number "Sa Gitna ng Dilim," in true Tanada style. Despite the very serious main topic, we also get moments of shallow jokes and romantic thrill moments to enliven and lighten the proceedings once in a while.

Fans of previous Stagers play will immediately recognize the energetic and youth-oriented style of song, dance and acting. Every song is given a big production number with cast members located all over the stage, singing their lines and dancing in unison, with a band playing the music live. The choreography had a rocking disco vibe but we still see those unmistakable signature Stagers moves. Seeing those psychedelic Niknik shirts and bell bottoms onstage really evoked '70s nostalgia.

Tanada's tried-and-true formula really gets the youth interested in and react positively to his shows. He uses no highfalutin jargon to confuse issues. There is only common street language everyone will understand, so the message will get through clearly. There are certain moments during the play which some older viewers may call corny or cheesy or over-the-top, but it has to be emphasized that the youth is the target audience and these stage techniques may be the better way to get through to them.

The First Quarter Storm scene from 'Katips.' Photo by author

As an actor, Tanada can really possess the stage when he is on because of his commanding vocal power and range. The vocal demands for Panyong were really so punishing as he had to sing rock anthems like "Manhid" which can really push the voice to the breaking limit. It was incredible when he revealed that they had been playing this show up to four times a day for the past two weeks in soft-opening shows. We can hear his vocal fatigue during his talk during the curtain call. This guy really gives his all in his every show. (Alternating in the role of Panyong is Jomar Bautista, his nephew.)

Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim has really risen through the ranks to now play the female lead character, Alet. Her dramatic skills shine through in both her spoken and the sung parts. Her intense portrayal of Alet in the heart-wrenching climax will definitely wring your tear ducts. You will definitely feel her pain.

Kevin Posadas played the long-haired hippie loverboy Greg. He had definitely improved a lot from previous Stagers' plays I have seen him in, especially in the field of singing. His baritone has become fuller and more solid. Acting-wise, his range is a bit limited because the character of Greg being mostly reactionary to those of Panyong or Lara, but Posadas makes the most out of his role. (Alternating in the role of Greg are Daniel Cruz and Kierwin Larena.)

Completing the lead quartet is Maya Encila as the headstrong Fil-am girl Lara. This young lady has a pretty face, a clear soprano voice and a delightful American accent. I think this play is the debut production of Encila for PhilStagers. She snagged a lead role right off. and nailed it with flying colors. Looking forward to seeing her in future Stagers productions.

Gerald Magallanes played the aggressive hothead Estong who would later suffer for his boldness. (Mark Montillana alternates as Estong.) Vean Quedo was scene-stealing as Susie, the funny girl from Tacloban who was Art's girlfriend. (Rutchell Leonor alternates as Susie.) John Rey Rivas played the UP freshman and new recruit Art. Rospel Gonzales plays Susie, Estong's girlfriend, a reluctant participant in the protest actions.

Stagers veteran Chin Ortega played Ka Temyong, Estong's father, who worked as another iconic Martial Law denizen, the Metro Aide. (Jay Jay Andres alternates as Ka Temyong.) Playing activist nuns were Jessica Evangelio (as the fearless Sr. Claire) and Levi Bracia (as the meek Sr. Josie). Arian Golondrina played Bebang, the editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian.

JP Lopez is the friendly guy who always welcomes the audience before each show to talk about theater etiquette for the student audience. During the play though, he eerily transformed into a fearsome Metrocom police monster named Lt. Sales. His lines may have been few, but his face and actions spoke louder than words -- pure cold-blooded, chilling, brutal evil. Chris Lim and Art Andrade, who played his assisting minions Cabigao and Alagao, were also effectively ruthless and sadistic.

This show was conceptualized to educate millennials about what really happened during the time of Martial Law. It aims to provide theatrical depictions of actual nightmarish experiences by political prisoners during that time who had survived to tell the tale.

JP Lopez, John Rey Rivas and Adelle Lim. Photo by author

There were actual Martial Law victims who were in the audience with us that afternoon, whose presence Tanada acknowledged during the curtain call. He called them his inspirations for his advocacy, and proof that he was not only making all this up. Tanada's own grandfather was none other than the illustrious Sen. Lorenzo Tanada, who also suffered imprisonment during Martial Law.

"Katips" does not sugarcoat anything in its fight against revisionism. Not only will we see rallies in Mendiola and strikes in La Todena, we will see various forms of abuse and torture so cruel and repulsive we could not help but squirm in our seats or cover our eyes. The cold graphic violence shown will certainly shock and disgust.

Tanada wants millennials to realize that Martial Law should never happen again, and he definitely gets that big message across with a big exclamation point.

"Katips: Ang Mga Bagong Katipunero (A Filipino Musical)" will run until March 2017 in various venues all over the country. Contact 09276006864 for bookings, venue and ticket information.

Schedules for August 2016: August 6 SM Southmall Cinema 3 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m.; August 7 SM North EDSA Cinema 9 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m.; August 11 Adamson University 8 a.m., 12 noon; August 12 Adamson University 4 p.m. (World Premier); August 13 SM Centerpoint Cinema 1 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m.; August 14 Yuchengco Auditorium De La Salle University 10 a.m. 2 p.m. 5 p.m.; August 20 and 21 SM Centerpoint Cinema 1 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m.; August 25, 26, 27 Pampanga and Tarlac (time and venue to be announced); August 28 SM Centerpoint Cinema 1 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m.

Schedule for September onwards will be announced soon.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."