|Eugene Domingo plays the role of Bona in the upcoming stage adaptation of the Lino Brocka film. Photo: Handout
MANILA, Philippines -- For Eugene Domingo, taking on the iconic role of Bona for the upcoming stage adaptation of the classic film by National Artist for Film, the late Lino Brocka, didn't just push her abilities as an actress; it was also a challenge financially.
To prepare for the role of a movie fan obsessed with a reality TV show contestant, Domingo had to clear her schedule for two months.
"Grabe ito, inuubos talaga ang savings ko. Wala akong kinikita, dalawang buwan na," she jokingly said during the press conference for "Bona" on Tuesday night.
She then explained that doing theater requires 100% commitment.
"Kapag mayroon akong teatrong tinatanggap, medyo unfair ako sa TV at sa pelikula. I really cannot accept anything, TV or movies. I am really 100% committed to theater. Kaya I can't do this often kasi mamamatay ako sa gutom," she said.
Fortunately, "Bona," presented by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), comes right at the heels of her box-office hit, "Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme," which earned more than P100 million during its theatrical run.
"The challenge here is kakagaling ko lang po sa isang blockbuster na pelikula na kung tawagin ay 'Kimmy Dora 2.' Consciously, I need to help myself to stay grounded and this is the perfect ground for me, the theater," she said.
Before achieving fame in movies and television, Domingo established her roots in theater as a member of Dulaang UP at the University of the Philippines.
"This is my first love," she said of theater."Gustong-gusto ko 'yung company na ganyan -- sabay kayo kakain, naguusap, may malasakit kayo sa isa't isa, walang stars, walang iniintriga. It's a company. That's the way I was brought up, as a theater person. I work in a company," she said.
As a member of the student theater group, Domingo recalled that she would do various tasks from selling tickets to being an usher during performances, on top of appearing in a variety of plays, from Shakespeare to contemporary works.
"I love the discipline that they have imparted," she said of her mentors at the state university. "I really owe this to Dulaang UP."
This discipline earned her praise from PETA stalwarts.
Noting that "theater is for the soul," PETA's artistic director Maribel Legarda said, "She (Domingo) has really dedicated her time to this. And I think it's also a sign of her professionalism. When she said yes, she really said yes."
"Alam natin lahat na kapag artista na at sa caliber ni Ms. Eugene Domingo, of course, super busy siya," Legarda added. "Pero present talaga siya every day at drop script siya sa first week pa lang."
"I really have to memorize my lines ahead of them kasi ako ang pinakaraming linya," Domingo explained. "Kung hawak-hawak ko pa ang script, nakakahiya."
Comparisons with Aunor
But the key challenge for Domingo is to avoid comparions with the original Bona: veteran actress Nora Aunor.
"Admittedly, kailangan kong isipin na sana po ay huwag akong ma-compare. So I always tell director Soxie Topacio na huwag niyo po akong gawing Nora Aunor at hindi ko po talaga kaya. Aminadong-aminado ako diyan from the very start. So I have to psyche myself na no I'm not copying Nora Aunor," Domingo said.
"Kahit banlian niyo ako ng kumukulong tubig, hindi ko magagawa 'yung ginawa ni Nora Aunor," she added, referring to the movie's memorable climax, when Bona threw boiling water on her lover, bit player Gardo, played by Philip Salvador.
"Ang pinakagusto kong mangyari dito na kung mapanood ito ni Ate Guy ay maaliw ko siya. Gusto ko ipakita sa kanya na 'yung ginawa niya noon hanggang ngayon -- bilang classic ito -- ay dapat pa ring mapanood. ...Ito ay pagpupugay natin kay Lino Brocka, kay (scriptwriter) Cenen Ramones at kay Ms. Nora Aunor sa kanilang klasikong trabaho."
According to PETA, Aunor is planning to watch the play, which will run from August 24 to September 23 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City.
Attract more viewers
Domingo unapologetically said that these days she's more focused on "the practical side of life."
But after several hit movies, she said she also wants to attract more Filipinos to her first love.
"Isa kasi sa mga pinakaimportanteng theater group sa atin ang PETA. Naniniwala ako sa vision nila na inaangat ang talentong Pilipino," she said.
"Ito ang isa sa mga pangarap ko -- ang maging bahagi ng isang palabas sa teatro kung saan madali kong mahihikayat ang mga manonood ng telebisyon at ng pelikula na maranasan naman nila kung papaano manood sa mga nagtatanghal sa entablado.
"Hopefully sa 50th anniversary nila ma-invite ulit ako. Hindi ko talaga kaya ng taon-taon," she said of PETA, which is opening its 45th season with "Bona."
"But really there's no screen bigger than the theater," Domingo added, echoing the company's tagline this season.
"And there's no talent fee bigger than TV," she said with a loud laugh.