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(From left) Edna Vida, Ronna Sabellina, and Nonoy Froilan in a scene from Juan Miguel Severo’s "Hintayan ng Langit," which will return to the 12th Virgin Labfest as part of its “VLF XI Revisited” set.

Dozen plays to be ‘devirginized’

Alvin Dacanay Before I ForgetSix weeks after the deadline for submissions to the 12th annual Virgin Labfest (VLF) passed, and after deliberating on a record 197 entries, VLF festival director Tuxqs Rutaquio revealed on social media last Wednesday night the dozen new one-act plays to be staged at the leading theater festival in Metro Manila, if not the Philippines, which will run from June 29 to July 17. 

These are Bahay-bahayan, Tagu-taguan by Herlyn Alegre; Bait by Guelan Luarca; Ang Bata sa Drum by Dominique La Victoria; Daddy’s Girl by Ricardo Novenario; Hapag-Kainan by Rick Patriarca; Loyalist by Kanakan Balintagos; Dahan-dahan ang Paglubog ng Araw by Jose Socrates delos Reyes; Marte by Eliza Victoria; Ang Mga Bisita ni Jean by Ma. Cecilia dela Rosa; Mula sa Kulimliman by Carlo Vergara; Si Jaya, si Ronda, si Barbra at ang Mahiwagang Kanta by Oggie Arcenas; and Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania by Alexandra May Cardoso.

In addition, three plays from last year’s edition—known together as the “Revisited” set and chosen as the best of VLF XI because of their great impact on audiences—are included in the line-up. These are Eljay Castro Deldoc’s Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala, an adaptation of fictionist and playwright Dean Francis Alfar’s L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars); Maynard Manansala’s Dalawang Gabi; and Juan Miguel Severo’s Hintayan ng Langit.

Like in previous editions, VLF XII will have staged readings of five plays. These are Changing Partners by Vincent de Jesus; Dinuguan by Jonathan Tadioan; Mac and Naty by Layeta P. Bucoy; Mrs. Victoria by Job Pagsibigan; and Run, Marga, Run by Adrian Ho.

Also, scenes from three plays—Ang Debutante sa Bubongan by Dwein Baltazar, Nang Maligaw ang mga Halimaw by Alex Dungca, and Perfecto Gomez by Jerome Ignacio—will be performed by a theater group at select areas of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), where the one-act plays in the main line-up and the staged readings will be mounted at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute and the Bulwagang Amado Hernandez, respectively.

The CCP, together with its resident theater company Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) and highly regarded playwrights’ group The Writer’s Bloc Inc., organizes the VLF, a laboratory theater festival of untried, untested and unstaged one-act plays by emerging and established playwrights that aims to define new perspectives in Philippine drama. Since it began in 2005, the VLF has proven itself to be a reenergizing force in Philippine theater, introducing a new generation of dramatists, actors and directors to the performing-arts community and beyond.

Five ‘virgins’

Of the playwrights whose works were picked for the main line-up, five are “virgins.” Of these, the most notable is Eliza Victoria, who first gained attention—at least, from the literary community—for her Palanca award-winning poetry collections “Reportage” and “Maps,” and for her National Book Award-winning novel Dwellers.

Those who have followed the VLF through the years would recognize the more familiar names in the line-up. These include Novenario, who makes his fifth appearance this year; acclaimed graphic novelist Vergara, who makes his third (or fourth, if one counts the staged reading of Mula sa Kulimliman last year); Alegre and University of the Philippines economics professor Arcenas, both appearing for the third time; and Balintagos, whose return to theater two years ago reached a peak with TP’s triumphant production of his Palanca prize-winning play Mga Buhay na Apoy last October.

I’m particularly happy that more audiences would get to see Maria Isabella, Dalawang Gabi and Hintayan this year, not only in the country, but also overseas: these plays are set to be staged as part of San Francisco, California-based Filipino-American theater group Bindlestiff Studio’s Tagalog: A Festival of One-Acts later this month. Last year, the Philippine Consulate in New York sponsored the staged reading of Hintayan as part of Buwan ng Wika celebrations there. It was directed by Herbie Go (who was TP’s artistic director when the VLF was established) and performed by Jojo Gonzales, Madeleine Nicolas and Bambi Diaz.

I’m also happy that people get a chance to see prolific composer-lyricist-musical director de Jesus’s first one-act play since the award-winning Ateng, which debuted at the first VLF; and that Tadioan, who’s a fantastic performer, is the latest actor to venture into playwriting.

But frankly, what I’m most happy about this year’s VLF is that it would now be considered as part of TP’s regular season. This was long overdue, and this would allow the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group (Philstage) to again seriously consider VLF plays and performances for its Gawad Buhay! awards next year. Some of the most memorable and prize-worthy productions and performances in recent years emerged from the festival.

That’s not the only new development in the VLF. The festival will also hold screenings of films based on VLF plays. These are Lawrence Fajardo’s award-winning Imbisibol, based on Alegre’s VLF IX play of the same title; the short film Gee-gee at Waterina, adapted by J. Dennis C. Teodosio’s from his VLF I work; Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes’s Hubad, based on Liza C. Magtoto and Rody Vera’s VLF II play; and Manny Palo’s Cinemalaya entry David F., a third of which was adapted from Magtoto’s VLF V entry Paigan.

Tickets for the screenings are P150 each, while those for this year’s plays are now P350 per set of three.

As of this writing, directors and actors are yet to be tapped for any of this year’s VLF plays. But this early, some of the country’s most talented theater performers are itching to audition—and that’s just for the staged reading of de Jesus’s play.

In the meantime, my warmest congratulations to all the playwrights in this year’s VLF, and the best of luck to them and the festival organizers.

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