Monday, April 24, 2017

The soul of Wit

"Wit" by Margaret Edson (Kindle edition)
It will strike different chords with different folks. With someone who majored in Literature and whose reflexes include poetry, Margaret Edson’s Wit is a chaffing reminder that command of language is in the slightest degree command of life; and mastery of the highest form of literature does not save one from leading a corny life.

50-year-old Vivian Bearing, PhD is a professor of seventeenth-century poetry, specializing in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne. She’s ready to die. Resigned, at least, to a future contained in a ‘two-hour glass’. Enough time for her to muse about mortality in front of an obliging audience.

Professors (the better ones) are precisely that: performers. Dr Bearing makes the theater her lecture hall. The subject, we’re not sure. Stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer? Metaphysical wit? Punctuations turning worlds upside-down? Kindness, meaning? Until her very last minutes, she needs to parse everything:

I am not in isolation because I have cancer… I am in isolation because I am being treated for cancer. My treatment imperils my health.

Herein lies the paradox. John Donne would revel in it. I would revel in it, if he wrote a poem about it. My students would flounder in it, because paradox is too difficult to understand.

. . .

If they were here, if I were lecturing: How I would perplex them! I could work my students into a frenzy. Every ambiguity, every shifting awareness. I could draw so much from the poems.

I could be so powerful.

Herein lies the beauty of Wit. It invites you to revel in the ambiguity of the smallest of words, of a comma; in the mental, if moral puzzles. It asks that you be witness to an agile, uncompromising mind at work before and as it succumbs to the frailties of the body.


Twin Bill Theater stages the Pulitzer prize-winning play in cooperation with Trinity University of Asia, and Tami Monsod is Vivian Bearing in this Asian premiere. The production, directed by Steven Conde, runs until May 3 at the Mandel Hall Auditorium.

Tami Monsod (rightmost) is Vivian Bearing in Twin Bill Theater's "Wit".

Brevity is the soul of wit. Edson’s script is fired up by snappy dialogues, occasionally tempered with poetic lines (“You cannot imagine how time … can be … so still. // It hangs. It weighs. And yet there is so little of it. // It goes so slowly, and yet it is so scarce). Conde’s pacing and seamless scene-changes capture the briskness of the narrative (understand that chairs, tables, beds, drawers have to be constantly rolled in and out of the stage, as the play is like a full-on monologue that keeps dipping into the past).

Somewhere towards the end, Edson shows her hand and lays down her own lesson or two. Professor Bearing is attended by the young doctor, Jason Posner, MD (Bibo Reyes), incidentally her former student as well. Because they represent contrasting ideas (youth and midlife, art and science, teaching and studying), Bearing and Posner share some of the most stimulating scenes — a few of which marred by the former stating the obvious (eg, seeking kindness from someone you were once unkind to). It's uncharacteristic of the scholar who abhors giving away easy answers, not to mention a detour from the play’s overall tone.

The sound design further robs the audience of the chance to involve themselves in the drama. It calls attention to itself: okay, here’s a really touching part coming. As if borrowed from a soap opera, the sentimental music go against the elegance of Wit. Besides, Monsod’s cry of pain is all it takes for you to start shedding a tear.

“I can’t imagine anybody else playing Vivian Bearing,” says Conde. He’s right. Monsod clearly is the heart and soul of this production. She nails the toughness and vulnerability of an intellectual learning to suffer, all the while bringing out the humor from this otherwise grave story. Her promising co-actors should take note. Reyes, though entertaining, still appears to be acting rather than becoming a character. Mikkie Bradshaw as Susie Monahan, RN, BSN, is effective as the sweet, rather naive nurse; though her range also seems limited to those qualities.

Staging Wit inside a school isn’t without its downsides. There’s a lot to be desired in terms of set design and lighting. Furthermore, Conde, avoiding controversy, alters the symbolic final scene, where Bearing strips naked as she moves towards the light in silence — as if no longer hiding behind wit or any form of artifice. Yet if Twin Bill’s aim is to reach more students, then it’s a decision worthy of support.

Because the students will see themselves here, and maybe it will influence them to be kinder — to others and to their future selves — even as they get caught in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes cold complexities of their chosen discipline.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Not my life's background music

I'm not worthy of Jai Wolf's music.


My EDM Northern Star and dear friend (LOL), Matthew Koma, announced that he's releasing a track with one Jai Wolf this April 21. So therefore I Spotified Jai.


I fell asleep to this playlist — which has been on loop the entire day today — and will probably put me to sleep again tonight.


Heavenly but also dark synths, flirtations with RnB, depth. That's it. There's depth to his music, and I'm not talking about lyrics, but the entire soundscape — the creative decision-making behind it. (Thank you for putting this note after that note...)


My life is so banal to have him playing in the background.

His music feels like something you play in a pristine penthouse, on a cool night and your heart is cold. Something you play after a disaster you haven't recognized yet.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Electric shock

"In the next room or the vibrator play"
by Sarah Ruhl (Kindle edition)

I don’t have it in me to laugh at a woman who, for the first time in her life, learns how to pleasure herself. Nor at a woman who begs to be touched by a man, by her husband no less.

When I saw a preview of In the next room or the vibrator play, I was wary of cheap laughs drawn upon people’s ignorance over their bodies and objects being inserted where they can somehow fit. But the play is far from callow. The latter half of the title is a nasty trick, though, to incite curiosity; for the crux of the story is marital disconnection. Playwright Sarah Ruhl has written a clever drama, which humor is only incidental, never its driving force as what the adverts would have you believe.


“That is how he fell in love with me, he said he was determined to keep up with me — he only saw the back of my head before we married because I was always one step ahead. He said he had to marry me to see my face,” Catherine Givings talks about her passion for walking and her husband Dr. Givings, a gynecological and hysterical disorders specialist.

Throughout their marriage, however, Catherine has been the one running towards him and him, away. Dr. Givings is always “in the next room” (a private operating theater beside their living room), where he cures men and women suffering from hysteria with the help of an electric vibrator. Catherine’s isolation, compounded by her inability to produce enough milk for their baby, and her heightened interest in what happens in the next room, compels her to demand for the same treatment given by the good doctor to his patients.

Catherine asks for what she wants — that Dr. Givings makes loving her as his job — which is admirable. The strength is borne out of recognizing her loneliness (“I understand solitude, I am very lonely”).

Aside: A recent Boston Globe article reports on loneliness as a huge health threat. The studies cited may be specific to middle-aged men with collapsing friendships, but a relevant takeaway is that while psychiatry has done a great job in de-stigmatizing depression (we now casually throw “I’m depressed” in conversations), it has a long way to go with loneliness. Not many dare admit to being lonely.


The French call it “little deaths,” yes? Orgasms. Loads of these in the show.

In her stage directions, Ruhl advises, “These are the days before digital pornography. There is no cliché of how women are supposed to orgasm, no idea in their heads of how they are supposed to sound when they climax.”

In his director’s notes, Chris Millado — who's directing the Repertory Philippines production of the play — addresses the question floating in our heads: How do you stage an orgasm? “You can’t,” according to him. “It finds you.”

Following a story until it reaches its climax, and in the process watch the main characters reach theirs, is the distinct joy of In the next room or the vibrator play. Caisa Borromeo and Jef Flores, who play patients Sabrina Daldry and Leo Irving, respectively, share nine orgasm scenes between them (if my math and memory were to be trusted). Each of their little deaths lead to their own little tales of discovery.

In a gripping scene, Giannina Ocampo as Mrs. Givings has the tough job of conveying pleasure mixed with physical and emotional pain while using a vibrator — her release is no comic relief — and she delivers. Ocampo’s Catherine is both delicate and resolute. You sense in her a desperation beneath the veneer of dignity.


Set during the dawn of electricity, the play presents the excitement, but mostly the anxiety brought about by this forthcoming age of technology (“Do you think our children’s children will be less solemn? A flick of the finger — and all is lit! A flick of the finger, and all is dark! On, off, on off! We could change our minds a dozen times a second!”).

Man of science Dr. Givings argues that electricity isn’t entirely new and mustn’t be feared: “It is harnessed from nature… when I was a child, I was stroking the cat’s back one day and was startled to see sparks rising up out of her fur. My father said, this is nothing but electricity, the same thing you see on the trees in a storm.”

Maybe he is right. If not for the electric vibrator, his wife and patients would not have reached self-discovery. Maybe you have to reconcile the seemingly good with the presumedly bad.

Even Catherine unwittingly acknowledges this in a paradox: electricity is that which “can put a man to death and also bring him back to life again.” It is that which weakens the legs and thereafter awakens the spirit. It is the spark that rises when bodies meet. That which collects above the skin, causing the wildest shock with the lightest touch.

—Originally published on GIST

Monday, March 27, 2017

Real / "real"

Thoughts on Red Turnip Theater’s production of The Nether by Jennifer Haley. (Originally published on GIST)


Say I have a perverted fantasy: dismember a child after intercourse. I rewind the scene each night in my head. Can you call me a criminal?

Say, elsewhere, another person has mutilation fantasies, and we discover a place where the imagined briefly comes to life. There we meet to satisfy, consentingly, our darkest desires. Are we committing a crime?

That imagination and reality share the same space in the mind is the most appealing theme in Jennifer Haley’s sci-fi drama, The Nether. Simply, The Nether is virtual realm. Somewhere in it, businessman Sims (Bernardo Bernardo) has built the Hideaway, a pedophile-slash-ax-murderer’s playground, which superior coding enables a life-like experience (think Black Mirror’s San Junipero).

Detective Morris (Jenny Jamora) is out to get Sims, believing that his Hideaway is dangerous and immoral. For her, when people spend entire days in that space, talking, transacting, being — then it is as good as real. When the corporeal no longer matters, then the imagination must yield to governance. Thought is as good as deed.

Bernardo Bernardo as Sims

Sims and Morris are on opposing sides of this beautiful existential discussion. Red Turnip’s delivery of Haley’s script, however, flows like a one-sided argument. The detective has been given the louder voice — literally, Jamora’s headstrong Morris is quite the nag. For all the horrors it’s supposed to present, what I fear is that the play inches towards the didactic. The audience isn’t given enough chance to savor the narrative’s moral ambiguity and empathize with a man who has created — at least in his judgment — a safe zone to practice the unsafe.

Meanwhile, so much weight is on the shoulders of Junyka Santarin (and alternate Alba Berenguer-Testa), who takes on the role of nine-year-old Iris. Her character demands innocence when everyone in the room knows that she is nothing but an old man’s avatar, controlled with malice. Santarin has to go beyond throwing lines, otherwise the show’s haunting moments fall flat.

Truth is the production appears to hold back from delivering the chills, and has somehow made it hard for viewers to care about the characters, despite strong performances from Bernardo and co-actors Bodjie Pascua and TJ Trinidad.

In a story that features blood-curdling sexual proclivities, the most transgressive idea is that love might actually exist underneath it all — and only in this virtual setting could that be possible: in the real world, a Sims and an Iris would never be together. I merely wish that these tensions between the real and the virtual, the corrupt and the tender have been more pronounced in the play.


Red Turnip’s artistic team proves that limitation is the best friend of creativity. Floor area and budget constraints aside, set designer Ed Lacson and set stylist Marta Lovina manage to transform the very physical space, which is the black box theater into Haley’s electronic landscape. In the sound design department, Teresa Barrozo works her magic. Her background music is just how we like it: not heard but felt.

But it is John Batalla’s lighting that serves as the vehicle that brings the audience into the future. The intersecting lines drawn onto the stage, the colors that wash the actors’ face — these details delight the eye as much as they enhance narration.

Science fiction is barely explored in theater, and Red Turnip has chosen an exciting material from the genre to close its fourth season. If you leave the show feeling as if a dormant part of yourself has woken up, then The Nether has done its job.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I'm a friend of Matthew's

I just admire Matthew Koma. I will always wish him well. The first time I interviewed him (for his first show at Chaos Manila), I was surprised by his wisdom and candor. He says the most practical and at the same profound things. He's witty and chill. My kind of guy.

Last week, March 11 to be exact, he came back for another show, and I did everything I could (which wasn't much, since the people at Chaos were super cool) to score another one-on-one with him for GIST. Matthew was in a better mood. He remembered me!

Told him it was my birthday the day before and that his show was my birthday gift to myself. After the interview, I asked for an updated selfie and told him, 'I want us to look like we're friends,' to which he quickly replied, 'We ARE friends'.

But the best thing that happened that night was he gave me a hug — an actual hug, you know, with pressure.

A post shared by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

Again, he said something about craft that resonated with me. He recently wrote an article about finding your voice — really good read — and I asked him about it. Here are his additional thoughts (a complete, barely edited transcript) on finding his voice in his first solo album:
Finding your voice is something that you’re always doing. I don’t know that you ever find it. You’re always kind of trying to honor whatever truth is inside of you, be it a lyric or a genre direction. You’re always developing, you’re always searching, you’re always experiencing and you’re always channeling that into the most honest version of whatever it is. And I think that voice changes through time just like our actual voice changes through time.

For me personally with this record, I feel like it’s one of the first times that I got to really turn inwards, because I wasn’t collaborating with other artists for their vision, or it wasn't for another voice. It was for me to be able to say, okay well who am I and what does this body represent? What am I saying and why is it different than what I’ve said in the context of songs with Zedd or in the context of songs with Alesso? Why is this mine? So for me I got to speak about really personal experiences and really personal angles of stories and how I told them.

I don’t know that you ever find it. I think you’re always kind of continuously finding it, and as long as you’re honoring that truth, it’s okay to go left or go right. It’s a search, that’s what it is. And I think people subscribe as fans to that search and to that voice because they’re searching, too. So if you could represent that for them and you’re gonna always honor them with the truth, then I think it’s a really fun journey to be on together. [emphases mine]
(By the way, trivia, he yawned in the middle of our chat! 'Excuse me, that's what a 27-hour flight does' — and then casually carried on talking.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The incandescent Jef

(Had the pleasure of sitting down with theater actor, Jef Flores. We talked about his career as well his latest play, In the next room. The interview originally appeared on GIST.)


Don't call Jef Flores an award-winning actor

“You have permission to slap me in the face if I turned into a douchebag,” actor Jef Flores asks us to mark his words, so here it is on record.

He has every reason to fear it: since making his debut in professional theater five years ago — without any training, save for doing improv and being a musician back in the States where he grew up — Jef has been cast in some of the most successful productions by a diverse set of theater outfits, and in 2015 snagged a Philstage Gawad Buhay Award for best male lead performance in a play.

His latest gig: artist Leo Irving in Repertory Philippines’ In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play. The title may well be a marketing ploy, as Sarah Ruhl’s tale, though billed as a comedy, reads like a domestic drama. New York, post-Civil War, dawn of electricity. Here the vibrator is purportedly used as a medical tool to cure hysteria. The women discover its non-medical wonders. And so does one man. Leo.

“They needed an out-of-the-box guy. The artist character has to be colorful and have this ambiguous sexual energy,” Jef muses on why he was called to read for the role. “People find it difficult to pin down my sexuality, which is very clear-cut as far as I’m concerned.”

But why pin him down when it’s so much more fun to watch him be. This soft-spoken mama’s boy loves boxing, to begin with, and has dreams of becoming a power metal singer (lost his shit at a Dragonforce concert). He’s among the few who still evolve Poliwags in Pokémon Go (Level 33 as of this writing). Give him coffee and the slightest nudge and he’ll tell the craziest stories (once he played Snow White’s prince charming and, in a real-life plot twist, became the one who needed waking up backstage, thanks to insomnia).

Jef is also disarmingly honest. He’ll be the first to say that sometimes he gets the job because of his so-called face value. And sometimes he doesn’t because his Tagalog sucks. Here he is talking more about work — how he landed in Philippine theater, his orgasm problems in The Vibrator Play, and why he keeps his Gawad Buhay trophy inside the liquor cabinet.

Jef Flores as Leo Irving
GIST: You’re everywhere. Never running out of jobs. Where did it all start?

JEF FLORES: I was a musician and a performer in the States, but those things weren’t coming to fruition. So my cousin told me to check out the music scene in the Philippines. When I got here it turned out that there was music, there was art, and the theater scene was seeding something. Repertory Philippines took me in and started me off in Camp Rock. In my first month of just poking around, I was working with Rep, walking for Bench, and got a commercial. Then Resorts World started doing theater. I was one of the boys in toga in Priscilla (Queen of the Desert), but I had no mic, because I was one of the weakest singers. When people go, “Oh look how far you’ve come,” I’d say, “Yeah I have a mic now.” (Smiles) It’s nice to be heard.

Where did you learn how to act?

Everything that I know how to do has been taught to me by the directors who’ve been forced to deal with me. Bart Guingona is definitely a mentor of mine, as is Michael Williams — being with him in Resorts World, I learned so much. Most of the skills I have today also stem from being caught in between Baby Barredo and Bart in 4,000 Miles with Rep. I’ve never done a straight play before. Bart worked me and, as a co-actor, (Barredo’s) not taking any non-sense from me. It was like having the angry lola and the father figure. They were both raining brimstone on me.

You won a Gawad Buhay award for Red Turnip Theater’s This is Our Youth. What does that mean to you?

Whatever. Of course it’s an honor. But I keep the Gawad Buhay award in the back of my liquor cabinet, behind a Johnnie Walker because I don’t want to think about it too much. Once I had it I was afraid that I was setting myself up for a steep fall. Because the only reason I work so hard is that I’m just an actor. And I’ll always like to be just, simply a working person. Because once I become an award-winning actor, then my work’s going to suffer. It’s going to get into my head. It will. Because I’m that kind of person.

You have a big ego?

I’m at this war with myself where ego is important, but — how to control it? The people who are the best at what they do know that they’re the best. Floyd Mayweather has figured out boxing, but he’s a jerk. I’ve been trying to “claim it” but at the same time I’m on an active campaign to keep myself in check.

What’s the harshest criticism you received?

(11-second pause) Ricci Chan. But he has standards, and that’s what’s beautiful about him. I was helping him with the One Night Stand cabaret at 12 Monkeys. We were having a production meeting with Mahar Mangahas. They needed a line-up of six singers, and they needed a guy. Mahar said, “Why don’t you get Jef?” And Ricci went, “I need singers.”

Most annoying audience reaction?

When they laugh at the dramatic, beautiful stuff. (To an imaginary audience) I’m trying to be deep here!

Is it their fault or the actor’s?

(Before we could finish the question) No it’s their fault, they’re weird. People in general laugh when they’re nervous and uncomfortable, and sometimes we work really, really hard as actors to put them in a place, a thought that they don’t like to go to. It’s great when you work up to that moment and they go with you. But you can kind of see them stop at the door when they laugh at you.

What were your thoughts after reading Sarah Ruhl’s The Vibrator Play?

It’s sneaky. It can make you re-think how you want to spend your time. It kind of floats by, and the people who are paying attention will find themselves a little shell-shocked by it.

How did it make you “re-think how you want to spend your time”?

There are a lot of things in the play that talk about life versus technology. Being in it made me think about how addicted I am to the internet. I’m trying to make a career out of being an artist and supposedly you need to have social media working for you — and I don’t care about those things, and so I’m trying to care more about that; but at the same time I’m like, “No, you’re going to ruin your life that way, you’re already Facebooking too much.” Those things have been opened to me in The Vibrator Play. It’s about electricity versus human warmth. This has been driven into the ground: we’re more connected but also more disconnected than ever. And it’s true. I don’t know how to pick up girls — swipe right?

The Vibrator Play is saying, you know, people are real.

Ruhl is very specific about the sound that the characters make when they’re having an orgasm. She doesn’t want it clichéd. How do you guys know when you’re doing it right?

We’re leaving it to (the director) Chris Millado to guide us to that orgasm that fulfills the need of the scene. He’s arching each and every orgasm in such a way that we are telling Sarah’s story. It’s not enough to go up there and say, “Oh, I’m having an orgasm!” (We) need to go through this particular experience, it’s like a monologue.

I’ve been having issues with my orgasm, actually. Chris comes up to me, and he’s like, “Jeffrey we’ve got to work on that.” So we’re all finding it still. We open in (a week). I think it’s going to be a good orgasm.

Who is this play for?

Repressed people (laughs). The people in this play are having orgasms and they’re super apologetic about it. They’re working so hard to be proper. If you are the type of person who doesn’t want your partner in bed to be so polite, you watch this show.

As someone who didn’t plan on becoming an actor, do you see yourself in theater for the long haul?

Yes. At first it was like, step-by-step, day-by-day. And at some point I got really obsessed with it. I don’t see myself anywhere but here. I can’t be a commercial model. I can’t smile and eat crackers. Not after this.

Talk about that moment when you felt, “God, this is so good.”

It was Camp Rock. When we did our curtain call and 800 audience members stood up, cheering. They had the best freakin’ day. I had issues in high school because I was so worried about what I was going to become. That my parents would never be happy with me. I just wanted to be accepted, get a little praise. It’s nice to be in theater because when you do a good job, people clap. And they say, “Hey, we see you.” It’s nice to be seen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

'Care Divas' is an audacious mess


Every now and then, you will come across a musical that demands attention even as you feel like looking away — one that skims across the repulsive nature of (earning a) living and the twisted wonders of falling in love. Care Divas is such a musical.

The premise is there in the title (mind the font). This is a story of friends who are caregivers by day, drag queens by night. Prepare for unapologetic flamboyance and vulgarity. Expect that the intensity of laughter is commensurate with the pain.


Wiping a geriatric’s ass — a stranger’s at that — to make ends meet and send care in the form of money to people whom you’d rather be with is insane. Imagine being in a room that reeks of urine and other smells that, while not completely alien, aren’t altogether pleasant. This is not to bring down the elderly, but the point is it takes either desperation or genuine altruism to be at their service.

Care Divas outlines this kind of life (at least in the beginning). Each caregiver is shown dealing with their wards, changing their clothes, bathing them, reminding them not to defecate on the floor. The gory images are left to the imagination, making it all the more potent.

It also highlights OFW woes. That constant fear of losing your job and being deported. Kyla (Gio Gahol) goes from employer to employer and, when he couldn’t anymore find the next master, gets caught as an illegal migrant worker. Gahol, who is both charming and laugh-out-loud funny as Kyla, delivers a heart-rending number while escaping authorities. He’s the clear star of Act One.


Something interesting happens during the second act. The musical decides to be a love story. Chelsea (Melvin Lee) — the warmest, most level-headed among the care divas — meets a sketchy guy named Faraj (Jef Flores).

Before I continue, I would like to borrow writer Liza Magtoto’s notes as a personal disclaimer: “Hindi ako overseas worker, wala akong masyadong alam sa Israel, at hindi ako bading.” Care Divas is supposedly set against an intifada backdrop — something that would go right over my head had I not read the souvenir program. The atmosphere — for which we must factor in set design, music, language and the actors’ indecipherable accents — is still very Metro Manila, and very much safe. The alienation (for being foreigners and gay) isn’t as palpable as the libretto may have intended.

Back to Chelsea and Faraj. Their entanglement escalates from cute to serious in a matter of maybe two, three scenes. Faraj seals his love for Chelsea with a kiss. The audience’ reaction (which is as fun to listen to as anything being said or sung onstage) goes from shocked to kilig to scandalized. It tells us that on the one hand, we’re suckers for romance; and on the other, that we’re still uncomfortable with same-sex displays of affection. Whatever gauge of homosexuality tolerance I’m missing from the stage, I’m getting it from the audience section.


If there’s anything that makes me uncomfortable — in a bad way, it’s the sudden disappearance of its major (read: round) characters. We don’t get to hear back from Kyla. And Chelsea… One of her (his? — I’d say her) friends quips that it’s pretty exciting if Faraj turns out to be a suicide bomber. Guess what, he’s not; but Chelsea, in running after Faraj who is running away from the police, becomes a casualty of suicide bombing (how convenient the timing of the explosion). If that’s an attempt at tragedy, the results are feeble. She’s earned our trust (hats off to Lee) and for that she deserves a heroic exit, something directly influenced by her actions.

The worst part is that her death also signals the end of the story. Whatever problems the care divas have — individually or as a group — are set aside. Instead we get a flash forward wherein the friends catch up on each other’s lives by way of voice over. They’re fine. And we just have to accept that.


The cast comes out on stage in the most ridiculous (in a good way) costumes. You want drag? Here’s your fucking drag, they seem to say in the grand finale with the help of a mean bubble machine.

Bubbles. Quite the metaphor for Care Divas — the cheeriness, how they invite you to step outside your comfort zone, the dreaming and scheming. Above all, transience. It’s raining bubbles inside the PETA Theater. As if they’re telling me to relax, it’s just a musical. Don’t try to wrap your head around this. Life is short. Be good, have fun. Before it goes pop.

My poor attempt at capturing bubbles.

—Originally published on GIST

Saturday, March 4, 2017

See you in heaven, hell, or The Nether

The Nether, written by Jennifer Haley, is a kind of play that is a pleasure to read and begs to be reread. It compels you to turn the page on certain occasions, while on other put it down and pace around the room to ruminate.

“We want someone to run with us to the dark side.” That is, satisfy a fundamental desire to have someone truly understand and accept us — flaws and perversions notwithstanding. The play revolves around this truism while touching on themes like playing God, imagination and reality as a shared space in the mind, and online privacy ethics.

A detective is set to track felonious affairs (one of which involves men and children) that might be happening somewhere in The Nether, a place which can be described as both a paradise and the darkest corner of the Internet. It may not sound ground-breaking — sex crimes and cyberspace, what’s new? — but Haley’s plot and philosophizing, how far she dares explore these aberrations without compromising artistic integrity, make it an irresistible ride. Like any good story, it has characters that are at once unique and familiar; and like any good storytelling, it will have predictable twists that will shock you anyway.

To close its fourth season, Red Turnip Theater is staging The Nether, featuring Bernardo Bernardo, Bodjie Pascua, Alba Berenguer-Testa, Junyka Santarin, TJ Trinidad, and Jenny Jamora. Ana Abad Santos takes on directorial duties.

It’s the next level of thrill for me: to see the story on paper unravel onstage, more importantly how the virtual, futuristic landscape will be translated in theater. As Santos says, “[The Nether] bravely dives into the horrors of man, the unspeakable, and still makes sense of it. It’s about our present journey into the big unknown, that other world we call the Internet. And to present this advanced concept on a very basic traditional medium, which is the stage, is so exciting.”

My expectations may have just skyrocketed.

—Originally published on GIST

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A long tram ride

Herta Müller. The appointment. New York: Picador, 2010.
Translated by Michael Hulse and Philip Boehm.
The appointment reminds me of my daily commute when I was still working at an office in Manila. It’s long, repetitive. I didn't quite like where I was going. The difference between me and the first-person narrator of the novel is that she’s observant of her surroundings, while I’m busy inside my mind. And when she goes inside hers, she dissects memories, while I weave fantasies.

She’s far more eloquent, too. Not to mention her problems are bigger than mine. But those go without saying.


I’ve had great experiences so far with Nobel Laureates. Well, that simply meant Jose Saramago and Mario Vargas Llosa. The next Nobel Prize-winning author I acquainted myself with was Herta Müller.

I’m reminded of Saramago, because of the language. Hers is as readily distinct. She doesn’t use quotations and question marks. Her sentences don’t flow smoothly like a water stream, though the narrative — set at a tram ride going to said appointment and moves between the present and flashbacks concerning around five characters — feels like it’s carried out in one swoop, and has the surprise of poetry:

She didn’t grow any younger, but she did stand still as time passed. Apathy makes you neglect your appearance, but she wasn’t like that. Her dishevelment was more on the inside: either she had found pride in her loneliness, or else she was so cut adrift that she was no longer herself. Neither happy nor sad—merely beyond all changes of facial expression. There was more life in a glass of water. When she dried herself she became like the towel, when she cleared the dishes she became like the table, and she became like the chair when she sat down. (p. 75-76)


My copy of the book comes with Müller’s Nobel lecture, wherein she has summed up what it means when we say words create worlds:
Where [words] catch the lived experience by surprise is where they reflect it best. In the end they become so compelling that the lived experience must cling to them in order not to fall apart.

It seems to me that the objects don’t know their material, the gestures don’t know their feelings, and the words don’t know the mouth that speaks them. But to be certain of our own existence, we need the objects, the gestures, and the words. (p. 228)


Some underlined bits:

Are you disappointed in me, he asked. Or have I changed.

No, were were both exactly the same as when we met. Love can’t go on just running in place, but that’s what our love had been doing for two and a half years. (p. 29)

secrets don’t go away when you tell them (p. 32)

I continued trying on clothes in the hope of becoming so beautiful I would begin to exist. (p. 39)

dancing isn’t work, it’s pleasure, if not an innate gift, a predisposition. (p. 106)

I felt ageless, for the most part I couldn’t tell if I was free or lonely. (p. 150)

That happiness doesn’t need time so much as luck. (p. 164)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The music in 'Agnes of God'

Becca Coates has the voice of an angel — fitting for the innocent, music-loving nun she plays; but it’s the veteran voices of Pinky Amador and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo that make Repertory Philippines’ Agnes of God sing and soar.

Psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingston (Lauchgenco-Yulo) is appointed by the court to examine Agnes (Coates), a 21-year-old novice whose newborn — which she claims to have been fathered by God — is found dead in a wastebasket. At the convent, the doctor is greeted by Mother Superior Miriam Ruth (Amador), and what follows is a long argument on science, religion, and the best way to protect Agnes from manslaughter charges.

For a straight play, John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God has an amazing sense of rhythm. It moves from Dr. Livingston delivering a monologue, to a pair of characters in conversation (whether in quick-fire repartee, humorous banter, or calm give-and-take), to all three sharing a scene, then back to Dr. Livingston addressing the audience, restarting the cycle. Every sequence unlocks a mystery as it builds a fresh one.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo delivers a monologue.

The exchanges between Dr. Livingston and Mother Miriam are a particular pleasure to listen to. Amador adopts an aged, rough-around-the-edges timbre — quite a counterpoint to Lauchengco-Yulo’s clinical, sometimes cynical tone. The two throw their dialogues with a toughness inherent in their characters. Both of them convinced of their logic; both of them convincing. They are not, however, a clear-cut yin and yang as you might expect in the beginning. They believe in the power of the mind, but disagree on how to wield it.

On the other hand, Coates still has to find her mark, especially in the quiet parts of the show. But how she shines during its grittier moments; that despite the predictable revelation of her child’s father, she manages to send shivers down the spine.

From the opening down to the last lines, there is a sustained, disconcerting intensity, thanks to the actors but more importantly to John Batalla’s eloquent lighting and Jethro Joaquin’s creeping soundscape. The drama makes great use of pauses, as well — even the audience’ silence, as they strain to hear the next word, adds to the tension in the theater.

Joey Mendoza’s set is another mute element in this production. On stage are but a coffee table, two chairs, and nine cascading panels. “You can’t anchor it in a specific location or time, and it’s easily accessible to flashbacks,” explains technical and assistant stage director Jamie Wilson. Above all else, it proves that discussions on faith, religious or otherwise, don’t pick a location or time — it is always relevant.

Rep’s Agnes of God, directed by Bart Guingona, runs until March 12, 2017 at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Will it convert you? Not a chance. Will it shake your beliefs? That’s highly doubtful. What it will do is tease you; because Agnes of God is essentially a thriller. You’ll have a plot and trains of thought to follow. Constantly you’ll ask, Where is this going? What’s her comeback to that? Whose truth will be broken?

—Originally published on GIST

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rex Navarrete on offensive jokes

Rex Navarrete
Glad to have met Rex Navarrete. I've always wanted to catch him live since hearing SBC Packers and watching Hella Pinoy online (that Sto Niño joke!). Here's the short Q&A I had with him when he was promoting his last show in Manila, Extra Judicial Kidding. This was published on GIST.


GIST: What makes a joke?

REX NAVARRETE: There’s got to be a story in there. Most of the time it helps that it’s based on reality. But what goes into a joke? It’s got to be funny. It can be deep and have so many levels to it, but it still has to be funny. You still need that laugh to let you off the hook, especially with political writers, people who write about touchy subjects. There always has to be an exit plan and it has to be funny to stick with you. And they have to have a purpose — why am I talking about this? Why is this important?

Is there such a thing as an offensive joke?

Yes. A lot.

Do you tell these kinds of jokes?

No — I mean, it depends on who you are. Some people can take (my critical jokes) to the extreme and say, ‘Wow, I was so offended that you talked about that, because that doesn’t bring us together.’ That’s not my job — I’m not supposed to bring us together. Sometimes I have to take a stand, pick a side.

In these times you need comedy. You really need satire. This is the only thing that’s getting me through every day with the new president back home in the States. Because every day is a ten-year step backwards. We worked so hard as a country and now we have this guy who wants to dismantle everything, and it’s and not just affecting our country but the world. It’s not a simple position he’s holding, he’s holding the most powerful position in the planet. As a satirist, I have to be part of that voice.

What is ‘Pinoy humor’?

It’s hard to pin it down because we’ve had the ability to have so many levels of how we laugh. Comedy and sense of humor are tied to who we are as a society. The Philippines is no slouch. We have a rich history of thinking for ourselves. And we’re not afraid to share our opinion with anybody. We’re the first republic in this part of the world and we fought hard for that. And we’re finding out that in the past decades, the voice of opinion has been squashed. But that makes the people sharper. People are really smart here. We enjoy simple street humor all the way to savvy political satire.

What’s the bravest joke you’ve told?

I guess anything that deals with the establishment that we’ve grown up with — our government, our church, our parents. I always try to see how far I can go talking about how we’re raised as Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. And what the power structures are. That’s one of the privileges of being a comedian — people will allow you that freedom to question. If you don’t agree with (the comic), give them silence; and if you do, laugh. A room full of laughter is a room full of agreement.

And so it’s instant democracy right there. I’m not forcing you to laugh and I’m not forcing you to be quiet. I’m just putting it out there. And however you respond is (who you are). That’s what I hope people bring when they come to my shows — their honest selves. Laughter is the true indicator of where you’re at.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An ideal female friendship

Wicked has a great score going for it. That along with quirky-fantastical set designs and costumes should be enough to make theatergoers buy a ticket. But the musical adaptation of the Gregory Maguire novel refuses to be another song-and-dance extravaganza. At its core are characters ready to be remembered.

While the title suggests an origin story of L. Frank Baum’s green-skinned witch (from his children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), the musical, whether deliberately or not, highlights the bond between Elphaba “The Wicked Witch of the West” and Galinda “The Good Witch of the South.” And it understands female friendships rather well — the insecurity, the jealousy, the preoccupation with appearance.

Galinda is just written to be adored — by her peers for her charm; by the audience for her antics. She’s a smart blonde (It’s not about aptitude, / It’s the way you’re viewed, / So it’s very shrewd to be / Very, very popular / Like me). But as immature as she may be, you cannot question her conscience. On the other hand, what’s admirable about Elphaba’s reinterpretation is that despite being an outcast, no thanks to her color, she doesn’t play victim. Neither is she self-deprecating nor resentful.

The two cross paths at Shiz University, and right away they express a mutual “unadulterated loathing.” Ladies are inclined to keep their feelings to themselves, and as a consequence resort to sly innuendoes and backstabbing when hurt or appalled — even now we somehow celebrate “throwing shade.” That’s why watching Glinda and Elphie tell exactly how they feel toward each other, to their faces, is refreshing.

But it’s during a wordless scene that their friendship begins. In the beautifully choreographed Dancing through life, we get our first glimpse of Glinda’s heart as she joins Elphie in her silly dance. A misstep would’ve made that sequence schmaltzy, but Carly Anderson (Galinda) and Jodie Steele (Elphaba) have made it tasteful and tender.

Musicals can rarely flesh out its characters, especially when it has a lot (plus an elaborate plot), like Wicked. It must be a feat of acting and stage direction, then, when the characters come out convincing.

Not even Emily Shaw’s brilliance, however, can salvage the poorly developed Nessarose, Elphie’s sister who would later be known as “The Wicked Witch of the East.” She turns from a sweet, level-headed girl in Act One into a vile, possessive nutcase in Act Two with no explanation in between, except for a time lapse. It’s not nice to spoon-feed the audience, but neither is it fair to require them to fill a colossal gap when the writer decides to be lazy.

The musical also assumes that the viewers know its source materials. Those who haven’t read either Maguire’s or Baum’s book, or seen the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, will find themselves confusified at some parts of the show. They might ask, why is there a huge metal dragon at the proscenium arch? Or why have thirteen hours in a clock? And, really, what’s the big deal about The Wizard?

All these weaknesses become forgivable — better yet forgotten — once the razzle-dazzle sets it.

Wicked has so much going for and in it — twists, wordplay, humor, drama, politics, love, death, the good, the bad. The best thing about it, though, has to be Elphie and Glinda sharing the stage. Much of mainstream female coming-of-age stories put a premium on “winning” against another girl. Here we have a pair of young ladies who have nothing in common end up with genuine concern for each other. Quite a triumph.

Fans and producers have their reasons for consuming and re-staging this 13-year-old musical (it’s currently on its second Manila run in just three years). We say as long as there’s a dearth of solid gal pal tales, there will always be room for Wicked.

—Originally published on GIST

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Wit conquers all

Miguel Faustmann’s set is inspired. The stage is transformed into a living room straight out of a magazine. Wicker chairs, stone walls, wooden floor and ceiling. Plants, lamps, picture frames. But it’s the slant of light, a convincing sunshine passing through the window, that lends it life. It fools you into thinking that what you’re about to witness is a family drama.

Far from it. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang is hilarious, with gags leaning towards the downright silly. Imagine having a housekeeper-slash-soothsayer, a guy who hates wearing clothes, and an aspiring actress eager to take on the role of a molecule thrown into the mix of characters inhabiting present-day Pennsylvania.

The play, which has won a Tony Award in 2013 and is winning new audiences with Repertory Philippines’ production directed by Bart Guingona, tells the story of three siblings in their fifties: Vanya (Michael Williams) — gay and contented; Sonia (Rosalyn Perez) — spinster, lives and in love with Vanya (she’s adopted!); and Masha (Cherie Gil) — glamorous globe-trotting movie star. Peace is disturbed when the unpredictable cleaning lady Cassandra (played by scene-stealing Naths Everett) predicts disaster, after which Masha comes home with a 20-something boyfriend named Spike (Joaquin Valdes) and thoughts of selling the house.

Rep’s dream cast delivers (there are a few stuttering here and there — forgivable on an opening night): Williams’ Vanya is wry but kind. Reserved yet brimming with ideas. Indeed the type of uncle you’d like to hang out with. The challenge for him is to show real frustration once he unleashes his bottled up emotions.

Valdes is no doubt comfortable in his and Spike’s skin. He’s pitch-perfect as an immature, self-absorbed, always topless, muscle-flexing, multi-tasking, one-dimensional wannabe actor. The millennials might cry, “Misrepresentation!” — that is, if they didn’t have a sense of humor.

Art imitates life in the case of Gil, who is every bit like Masha (even she confesses so). Being known as local cinema’s quintessential villainess has its pros and cons, though. We can’t quite shake off her kontrabida image, but then it adds to the pleasure when we see her in moments that are tender and despairing.

Among the leads, Perez is the most successful at injecting pathos into her character. Sonia is wonderfully described by Durang: “She is unsure of herself, melancholy but keeps on hoping for impossible things.” Perez becomes all that and more. You’ll find yourself rooting for the siblings, but perhaps more sympathetic to Sonia.

It’s tempting to call Durang’s fictional family dysfunctional; but they’re as normal as can be, if by normal we mean feels insecure, pines for the past, craves attention, learns late. Let’s dare say theirs is another love story, only the protagonists are in midlife — a coming of middle-age tale, which, to be honest, we better see more of. That’s where we’re headed anyway.

What makes these characters memorable are their antics and the clever, often bitter lines they hurl at each other (“If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about”). But for all its wisecracking and literary allusions, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike doesn’t pat itself on the back for being smart. Instead it (at least in Vanya’s tirade) bemoans the current confusion between information and knowledge, the loss of blissful innocence, without sounding like a nag afraid of change:

My point is the 50s were idiotic but I miss parts of them. When I was 13 I saw Goldfinger with Sean Connery as James Bond, and I didn’t get the meaning of the character name of “Pussy Galore.” Went right over my head.

Nowadays, three year olds get the joke. They can barely walk and they know what Pussy Galore means.

Yes there’s middle-age angst underneath the laughter. And heart. The play ends (spoiler) with Vanya, Sonia and Masha looking out the window, listening to The Beatles’ Here comes the sun — what a cliche. But Durang isn’t trying to be cool, just hopeful. Youth fades. When we get older, maybe we can still hang on to our wits and turn to the sunny side.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The secret to a good story

The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was a gift I received in Christmas 2014. I couldn't be more thankful. Each page was gold and upon finishing I vowed to hunt for more Barbery in book stores. Turned out she had only written this other novel, Gourmet rhapsody—which I didn't buy at the time for some reason.

Christmastime 2016, I saw her name again on paperback. The life of elves. Sold.


Didn't expect that a fantastical, dream-like tale would come from the same person who wrote a sharp, funny narrative concerning the everyday.

Muriel Barbery. The Life of Elves.
New York: Europa Editions, 2016.

Thought of giving up on this book on several occasions, but brilliant bits keep popping up.

Her caste had betrothed her to the role of bored heiress, but fate had made a daydreamer of her, gifted with otherworldly power, to such good effect that in her presence you felt as if a window onto infinity had been opened, and you understood that it was by delving into yourself that you escaped imprisonment.


I find the narration difficult to follow. The poetry is too much. A musical line truly sings when supported by straightforward prose. But here, it's like a song full of counterpoints with minimal rest. I couldn't see the characters. The plot points are miles apart for a 258-page novel.

"You are good at telling stories." said Clara.
. . .
"Do you know the secret to a good story?"
"Wine?" she ventured.
"Lyricism and nonchalance with the truth. However, one must not trifle with the heart."
The chapters alternate between the worlds of Maria and Clara, two young girls (we're about to find out if they're humans or elves or what) that have a secret bond and are the keys to winning a supernatural battle.

The exchange above comes from the chapters with Clara. She is talking to Petrus, an amarone-loving servant who is gradually shedding light on her identity. If not for Petrus, I wouldn't have finished this book.

He is the only character who is alive. Draws intrigue, interest and sympathy. And it's true. He is a great storyteller and I wish he was the narrator of the entire novel.


The life of elves is part one of a two-part series.

In college, I used to bow down to Jeannette Winterson and Anne Michaels because of their poetic language. I still love Michaels as a poet, and I can still quote Winterson from memory (you are easy to love, difficult to love well), but now when I look for a novel, I look for an actual story to bite into.

I will still read the second installment of The life of elves. That's how much I've fallen in love with Barbery at first reading.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The dearth of middle-aged heroines


In a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose, author and actor Emma Thompson shared that her ambition is to write as she gets older, and to write about being older. “Women reach their most powerful and often their most interesting in their fifties and sixties, and I don’t see any movies about women of that age,” explained the thespian. Incidentally, I chanced upon the interview during the time I was reading Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, which chapters alternate between the main story and installments of radio serials featuring “a man in the prime of his life, his fifties.”

The number is intriguing. Terrifying, depending on your mood. There is this expression I learned from childhood and I wonder if it’s still being used today: “Lampas ka na sa kalendaryo.” It implies — as how I understood it back then — that you have reached your thirties without having done anything meaningful yet, such as raise a family. The clock ticks faster.

It seemed worlds away when you were little, until you hit 30 and, Bam! Still no clue what on earth you are doing living with your parents, not identifying as an adult. I’ve always thought that a person’s best years are in their twenties, that’s why hearing Thompson and Llosa talk of much older interesting men and women lifts my spirit a bit.

A bit. Because despite their words and the many who claim, “40 is the new 30, and so on and so forth,” there aren’t enough narratives to convince me (or am I not looking hard enough?). A novelist told me before that Young Adult Fiction is popular because all of us have been a teenager, and we prefer to dwell in younger times. Youth sells. But midlife and old-age are fascinating mysteries as well. What do people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s do? What are their struggles, their fears and desires? What is their language?


When Repertory Philippines offered a preview of its 2017 line-up of shows, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang stood out with a promise of everyday, relatable drama interwoven with clever gags. The story revolves around three siblings in the throes of midlife crisis. Vanya and Sonia manage mundane lives, while Masha is an enviable celebrity who has just got herself a boy toy named Spike.

Me and Miss Cherie
Rep’s production stars legendary kondtrabida, Cherie Gil as Masha. “I accepted the part for so many reasons,” says Gil, who describes Masha as “playful” — a departure from the the characters she’s been associated with, even pigeonholed into. “I want to do something different, comedy naman. Here I get to work opposite a young man and touch a young man’s body,” she cackles after racking her brain. “I was never cast in soaps with a leading man because the bitch never gets the man. At least in theater I can be more versatile and play wonderful roles such as this.”

There’s my cue to ask if she agrees that there’s a dearth of good roles for women her age. “I agree” is her quick response. “In fact next year I am co-producing a film with the same producers of Heneral Luna. It’s again a comedy — I want to break the ice and look at things in a light-hearted way — about a middle-aged woman and the journey that she goes through,” shares Gil, believing that a lot of millennials would like to know where they’re heading, “not to give them fear, but to know what they have to deal with in that stage.”

Like undeniable physical changes. “Whatever you do right now, do it to the hilt,” she advises. “Exercise, exercise, exercise. Because there will come a point when no matter how much your mind wills, the the body does not want to cooperate. When you get older, you have more ideas, more space in yourself to want to do things, to share, contribute. If you’re fit and have the stamina, you can still do anything.”

Blessed with an enormous amount of sense of humor, Gil adds menopause to the list of things ladies can look forward to in their fifties: “It is also something that I am embracing. I address it. I’m not in any relationship right now, so at least no man has to deal with that!”

Another reason Gil is eager to be in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is her connection to and appreciation of Masha. Both are actors undergoing midlife crisis to begin with. “It’s great to be able to play around that truth and laugh at it,” notes the star. The parallels between the two, however, go deeper. “We represent the strong woman, standing by herself, without the need of a man. Hey, we’re not gonna lie about this, a woman would love to have a man. And that’s why Masha goes to five failed marriages and a boyfriend. But if she finds herself alone, she will learn to accept that.” She continues with the slightest pause in speech, “I personally would love to have someone to be with, walk with, watch a movie with, have dinners with. But I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve allowed (not having someone) because I guess by destiny and maybe subconsciously this is how I really want to be in my life.”

What’s nice about conversing with a more mature woman is not the wisdom you gather but rather the recognition that you are more alike than different (she only got there first). Gherie Gil is as energetic and fun — funny, actually — as the next adolescent you’ll meet. She’s intimidated by new technology, yet admits to being paralyzed without her phone. She lights up recalling the joys of her generation, while stressing how wonderful it is to live now — even be a middle-aged woman now. “It’s a good time to recreate female roles that are more empowering and it’s a nice period to be born and be in midlife,” she says, “because women are beginning to step up to the plate.”

—Originally published on GIST

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why does it hurt?

Woke up feeling great. Energized. Made delicious brunch, caught an ep of How to get away with murder and my all-time fave, Desperate housewives on cable (would rewatch every rerun of this and Charmed whenever there's a chance). Watched tennis. Yes, Rafa! Played the piano. I read faster. I am better.

Last night I dressed, danced, conjured new moves thanks to Panic! At The Disco and a heartbreak.

Never mind how but I did find out. Did the math. They've been together three years.

Why does it hurt?

Because they weren't together when we met.

I failed.

I wasn't the one chosen.

I lost to someone whom I didn't think was competition.

"...the worst is the thought that they tried you out and, in the end, the whole sum of parts adds up to you got stamped REJECT by the one you love."

The other was better.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Or the night we bathed in laser lights

David Guetta takes a pause from his awe-inspiring, albeit mild seizure-inducing, concert to express his love for sports and music: “These are two of my favorite things because they bring people together,” says the French DJ, whose This one’s for you is the official UEFA Euro 2016 theme.

He’s not exactly right, though. Sports spark bitterness, if not among competitors, among loyal spectators from opposing sides; and music, especially pop music, is rife with rivalries, with fans ready to bite each other’s head off as they prove who’s better than whom, why this or that genre should cease to exist, and which era is superior of them all.

But we know what he means. And that kind of over-thinking and negativity displayed above disappears once you hit the dance floor and lose yourself among the crowd and to whatever song the DJ dishes out.

“I’m happy that we get to start the year together,” Guetta tells the ravers at the Araneta Coliseum last night. He’s quite chatty for a DJ, and you can hear him smiling. In one of his most engaging numbers, he asks that all the lights are turned off. “If you like it dark and sexy like me, make some noise!” he pleads in his unsexy English. But never mind his accent; he’s playing a rhythmic patten that makes the shy gyrate. This stretch of musical foreplay culminates in a drop that’s matched by a crazy spectacle of lights.

For someone who welcomed 2017 locked at home, afraid of firecrackers and stray bullets, Guetta’s Unity Tour in Manila is a belated New Year’s celebration. His remixes and light-works are the noise and luminance I dig.

It is also GIST’s first major event in the calendar. Coming from a long holiday break, and a longer break from covering concerts, I fear that I may have forgotten how to do this. Seeing the pile of huge cases labeled ‘LASER’ as we go inside, however, is enough to excite me. The walk along the dim pathway is a walk towards home.

We’re back to the grind.

It’s naive to think that having a good start means having a good run. But that’s what euphoria does — it gives you some positive energy to carry on, and an easy way to reach that state is through music. So long as artists like Guetta keep visiting, providing reprieve from the daily stress and the saddest state of affairs, then we should be fine.

As chart-toppers Bad, Titanium, and Without you blast in the big dome, I get out of the zone and realize, “This is David world’s-highest-paid-DJ Guetta spinning for us. How lucky are we!” Welcome indeed, 2017. And thank you, David Guetta for being this year’s superb opening act.

—Originally published on GIST

Monday, January 9, 2017

(National) Artist and muse


Reunion—that which excites and agitates me.

Things have changed since we last saw each other that there are stuff I (a) feel uneasy and (b) can't wait to share.

Mich, Alts, Jen, Allan, Me


It had probably been a decade since I went to this house, but as soon as I saw its facade, all the memories, its finer details, came back.

I thought he wouldn't remember me, but I learned he did when he called my name.

And when the pleasantries were over, we sat down at the table, had lunch, warmed up, eased our way to our usual conversations.

Is this the same cat from some ten years ago?


I became Dr Cirilo Bautista's student during his mellowed-down phase. Mellow didn't mean kind, however. He was blunt and all the same had no patience for stupidity.

What I remember most about his classes are the poems on newsprint, and among those poets, Philip Larkin stayed with me until I grew up: 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.'

And, of course, those jokes that were too corny they're funny.

At his age now, he could still crack them. We asked for a peep at his National Artist medal. He said, sure, for a fee.



All his books are dedicated to Rose.

Once we met her, we never stopped talking about her. The girls love her. 'Find a partner-slash-archivist'—we say, referring to Rose's role in Cirilo's life.

But to me, she'll always be the muse.

I remember another Cirilo joke, no another bluntness. In one class he was recalling how he'd write love poetry for money. His clients: friends who wanted to woo the ladies. He said he'd ask for a photo of their beloved for reference, and added that it was so much easier if the girl was beautiful—'You'll just write what you see', but a quite burden if the girl was ugly.

(National) Artist and muse


It's always a field trip when our group get together. And in the spirit of field trips, we had Doc Bau's new library at home to explore.

Inside the library


Already you write like a master: with genius in language and genius of imagination. No poet in contemporary America or Britain has your magnitude.

Therefore, to salute you is my honor.

—Jose Garcia Villa to Cirilo Bautista

Villa and a very young Bautista


In all honesty, when my classmates-turned-friends mentioned that there's a lunch invitation by Doc Bau, I was eager to join because I thought time was running out for him. 'The neighborhood knows me, and why wouldn't they, the ambulance always comes for me,' he said.

The same goes for me. After I publish this I might be hit by lightning or a speeding bus. So any chance of another meeting with those who have energized me so, I'm there.

(National) Artist and (maybe someone's) muse

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Whenever someone asks where my cubicle is, I always say, 'Iyong walang dekorasyon, iyong walang personality'.

I never mark my territory when it comes to the office—and I've worked in several offices. It's all temporary. My first job was short-lived: one, two months? In my first sort of stable job, I've transferred departments and climbed ranks, and there I started to learn to not be too attached to the desk.

This time, leaving is easier. Because it feels like an actual chapter from a book: full. I've had fun, learned a lot, and given much of myself. And because this leaving—unlike the previous ones—is not an escape but a natural ending.

This is not to say I don't believe in any form of long-term commitment (this blog is one proof that I do).

My current home, I'm very protective of. I groom it as I would myself. By that I mean I obsessively declutter. My favorite practice is throwing away things. In the corner of my mind, however, I know that this isn't my last mortal resting place. (So many plans.) But I think I'll stay here for quite a while.

The constants? Why art and friends, of course—and myself (sanity). I won't know how to behave without books, without fiction and poetry. I'm glad that I am capable of building and maintaining friendships. I wish I won't go insane or die anytime soon because I'm really loving me and my life.

If we've been friends for years, congratulations to us. We've surely changed but that we manage to still respect, admire and seek each other's company is something to celebrate. Happy new year to you!

If we've become friends in 2016, congratulations to us, but more precisely to me. I rarely connect with someone, so I must've been lucky that we've crossed paths. Happy new year to you!