Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Play Time

My first time to perform at the CCP stage was at the Little Theater in 1989. I was a staff assistant to Nonon Padilla, then director of the Coordinating Center for Dramatic Arts. Tanghalang Pilipino was staging his Larawan ng Pilipino Bilang Artist(a), his loving spoof on Nick Joaquin’s classic “Portrait of an Artist as Filipino” with Nonon’s good friend Paul Dumol (he of the “Paglilitis Ni Mang Serapio” fame) directing.

They needed a young guy to play Bititoy, the son of Bitoy Camacho. They had already invited several young known actors for the part, but most of them were too busy. Rehearsals had already started when, in desperation, Nonon turned to me and said, “O Joel, hindi ba nagteatro ka sa school? O, you play Bititoy.” And that was that. Months afterwards I found out that their original choice for Bititoy was Herbert Bautista. I had replaced Bistek.

They assembled an impressive cast: Armida Siguion-Reyna and her real-life sister Irma Potenciano as the sisters Candida and Paula. Ricky Davao and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, fresh from abroad and not yet the director he’s to become, as the sons of Candida. Mario O’Hara, Pio de Castro, Gigi Dueñas, Sharmaine Centenera, with the special participation of Jackie Lou Blanco and Lou Veloso. And a surprise appearance of Ado Escudero, Mr. Villa Escudero himself. A fellow cast member who played one of Bititoy’s friends was a pre-Kuya Kim Atienza, who was quite yummy then because he was still very buff and trim at ambait pa niya.

My best memories: [1] The audience laughing out loud whenever I execute a perfect double-take when I discover the body of a victim inside a baul. [2] Gigi Dueñas—best supporting actress nominee for “Himala” no less—praising me in front of the others during a company call for being consistent in pulling off that double-take. [3] Armida slapping me unexpectedly onstage during one performance; it was no fake slap, but a full-palm bitchslap. Needless to say, my shocked reaction to that was not an act. When the stage-manager asked her afterwards why she added that slap to her blocking, she replied, “I felt that my character should slap him.” The stage-manager gently reminded her that she should have warned her co-actor beforehand. (She retained the slap in all the succeeding shows. I learned how to anticipate it and move my head so that the slap wouldn’t smart as much.) [4] Singing “A-tisket, a-tasket, a red and yellow basket” without knowing what the hell that song is all about. [5] Acting high and drugged out after my character “eats” marijuana-laced brownies, then executing a perfect pratfall. I swear, physical comedy may be unsubtle and lowbrow, but man, I did it so well—back then when my bones were a lot stronger and my body more flexible. [6] After one performance, guess who went backstage and congratulated me? Herbert Bautista. Wow, I actually shook Bistek’s hand!

My worst memory: at the end of the play I deliver a one-and-a-half page monologue to the audience while the whole cast is frozen in a tableau behind me. In the middle of the seven-minute plus monologue, the living room set slowly and magically transforms into a night time garden complete with twinkling stars (Christmas pin lights, actually). There I was, fresh from college, in my first ever experience on a CCP stage. With every performance I struggled to keep the audiences’ attention on what I was saying; and every time I hit the middle part of my monologue, I could actually see their bored eyes shift away from me and the audience would stare in wide-eyed wonder at the astonishing set change happening behind me. The whole set change took about a minute-and-a-half to finish; those were the most excruciating one-and-a-half minutes of my life. To be upstaged by (the late) National Artist Leandro Locsin’s sets during every performance is both a privilege and sheer torture.

Years after I was in a brainstorming session in my previous ad agency when I casually mentioned Larawan. Our executive creative director turned to me in surprise. “Ha? Nandoon ka? Sino ka doon?” he asked.

“Bititoy,” I answered. “I had that seven-minute monologue in the end.”

His eyes widened further. “Ha?! Ikaw yun?” he said, with a smile.

I thought he was going to say something like, “I didn’t recognize you!” or something positive.

“Ang laos mo doon!” he said, as he shook his head and laughed out loud.


* * * * *

I still have yet to set foot on the CCP stage again. But at least I’ve had better reviews in other performances after that.


thedownpayment said...

LOL! great story and i love armida siquion reyna! shes luminous. march 06 i was staying at the intercontinental and head down to breakfast to find her and her entourage holding court. a few days laterr they brought their own food. dinuguan and puto. no joke.

Raymond said...

I watched one performance, Joel, and I do recall that you held your own quite well alongside those more experienced thespians. You were good. And funny. And made us wince when you did those pratfalls. And made us proud.

On another note, I remember very well the younger, buffer Kim Atienza, who went shirtless in another CCP production of, was it Cyrano, where he played one of the soldiers with Christian? I could not take my eyes off that terrific torso the whole time!

the philosphical bastard said...

your creative director must be telling you how you've grown. he just didn't have the right words to say it.

joelmcvie said...

PHILO BASTARD: Hahaha! Thanks for thinking kindly of his comment. But Nonoy Gallardo (famed composer and husband of Celeste Legaspi) did not become ECD because he minced his words. He meant exactly as he said it--he found my performance "laos" in the play. Don't worry, I know better now how to deal with criticism, and I appreciate that he did say it as is. Unless I'm an extremely talented actor, getting universal acclaim is next to impossible.

BONG: Biased opinion ka lang, ehehehe. Dedma na sa comment ng ECD ko, nakita ko naman si Kim nagbibihis backstage before and after every performance! Ngyarap! Ahahaha!