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)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Portrait of the McVie as an Artist in (Tanghalang) Pilipino

It was during my first job, a staff assistant for Nonon Padilla in CCP. One afternoon he approached me and said, “Joel, didn’t you do theater in school?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Maybe you want be in my play.” It ended in a period, not a question mark. How could I say no? Nonon continued, “The role is Bititoy.” The name sounded supporting and minor. Perfect! I’ve never performed on a CCP stage before, and I wanted my first role to be as inconspicuous and easy as possible.

* * * * *

It was around late-1989. I’ve been working in CCP for a little more than a year. At 23, I could still pass for a 17-year onstage. I knew that Nonon’s play, “Larawan ng Pilipino Bilang Artist(a)” was a spoof on Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of an Artist as Filipino” and, like the original, had a huge cast. My character was Bititoy, Bitoy Camacho’s son. In the original Bitoy Camacho was the narrator; in the spoof he’s an invalid and relegated to a supporting role. How difficult can the role of the son of a minor character get?

The play had a powerhouse cast. Real-life sisters Arnida Siguion-Reyna and Irma Potenciano played sisters Paula and Candida. Theater stalwarts Mario O’Hara, Ricky Davao, Pio de Castro, Bon Vibar, Sherry Lara, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Gigi Dueñas and Lou Veloso were in the cast, as well as relative newcomers Jackielou Blanco (appearing onstage in a cameo role) and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, fresh from studying abroad (aside from appearing onstage with his mom and aunt for the first time, he was playing Ricky’s brother and Jackielou’s husband—got that?).

Because I was a newbie to the bigger world of the professional theater, I had no idea who I was rubbing elbows with. It never occurred to me that Gigi was the Gigi Dueñas who made waves as supporting actress in “Himala”. I had no idea that Carlitos would go on to direct his first full-length commercial film feature for Regal Films several years later. I was star-struck with Ricky and Jackielou; but one time when they offered me a ride home they made me feel at ease with their unassuming ways. And dig this: another fellow cast member who played my kabarkada was a very young and very buff Kim Atienza. I admit I had a secret crush on him then. He was so friendly and charming to everyone; having a well-built body didn’t hurt either.

My sharpest memories include: Gigi Dueñas praising me in front of the whole cast during a company call; Armida slapping me onstage—it was never rehearsed—and when the stage manager asked her why she changed her block, she replied, “Because I felt like it”; me leading Kim and the rest of my barkada in singing “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” a capella; seeing Pilita Corales and her famous sexy legs backstage (she congratulated Jackielou and Ricky after a performance); and Herbert Bautista personally shaking my hand and congratulating me on opening night. Days afterwards, I found out from our stage manager that Herbert was Nonon’s first choice to play Bititoy, but unfortunately the Regal star was too busy with his then newfound career as a public official. Me, filling in for Bistek himself?! I’m not worthy, I thought. Years later, that thought would echo across time in a most unexpected occasion.

* * * * *

Paul Dumol is best known as the playwright who wrote the classic “Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio” back when he was still a student in the Ateneo. (I remember the late Rolando Tinio backstage at the CCP Little Theater dismissing Dumol as “half a playwright these days” because Paul chose to concentrate on writing historical plays that, according to the late National Artist for Theater, was “more history than play”.) As a director, Paul was the hands-off kind; he’d just block his actors then left us alone to find our characters. He’d give suggestions occasionally, but most of the time he left the acting job to us.

Our production designer was the late National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Locsin. He was the one who designed the CCP lang naman. Our set is almost the exact replica of the living room of his house—complete with baby grand, luxurious furniture and towering French windows that opened to a verdant garden, with matching fountain to boot.

* * * * *

When I said yes to Nonon’s invite, I had not read the script. Going through it a few days later, I noticed my character was in a lot of scenes, but had only few speaking lines. “Good! I don’t need to memorize much,” I thought. Then I got to the end. The closing monologue was one-and-a-half pages long, to be delivered by—you guessed it. Oh crap.

All in all, the monologue as performed was about 7 minutes long. In the last scene, the whole cast would freeze in a tableau onstage. Then a transformation occurred: the lights dimmed as the French windows slowly opened and slid to the side, allowing the garden to “creep” magically into the living room. The ceiling disappeared; then stars began to glow one by one until a dazzling night sky covered the entire set.

People in the audience told me the set transformation was fantastic. My stage manager told me it was fantastic. Even my fellow cast members who could surreptitiously turn around to peer at the set told me it was fantastic.

I never got to see how fantastic it was. My block the whole time was facing the audience. Worse, I’d begin my monologue with the audience looking at me; somewhere in the middle I’d see their eyes one by one stray away from me to focus somewhere behind my back. Then their facial expressions would change, widening in awe and delight. It didn’t help delivering my monologue any easier. Good thing we rehearsed the last scene so extensively (the timing of the transformation was crucial) I never stumbled or forgot my lines onstage.

I mean, how can I compete with the work of a National Artist? His set literally upstaged me.

* * * * *

Cut to several years later.

I was already in advertising. During a brainstorming session with Nonoy Gallardo, accomplished OPM composer, husband to the Celeste Legaspi, and executive creative director of our agency, I mentioned to him that I was in the cast of “Lawaran”.

Ah talaga? Sino ka doon?” Nonoy asked.

“I played Bititoy.”

His eyes widened. “Ha?! Ikaw pala yun? Yung may monologue sa dulo?

“Yes,” I proudly answered. My gosh, he remembered my performance!

A beat.

Ang laos mo doon!” Nonoy blurted. Then he laughed and shook his head.

Ka-blag.

* * * * *

To this day I’ve never attempted to perform at the CCP again.


* * * * *

A reunion of sorts: Mario O’Hara, me and Ricky Davao during the presscon for “Insiang” (photo courtesy of Gibbs Cadiz)

4 comments:

engz said...

1989 po..?

apat na taong gulang pa lang ako nun...

hmmmm...ang laos ng comment ko.

ka-blag*

Dennis N. Marasigan said...

joel,

typo -- irma potenciano was armida's sister, not irma adlawan. freudian slip? he he he. . .

dennis

joelmcvie said...

OMG! OMG! OMG!

It's THE Dennis Marasigan, in da house!

Of course Dennis, you should know the difference between Adlawan and Potenciano. Hehehe. My bad, my bad. I'll revise accordingly.

Kim said...

joel!
those were the days! sana makapag teatro ulit.thanks for the kind words. matanda na pero buff pa din...
Kuya Kim