Capable of greatness, but falls short at every turn
When Mula sa Buwan announced that it was being reconstituted, I was worried. Theaters are still struggling to upgrade, productions are still shuttered around the world due to the pandemic, transportation is still slow and the economy is at an all-time low. We ask ourselves: “Why stay Mula sa Buwan now?”
But on reflection, it makes sense. Mula sa Buwan rides the waves of two important cultural movements – the first being the continued deterioration of the country’s socio-political landscape that plunges Filipinos into cynicism and despair; the second being the demand for healthy and optimistic narratives that serve as an antidote to such a tasteless culture. That’s why the production, now in its fourth iteration in 12 years, has created so many dedicated and protective fans – Mula Sa Buwan is, as aptly described Apa Agbayani in 2018, “a courageous reminder that the dream has its place in times of turmoil”.
This re-enactment of Mula sa Buwan this is the first time he has been separated from academia. The Samsung Performing Arts Center in Makati is twice the size of Hyundai Hall in Arete and far removed from the student audience responsible for catapulting it to cult status. With the safety net gone, director-screenwriter Pat Valera is responding to this shift in space by ramping up production and rewriting the play to better reflect the current times – aware that the world is now different from the world during its previous passes.
During these 12 years, Valera described in interviews old and New How? ‘Or’ What Mula sa BuwanThe major asset of ‘is its youth. When Cyrano (Myke Salomon) helps a new Christian cadet (Markki Stroem) woo his childhood friend Roxane (Gab Pangilinan), with whom the two are in love, this martyrdom is blamed on inexperience. An ode to the misfits, the musical leans on people like Cyrano – those who are pushed to the periphery with the way they see life and the way life looks at them. But in this new mise-en-scène, Valera does a lot of directorial fiddling, most of which detracts from the magical characteristic of storytelling.
Valera makes his first and most crucial mistake by casting mostly veterans – their age immediately maturing their roles, making it difficult to suspend disbelief. Despite their skillful and well-sculpted bodies, the ensemble, with a few notable exceptions, is a homogeneous mass of actors. The rich inner life undoubtedly built up by such talents is barely visible in their stage demeanors, characters that are only distinguished by Bonsai Cielo’s stunning period costumes. Many of the actors – including the central trio – lose truth in their desire to meet this perceived demand for grandeur, forgetting that there is power in smallness and in clear, determined gestures.
While the three protagonists have already demonstrated their talents elsewhere, this recreation of Mula sa Buwan fails to maximize their potential. Markki Stroem – a walking wet dream – makes the mistake of confining Christian to the small corner of “stupid”, his judgment of his character making him an ineffective second lead, especially in the first act. While Gab Pangilinan’s singing is sonic, there are times when his acting – especially during the musical’s most emotionally demanding scenes – fails to keep up with the power of his voice. While compelling and brimming with life, Myke Salomon seems miscast as Cyrano – his dashing looks and physical type aren’t far enough from Stroem’s, forcing him to beef up his character to compensate.
Some of what’s interesting Mula sa Buwan It’s how disparate the first and second acts are – representative of the difficult coming of age during a time of immense violence, metaphorical of the difficulty of believing the truth and the suffering unless it be lived. In this new staging, Valera incorporates early signs of the impending war to help tie the two acts of the musical together. Theater critic Arturo Hilado writing how Valera adds “adjustments in the script and the direction [that] provided subtexts consistent with the current political and social context. But in doing so, Valera shatters the illusion too soon for the audience and her characters, diminishing the impact of her violent opening number in the second act.
It doesn’t help that a lot of its technical and artistic elements aren’t synergistic. The sound of the Samsung Theater does a disservice to Solomon, who also serves as the production’s musical director, as many of the cast members struggle to be audible, resulting in imbalanced harmonies. Despite the extravagance of Ohm David’s set design, much of it doesn’t contribute to the storytelling – the tall buildings and ladders serving as more of a hazard to his actors as they continually wobble throughout the run. JM Cabling’s choreography, while impressive, has hints of frustrating anachronism and borders on excess, distracting from many of the musical’s most emotional scenes.
Case in point: when Roxanne and Christian’s eyes first meet, the image is meant to be frozen – the gaze crucial in setting up the inevitable love triangle and intrinsic attraction that only exists between Roxane and Christian. Yet Valera asks Christian to move on immediately, marveling at the crowd instead of her potential lover. Much of the blocking is difficult to understand even with prior production knowledge, and knowing where to look is not made easier by Meliton Roxas’ lighting design, which fails to focus on the essentials. , which makes key narrative images dispensable or emotionally. weightless.
What reveals the quality of this reconstruction are the conversations that surround it. Most posts and social media posts describe Mula sa Buwan either by reducing the musical to a handful of elements like a checklist (as with Oliver Oliveros of BroadwayWorld.com), exaggerating it using undeserved sentimental platitudes (as with Nikki Francisco’s recent review of Manila Theater Fans), or simply using the adage “live theater is back” – the latter dismissive of small productions, regional work and the most recent Virgin Labfest at CCP. The result is downright insulting writing, treating the material and those who participated in its creation disrespectful by not evaluating it for what it is.
It’s not like there aren’t magical moments in the re-enactment. When the Japanese flag replaces the inverted Philippine flag, you can’t help but feel a shiver down your spine. When Roxanne eulogizes her friends after the war, a funeral procession of silhouettes in the background accentuates her grief. When the letters rain down from the sky as Cyrano dies, a clear homage to Treb Monteras’ “Respeto”, we know these are all unsaid. When the image of phantom light – the only symbol of theater’s persistence in the world – grips the musical, one cannot help but cry, understanding the struggle that theater practitioners have gone through over the past two last years.
But drama is more than a handful of moments, and it’s frustrating to watch a production capable of greatness – as seen in previous series and in this series – fail at every turn. – Rappler.com
Mula sa Buwan runs from August 26 to September 11, 2022 at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater. For ticket inquiries, you can check their website for more details.