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Land Of The Rising Sunset: A Review Of Manila Notes

Manila Notes is a theater collaboration currently running at the CCP’s Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. In fact, there’s one more weekend to catch this quiet, meditative play before it closes on December 16. A collaboration between the CCP, the Japan Foundation, and Tanghalang Pilipino, the work is based on Oriza Hirata’s Tokyo Notes, who directs the play, but it’s been adapted by Palanca Hall of Famer Rody Vera into Pilipino, to add Manila context to the staging. Hence, the title which merges images of both Tokyo and Manila.



Set in the reception hall of a Manila museum in an envisioned 2034, the story swirls around the premise that because of war in Europe, precious works of art have been transferred to Asia for safekeeping; and here in Manila, paintings by Vermeer have found a temporary home. What follows is the ebb and flow of 20 stage actors portraying varying persons who have found their way to the museum’s waiting area. As such, it’s an examination of the Filipino psyche, family relationships and traditions, and the nexus of interpersonal relationships that make for social interaction. What’s beautifully realized is how the dialogue and situations are both very Filipino, and yet, also very universal. 



There’s humor, there’s pathos, there’s family tensions, and sexual undercurrents. These all mingle and mix, just as conversations start, stutter, and overlap to our heart’s content. It’s very much like being a fly on the wall; present while all this social discourse goes on in this one location. There’s the Tenorio family reunion between a batch of brothers and sisters, there’s a set of curators entertaining a family and their lawyer as the family may be donating works of art to the museum, there are visiting female students, a former tutor, and a farming couple seeking a cultural respite before heading back to the province. And hanging over all of this is the shadow of the war going on in Europe.



The ensemble cast masterfully goes through their paces, and if I had to pick personal standouts, I would nominate Gie Oneida as Museum curator Jerome Henares, Meann Espinosa as Evelyn Tenorio, and Marco Viaña as Ross Miranda, the lawyer of a family ready to donate paintings to the museum. My selecting them has more to do with the fact that they provide the lighter moments, or portray eccentrics. 




The Japan Foundation has actively pursued cultural exchange via this play, with adaptations regularly created all over Asia. Seoul Notes started this off, and there have been Taipei Notes and Bangkok Notes. That it comes to Manila is a cause to celebrate, and it was enlightening to catch a Sunday matinee and observe that a class of a high school students were watching. At first, I thought the work rather quiet, more a cerebral piece, and wondered if the students would be patient enough for this. To my pleasure and surprise, they were really getting into the theater action, and reacting with gusto. And it fills my heart to watch young kids enjoying theater which isn’t set to music, or filled with sound and fury. 

There’s one more weekend to enjoy Manila Notes.


Lead photos from via @tanghalangpilipino