We caught the open TDR for TP’s latest musical offering. Read and find out why LAM-ANG demands and deserves your attention.
You may be forgiven for not knowing anything about the source material of the new Tanghalang Pilipino production “Lam-Ang”. After all, the epic “Biag ni Lam-Ang” sees very little play in the pages of our schools and textbooks in favor of the standard literary classics Ibong Adarna, Florante at Laura, Noli Me Tangere, and El Filibusterismo. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Philippines is a country that is rich with our own diverse proto-hispanic folk history, in the pursuit of standardizing our curriculums, we lose touch with a wealth of folk tales and myths that make up, and explains so much of our cultural identity.
“Biag ni Lam-Ang” the Ilocano epic that tells the story of the hero Lam-Ang, chief to his people and a great warrior. Endowed not only with supernatural strength and skill in combat, but also blessed with a gift for foresight and some vague form of precognition, the epic tells of his two “great” quests: His quest for power, and his quest for love. Both these quests have multiple layers of significance, serving as lessons for its audience.
In his quest for power, he goes from a childhood in the land of Nalbuan, to an abrupt manhood with the disappearance of his father, the chief Lokan, in pursuit of a neighboring tribe of Igorots led by Gumakas. Upon discovering the ultimate fate of his father, Lam-Ang destroys the enemy tribe and assumes the leadership of his people. In the latter half of the epic, it follows Lam-Ang in his journey to the kingdom of Kalanutian to seek for help for his tribe, and in the process meets the fierce and beautiful chief Kannoyan, and proceeds to woo and win her hand in marriage.
This new production, written by Eljay Castro Deldoc set to the haunting music and lyrics by Jen Darlene Torres manages to deconstruct the oft-adapted original story of Lam-Ang, breaking it down to a captivating story of love and hubris that is felt more than it is heard and seen. The level of research that went into the painstaking effort in making the production as true and respectful to the cultural sensibilities of the indigenous people they represent is evident in how the costumes (Bonsai Cielo) and hand weapons (Marco Viana) are crafted. There are small nuances in the production design that are lost to the average audience member, but this contributes to the authenticity of the entire production: I have a hard time imagining how the performers could have walked, talked, or moved with such organic grace had the costumes, props, and even the set pieces (Marco Viana) that resemble the traditional looms our ancestors used to weave the beautiful fabrics that told of dreams and histories had been less thought out. I personally find this keen attention to detail particularly enjoyable.
The cast is led by the regal JC Santos (Constellations, Buwan at Baril, Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady) as the titular hero. His performance of the bull-headed and proud Lam-Ang is compelling: it’s very easy to fall into the trap of portraying classic hero types as two-dimensional caricatures, but Santos’ Lam-Ang is a deeply human portrayal of a deeply flawed character. His hubris is palpable, with devastating consequences by the tail end of the second act. Joining him is Anna Luna (Changing Partners, Arbol De Fuego, 3 Stars and a Sun) as the lovely and formidable chief Kannoyan, who tempers Lam-Ang’s brash and brooding scowl with an intelligent seductiveness that was an absolute delight to watch. The incomparable Tex Ordonez-De Leon (Dreamgirls, Ballet Philippines’ Darna, In The Heights) as Baglan serves as the storyteller and the show’s emotional center, while Lance Reblando (Ang Huling El Bimbo, The Lion King, Ang Nawawalang Kapatid) and Ybes Bagadiong (Katsuri, Ang Pag-uusig, Respeto) as Taraok and Tangguob, Lam-Ang’s pet rooster and dog, respectively, provides much needed comic relief from their playful antics and clever one-asides.
But it bears stressing that beyond what you see onstage, in the performances of the extremely talented cast, what should be the biggest takeaway for the audience here is that Filipino culture, in all its glorious forms are worthy of your attention. It is truly something to behold, the presentation of “Ritual as Theatre”, where events of great significance, such as births, success in campaigns of war, marriage and death are celebrated by our indigenous people through song and movement. Witnessing these ancient, sometimes savage, rituals fill you with a sense of kinship, an awakening of something fundamental in your bones that you feel seeps from your pores and makes your hairs stand on end. I believe that it’s important to leave room for these kinds of deep explorations into our culture, in knowing these rituals, we can have a clear picture of who we are as a people and as a nation. Lam-ang is a glowing example of this kind of theatre, the kind that grabs your ears and forces you to look closer. It resonates with a wild and dynamic primal energy that howls for attention like a hound for blood, and deserves every drop of it.
“Lam-Ang: An Ethno-Epic Musical” is onstage from December 6-15 2019, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater), Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City. Tickets available at the CCP Box Office and TicketWorld.