Theater Review: Repertory Philippines' August: Osage County

For many people, watching telenovelas is a guilty pleasure. One gets to take a peek into the lives of various characters, laugh with them, feel empathy and, sometimes, even identify with what they are going through. 

These days, I no longer have the time, nor the inclination, to watch any local TV series regularly but I have friends and relatives who are hooked on telenovelas. So I was very amused when I've read on Facebook some theater people describing Repertory Philippines' second offering for 2014 like a "Filipino soap opera from hell" delivered in English. It made me more curious to watch it.

I know that there's a Hollywood film version of August: Osage County but I have no idea what it is all about. I went to Onstage, Greenbelt 1 last Thursday night with zero knowledge about the plot and was looking forward to simply be surprised. After all, with a powerhouse cast, I know this theater version is going to be great. And it is!

Chris Millado
According to Director Chris Millado, if he were to sum up in one word what this play is all about, it would be guilt. He describes this as "one family's obsession with burying secrets [that] transforms a nondescript household into a battle-ground littered with emotional land mines." Intriguing, right?

Violet Weston
August: Osage County stars Baby Barredo (in one of her now rare appearances; her most recent was in Boeing Boeing early last year) as Violet, the matriarch of the dysfunctional Weston clan who deals with a turbulent past by escaping into a drug-dependent present. Tita Baby gave an outstanding performance. I am so amazed at the way she could evoke pity, doubt, fear, and even laughter from everyone on the audience during the length of the play. Her punchlines, facial expressions, and dance moves will have you chuckling in a beat! 

Violet's husband Beverly, played by Leo Rialp, couldn't forgive himself for something he did decades ago, so he drowns the guilt in alcohol and literary allusions. His monologue at the start of the show is riveting. Make sure to catch every word. 

Barbara, Karen, and Ivy
Tami Monsod, Pinky Amador, and Liesl Batucan play the Weston sisters Ivy, Barbara, and Karen -- siblings who technically abandoned their elderly parents and blame each other with righteous indignation. Each of these ladies were able to individually shine on stage. They've successfully made their characters very relatable. I'm sure one, or all of them, would remind you of someone you know, maybe including yourself.  

Thea Gloria, who plays Barbara's daughter Jean, represented many of the rebellious young people today. Her acting is very convincing. It would be great to see more of her in future plays. On the other hand, I think Kenneth Moraleda's role as Jean's father Bill, would be relatable to men who are undergoing a mid-life crisis. He, too, is a complex character who refuses to reveal his reasons for doing some of the things he did.

Bill and Sheriff Deon
It's uncanny how Richard Cunanan's and Sheila Francisco's roles as husband and wife Charlie and Mattie Fae Aiken seem like the typical Filipino couples we do see on TV. She's a strong-willed woman who says anything she likes and he's the spouse whose quiet nature happens to complement his wife's loud and pushy nature. 

Little Charles and Mattie Fae
Stay tuned because Charlie's entertaining prayer during the family meal would make you laugh while his dialogue during a crucial moment in the play would make you cheer for him.

Arnel Carrion (who, like Liesl, did exceptionally well in Wait Until Dark last month), plays Sheriff Deon Gilbeau; Hans Eckstein (the dashing Oberon in Shakespeare in Hollywood), is Steve, Karen's not-so-perfect fiancĂ©; and Noel Rayos (who will remain my all-time favorite Carmen Ghia in The Producers), plays Little Charles Aiken

Karen, Steve, and Jean
All three gave outstanding performances like the rest of the cast. Each one also had a time to fully "share" their own stories to the audiences.

Jean and Johnna
Angeli Bayani as Johnna, the Cheyenne Indian maid, likewise portrayed a silent but strong and memorable character. I first saw her in Care Divas and would love to see her sing on stage again in a future production.   

Barbara and Violet
August: Osage County is one heck of a terrifying roller coaster ride which would, in Chris Millado's words, "make sure that audiences come out shaken but alive - emotionally and intellectually". The play is quite long with three acts spanning more than three hours but it was worth it. The set is gorgeous, too! I love the attic area best of all.

I salute this wonderful ensemble work with its excellent cast and crew because they successfully gave justice to Tracy Letts' powerful writing. Make sure you watch it!

Catch August: Osage County on its Gala Shows: Feb. 21, 22, 28, March 1, 7, 8, 14, 15 at 8PM and Matinee Shows: Feb 22, 23, March 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16 at 3:30PM. 

*To see more photos taken during the press preview, please click here

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