Maniacal: Parody of the local Theater Industry
A TFM Review by Nikki Francisco
One must be very familiar with the material being parodied in order to understand–and therefore appreciate– the parody itself. George De Jesus III’s Maniacal is a parody of the local theater industry, and while it’s a very funny fare, it does expect a level of theater know-how among its audiences.
The play is a loose adaptation of Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes, but it’s also a story within a story. Our characters, mirroring characters from Les Femmes Savantes are also playing archetypes of theater actors rehearsing for a Filipino adaptation of Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes.
(Click here for more information about the show.)
Rita (Martha Comia) is a theater ingenue, considering dropping out of the play to audition for a local staging of a Broadway musical, taking another peer (Jojo Riguerra) with her. This is naturally an outrage to the rest of the cast, especially to the seasoned theater performer, Ms. Philippa. (Mayen Cadd) She derides Rita’s gall to split her time between what she considers art with commercial theater.
Following in her footsteps are Elise (Mara Marasigan), an experienced theater actress who over-intellectualizes the material, and Mandy (Via Antonio), an over-compensating performer to mask her insecurities. They’re equally devoured by their craft and utterly entertaining in their lack of self-awareness. Throw in a screen actor Tristan, (Nel Gomez) giving theater a try on the suggestion of his manager, and you have a full-blown riot.
Renante Bustamante comically switches between 4 different production members by changing the nametag on his shirt. One wonders if this is a deliberate creative decision. Is the show alluding to how, short of actors and directors, casual audiences find the rest of the people in the production just a list of interchangeable faces in a blur of black shirts?
Rounding out the strong cast is Paolo O’Hara who plays Chris, the director. In this instance, however, he’s more wrangler than anything else. He’s not very good at the wrangling, either. He throws his hands in surrender pretty early on, and sits back as his actors run amok.
And run amok they do.
They over-analyze the material, trying out ill-fitting acting techniques simply because they can. They coddle the film star, applaud his every move, and tout him a genius simply because he comes from an art form they cannot penetrate. Their chaos is compulsively watchable, with Pineapple Lab’s setting offering a venue that allows the cast to break the fourth wall and play with the audience.
It all comes to a head as Ms. Philippa owns up to her eccentricities. She knows how she is, and how difficult she could be. But by her own logic, it is forgivable because she–in her own words–delivers. She is uncompromising, and reveres the theater in a way the younger actors will never seem to. It is at this point where Ms. Cadd switches from, well, maniacal, to sentimental. It’s a sudden change, but she performs such a moving monologue that there is no question about her sincerity.
As their collective tantrums draw to a close, it is time for lessons to be learned. This is delivered none too subtly, with Mr.O’Hara doling out lessons, complete with gestures toward the characters meant to learn them. Loose ends are neatly tied and, perhaps as a final attempt at resonance, we are shown Henriette’s monologue (poignant, thanks to Ms. Comia’s affecting delivery) at the close.
There is constant mockery of the industry, the politics, the drama, but Mr. De Jesus’s material never goes too far. He jabs and jokes to be critical, but never mean. Of course not, because for all the comments and asides delivered, there is deep love for the craft in there.
While it helps to know your Sipat Lawin from your Artist Playground or your Adler from your Meisner, the many nudge-nudge wink-wink references peppered in the material are mere trivia. Egg Theater Company’s Maniacal is, more than anything else, a revelation. Literally. It allows theater fans a peek behind the curtain– an insightful, albeit exaggerated, peek into its players and how, after everything, the show manages to go on.
The show will be running tomorrow, December 20, at the Pineapple Lab.