REVIEW: “Lam-Ang” is a serviceable telling of the epic

Anna Luna as Kannoyan and JC Santos as Lam-Ang | Photo Credit: Erickson Dela Cruz

This Fitz Bitana and Marco Viaña-directed telling of the Filipino epic is a bit overlong and uneven, but overall a satisfactory showcase of native culture.

There’s almost a neat divide between the first and second act of Lam-Ang, Tanghalang Pilipino’s musical reimagining of Ilocano ‘ethno-epic’, Ang Biag ni Lam-Ang. It starts off as a nearly-unrelenting battle scene after battle scene before pivoting into a romcom towards the end. It’s a categorical element of the story—in so far an oral tradition can be categorical—that Lam-Ang’s heroic journey first involves the search for his father, and then later on, the search for a wife. It’s all there in this adaptation (book by Eljay Deldoc), clearly laid out as though in plot points, making the show very easy to follow even if it’s dialogue is not as easy to understand.

There’s a smattering of Ilocano in there, especially in Tex Ordoñez-De Leon’s Baglan’s songs (composer and lyricist is Jen Darlene Torres), and terms that harken back to the story’s pre-colonial roots. The look of it, too–planks of bamboo and wood at different levels (set and props design by Marco Viaña) to bring out Bonsai Cielo’s carefully crafted indigenous costumes—meticulously melded artistic license and cultural loyalty to set Lam-Ang’s story on a stage that is as authentic as possible. It’s the show’s greatest strength; this execution of local indigenous craftsmanship that don’t need modernization or westernization to make it look stunning. And it does look stunning.

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Photo Credit: Erickson Dela Cruz

Lam-Ang (played by JC Santos) is one of our folkloric heroes, a strapping figure of myth who had been born with the ability to talk—that’s the extent of how I remember the story from school—preordained for heroism, with his warrior father disappearing from battle and his overarching goal to find him. Imbued with some birthright to leadership, male arrogance, and self-importance, his violence turned inward, fighting tribesmen who dare challenge his authority. A mishmash of battle scenes (William Guillermo is fight choreographer) ensue, where the show made good on its promise of ‘epic’ in terms of length. He conquers other tribes, kills a sacred crocodile, and defeats a once-loyal brother-figure and is told of another land to conquer that comes with a beautiful female leader he could marry.

There’s mild mysticism in the story that ranged from pre-Christian spirituality and bewitching herbs to Lam-Ang’s inexplicable ability to converse with his pets, a duo of rooster (Lance Reblando) and dog (Ybes Bagadiong) whose purposes started out as symbolic before devolving into a Timoun and Pumbaa-type quipping and singing and goading Lam-Ang to pursue the girl.

In the overlong first act, directors Fitz Bitana and Marco Viaña allowed an excess of drama and war, but seemed to have rushed through the second act; and even wasting a good chunk of time for the character of Saridandan (Raflesia Bravo) to appear out of nowhere and deliver a wholly unnecessary song of deep unrequited love only to never be heard from again. The show significantly lightens up when Kannoyan (Anna Luna) is introduced, a figure so beautiful that men from all over travel to win her hand. There’s an attempt to build her into her own heroine, decrying why she can’t be hailed leader on her own without the need of a husband.

JC Santos as Lam-Ang | Photo Credit: Erickson Dela Cruz

Kannoyan leaves for a night disguised as a commoner, chancing upon Lam-Ang and challenges him to a street brawl. It’s your standard people-pleasy, Disney-esque meet-cute that flows abruptly into a montage of falling in love, Lam-Ang finding out the feisty girl he met in the street is the high-born woman he intends to marry, and agreeing to her sole condition of bringing back the most precious thing from his tribe to win her hand.

If the plot gets a little simplistic, abrupt, and later on, sentimental, the show also gets that much more enjoyable. Anna Luna is engrossing as the refined but fiery Kannoyan, and it’s lamentable that she shows up far too late in the story. Ordonez-De Leon and Hazel Maranan as Namongan also give particularly noteworthy performances. Meanwhile, Santos, now a figure in film and television, gives an agreeable performance to lead the proceedings. There’s a glint of a happy ending, before we are reminded that Lam-Ang’s story is of legendary proportions and would end the same way it began: unusual and surprising.

This Lam-Ang doesn’t delve too deeply in its themes, presenting instead the narrative arc of Lam-Ang’s story in the most plot-driven and accessible way possible, coating it with local craftsmanship and artistry that reminds audiences of our rich pre-Colonial history.

Tickets: Php 1,500.00 - Php 2,000.00
Show Dates: Dec 6 '19, Dec 7 '19, Dec 8 '19, Dec 11 '19, Dec 12 '19, Dec 13 '19, Dec 14 '19, Dec 15 '19
Venue: Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, CCP, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City
Running Time: approx 2 hours and 45 minutes (w/ 15-minute intermission)
Credits: Eljay Castro Deldoc (book & lyrics), Jen Darlene Torres (composer & lyricst), Fitz Bitana (director, composer & lyricist), Marco Viaña (director, set & prop designer), TJ Ramos (musical director & sound designer), JM Cabling (choreographer), Bonsai Cielo (costume designer), Meliton Roxas Jr. (lighting designer), William Guillermo (fight choreographer)
Cast: JC Santos, Anna Luna, Tex Ordoñez-De Leon, Ybes Bagadiong, Lance Reblando, Jonathan Tadioan, Alvin Maghanoy, Hazel Maranan, Remus Villanueva, Paw Castillo, Joshua Cabiladas, Raflesia Bravo, Karenina Ng, Francis Gatmaytan, Rapah Manalo, VJ Cortel, Gabo Tolentino, Gry Gimena, Miah Canton, Alys Serdenia, JV Ibesate, Antonette Go, Lhorvie Nuevo
Company: Tanghalang Pilipino
Nikki Francisco: Editor-in-Chief for TheaterFansManila.com. Writer by trade and temperament. A self-professed art appreciator, she'll watch anything once. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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