REVIEW: A dazzling and perplexing ‘Sandosenang Sapatos’
The balance between fantasy and message is delicate in Sandosenang Sapatos, a sung-through stage musical adaptation (by playwright Layeta Bucoy) of a short story of the same name (penned by Luis Gatmaitan).
The new production, directed by Jonathan Tadioan, offered a colorful yet perplexing experience, dressed impeccably in whimsy (production design by Marco Viaña and Paw Castillo) and emotion (thanks to the unsurprisingly standout performance by Felicity Kyle Napuli) yet stumbles in its narrative clarity, leaving its audience–young or otherwise alike–in a labyrinth of mixed messages.
At the heart of the story is 12-year-old Susie, born without feet to a shoemaker father (Floyd Tena) and a nurturing mother (Tex Ordoñez-De Leon). The family, including Susie’s sister Ate Karina (Mica Fajardo), lives modestly but happily. Susie’s world, however, is one of contrasts – reality versus dreams, acceptance versus longing. She dreams of being a ballerina, a vision she believes would fulfill her father’s ultimate dream, despite his evident support and acceptance of her talents.
Visual and Emotional
The production shines as a visual delight. Viaña and Castillo’s production design, complemented by Gabo Tolentino’s lighting, does so much with so little to create a dreamlike ambiance with the sole main prop of a bed and a roster of colorfully-dressed imaginary friends in detailed and textured costumes that visually do a lot of the heavy lifting. Stephen Viñas’ choreography also helps take up a lot of space and energy that goes a long way in actualizing Susie’s detailed dreamworld, making this staging a vibrant canvas for the imagination.
Despite this sensory feat of a production, Napuli who plays the character at the center of this story, is able to stand her ground, showing the same evoking and complex performance you may have seen from her in productions of Dani Girl or Matilda. Here, we see her show off an emotionality that is able to wring the same out of her audience. Her anguished lament about her physical limitation and its perceived impact on her family’s happiness is a poignant highlight of the show.
But where the production falters is in its storytelling. There’s an inconsistency in its messaging that is hard to get past. Tadioan’s staging focuses on theatricality and whimsy to captivate its young audience, with the trade off being that of portraying Susie’s reality. This gap in storytelling leads to confusion about the gravity of Susie’s situation. The audience is told of her deep-seated insecurities and desperation to achieve physically unrealistic dreams, yet these are not reflected in her interactions with her supportive family. This disconnect might have been amplified by sound issues on opening night, where patchy mic quality rendered some lyrics incomprehensible, muddling the plot further.
It’s also only a little over an hour long, which left little time to fully plug up holes in its plot. The narrative inconsistency is most glaring with Susie’s desire to be a ballerina. While her father is shown as supportive of–and even take pride in–Susie’s talents as a budding writer, her anguish over not fulfilling this perceived dream of his seems misplaced. This confusion peaks in the revelation that her father had been secretly crafting shoes for her every year. The intended lesson seems muddled – is it about self-acceptance or unfulfilled parental expectations?
Looked at closely enough, Sandosenang Sapatos comes off as a puzzle that requires deciphering – a task that may be too demanding for its young audience. While whimsy and emotion may give audiences a noteworthy theater experience, clarity and consistency is crucial when attempting to impart an important message.
Tickets: Php 1,545.00 Show Dates: November 17, 2023 to December 3, 2023 Venue: CCP Black Box Theater, Manila Running Time: approx. 70 mins (no intermission) Credits: Layeta Bucoy (playwright), Luis Gatmaitan (short story), Joed Balsamo (music, musical director), Noel Cabangon (music), Jonathan Tadioan (director), Stephen Viñas (choreographer), Marco Viaña (production designer), Paw Castillo (production designer), Gabo Tolentino (lighting designer), TJ Ramos (sound designer) Cast: Felicity Kyle Napuli, Wincess Jem Yana, Floyd Tena, Tex Ordoñez-De Leon, Mica Fajardo, Marynor Madamesila, Natasha Cabrera, Lance Soliman, MC Dela Cruz, Mark Grantos, Bea Remollo, Steven Hotchkiss, Patricia Rolda, Sarah Monay, Mark Lorenz, Lhorvie Nuevo-Tadioan, Francis Gatmaytan, Paula Espinola Company: Tanghalang Pilipino