Theater Review: Lamangan’s “Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag: A Colorful Tapestry of Shattered Dreams, Loves Lost, and Pains in the Manila Jungle
Here’s our Review for Joel Lamangan’s Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, playing until tonight at the KIA Theater in Cubao.
“Walang mahinang loob sa lungsod, Sa lahat kailanga’y sugod lang ng sugod, Talo dito ang taong laging pagod, Sa bilis ng buhay, ika’y maaanod…”
The lyrics in this song basically sum up the every day struggles of the urban poor as portrayed by the characters in this wonderful musical adaptation of Lino Brocka’s classic, “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag.” Based on Edgardo Reyes’ timeless novel, “Maynila..” tells the story of Julio Madiaga, a young fisherman who moved to Manila in search of his girlfriend, Ligaya Paraiso. Ligaya was promised work and an education in Manila by a certain Mrs. Cruz.
Meanwhile, Julio tries his luck in Manila and works as a foreman in a construction site that is managed by his cruel boss, Mr. Balajadia. From hereon, we see how the play exposes us to the daily struggles, pains, misfortunes, and injustices, as well as the broken dreams of Filipinos who try to make ends meet and survive in the crazy hell hole, that is Manila.
Just like in Brocka’s film, this play helmed by the well acclaimed film and TV director, Joel Lamangan, opens up with a scene showing the hustle and bustle of Manila, with the various characters and their stories unfolding before us. There’s Atong. Benny. Imo. Ah Tek. Mr. Balajadia. Mrs. Cruz. The prostitutes. The construction workers and laborers. Pol. Perla. The broken and longing Julio and Ligaya in the corner street of Misericordia.
Portraits of poverty were brought to life and wonderfully translated in the impressive stage design and lighting by production designer, Juan Flavier Pablo, and lights designer, Joey Nombres.
What I think gave this stageplay its backbone are the songs performed by the actors, which were written and composed by musical director, Von de Guzman, with the libretto written by Jose Victor Torres and Em Mendez. Every song in each scene hauntingly translated the stories and emotions of every character in the play. I also think that what made this musical an astounding one is its huge and powerful ensemble of around 40+ talented actors, who can clearly sing, dance, and act all at the same time; they who performed with so much vigor and energy on stage, not losing their element while trying to keep up with everyone. Arman Ferrer, the actor playing the lead character Julio, is without a doubt, the best singer in the cast. However, I felt like he wasn’t able to convey the necessary emotions expected of him in some scenes. The same with Rita Daniela, who is the alternate for Aicelle Santos playing the role of Perla, I had difficulty connecting with her during her supposed heaviest scene in the play, where she was grieving over the death of her brother Atong. She delivered her songs well, but it seems to me like she was focused more on her “graceful” singing rather than conveying her emotions in her songs.
On the other hand, I was quite impressed with Lara Maigue who portrayed the role of Ligaya Paraiso. Not only did she hit the high notes, she was effective in her portrayal of a woman who is longing for the love of her life, whom she has abandoned.
I would like to give mad props to Douglas Nierras for the fantastic choreography in this stageplay. The dance parts were a sight to behold, and I was in so much awe of the heavy, bloody finale in Act 1. My eyes were peeled on the two impressive dancers who has done acrobatics on stage. I never thought that I would be teary eyed over a dance. Everything starts and ends in the corner street of Misericordia. Who would have thought that this Latin word doesn’t translate to “misery” but it actually means “mercy?” Was there any hint of mercy in the story? Nada. There isn’t any amount of mercy for the poor as the harsh whips of life since the 1970s still hit us hard in the faces until today. Decades ran past right before our very eyes yet it seems as if nothing much has changed since then. Is it because we continue to wear blinders, just like the construction workers under Mr. Balajadia or are we the prostitutes willing to be exploited by Mrs. Cruz? Still, one cannot dismiss that although Manila is one hell of a complex, giant puzzle we would like to abandon in the blink of an eye, there is beauty in all the pains attached to it. And from there we know it in our hearts, that despite the sharp talons on our neck, this place is also where we belong. This brutal shithole is still what we call HOME.
A big round of applause to Direk Joel Lamangan and the entire team behind this monumental remake of a timeless classic. Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag was produced by The Grand Leisure Corporation. The final show happens later in KIA Theater at 8 pm.