Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pinoy camp at its finest

Anything taking itself so seriously that it heaves under the weight of its own self-importance is not funny, and can be potentially boring. But something that revels in the glory of its own fakeness is not only funny, it's hilarious. (It's kinda like Chicago vs. Moulin Rouge.) And hilarious is what Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Musikal is.

I had a rip roaring two and a half hour laugh-out-loud-athon last night at the CCP's Tanghalang Huseng Batute. Zsazsa Zaturnnah (hold your nose and say it people, "Zsuh zsuh Zaturn-na-ha!") ze Muzikal is an adaptation of Carlo Vergara's National Book Award-winning graphic novel, Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah. The story kicks off with Ada, a small town parlorista, finding a mysterious stone that fell from the sky while taking a shower. His spunky assistant, Didi, urges him to swallow it and shout "Zaaaaaaturnaaaah!!!" in the belief that it is a magic stone that will endow him with superpowers (sounds familiar?). Being the uto-uto that he is, Ada complies and is promptly transformed into an incredibly buxom red-haired warrior, a bona fide female equipped with super strength and agility. Zsazsa goes on to defend the town from a giant frog, a horde of spastic zombies, and a team of alien Amazonistas.

Who would have thought a comic book would translate so well into theater? Two aspects I liked best about the show: One, the excellent performances of the whole cast, led by Eula Valdes as Zsazsa (I hope no one was listening when I whispered to my companion, "Hey, she looks like Eula Valdes.", ehehe, kaya pala, it was Eula Valdes! I went in not knowing anything about the production aside from the title.). She had very strong stage presence, and mind you, it's not only because of the costume (sorry guys, I know what you're thinking, but she was wearing a body suit. Which was practical, with all the running around she had to do on stage.). I didn't realize until then that she could sing that well (si Kuya Germs kasi!), good for her! Tuxqs Rutaquio as Ada was vulnerable and naive, while Ricci Chan virtually stole the show with his feistiness and impressive lung power. Lauren Novero as Dodong, while he can use some more singing lessons, did have a rich, deep singing voice, and was quite charming (and yeah, as Didi pointed out, he did have nice noodles -- seems he was Mr. Body Shot 2001). Queen Femina was played wonderfully by Kalila Aguilos, flanked by her equally entertaining Amazonistas: Wilma Doesnt as Dina B. (I suspected it was Wilma, but didn't say it out loud; what she lacked in vocal power she made up for with sheer pizzazz), Deeda Barretto as Vilma S., Mayen Estañero as Sharon C., and Tess Jamias as Nora A..

Two, the delightfully ingenious special effects improvisations. (What's a superhero story without special effects, eh?) I don't want to spoil your fun by letting you in on all of it, but I must point out my most favorite one. During the confrontation scene between Queen Femina and Zaturnnah, both actresses wore fake legs (their real legs were covered by a black skirt above which the fake ones dangled). Assisted by meant-to-be-invisible-propspeople, this device allowed the audience to watch fabulously hilarious acrobatics and stunts. I don't know about the people downstairs, but the view from the Gallery (Batute's upper level) had us all in stitches.

There are two dramatic highpoints that I can't help mentioning. One has to do with Zsazsa talking to her long dead father (he turns out to be one of the zombies), the other is when Didi gets shot by Queen Femina. As it turns out, when he was alive, Ada's father could never accept how his son was a syoke (that's ancient swardspeak for bading, in case you're very young, or have otherwise been living under a rock). Ada now as Zsazsa, appeals to his senses, hoping his er her father (see it's kinda confusing) will finally be able to accept and love his son for what he (she?) is. Yeah right, talk sense to a zombie, why don't cha? Itay's reaction had me gasping for air. As for Didi, he almost stole the show with his faux death scene (oops sorry for letting that out, but c'mon you'll know where everything is going anyway while watching it). Wait a minute, let me rephrase that. He did steal the show. Ah, scenes like these, I just love it when they have you in tears and move you ever so subtly at the same time. As the gay would say, Nakakaloka! I hesitate to say more lest I spill all the beans in this fantastically executed production. Not at all a bad way of saying gender is an illusion. (O ha, you see, you can still use your brain and come away gigglish for the whole night, too!)

Considering how much I enjoyed the show, I gladly would have paid twice the price of the ticket (that is, if I did actually pay for my ticket, ehehe. *grin* Thanks for the libre, M!) So if I were you, I'd go catch it while it's still playing, as there are only a few playdates left: Feb. 24-25 (8pm); Feb. 25-26 (3pm); Mar. 3-4 (8pm); and Mar. 4-5 (3pm). Check for their contact numbers. Grab a copy of the programme, too, it's delightfully designed, and even has An Idiota's Guide to "Camp". ;)

One final note, though. To the parents: better not bring the kids (under 13 I suppose?) to this one. It's not exactly Darna. *cough*

Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Muzikal is directed by Chris Millado and adapted by Chris Martinez. Vincent A. De Jesus is the composer, lyricist, and musical director.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Random book thoughts

Breathlessly anticipating a pearl of a book. Actually, a book of a Pearl. *smiles* After that most excellent, exhilirating literary fiction, The Dante Club, Random is soon set to release Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow. We don't know much about it yet except what tells us:

Trust the author of The Dante Club to turn in another stylish-sounding thriller, this one starring Poe fanatic Quentin Clark. Clark wants the real-life model for C. Auguste Dupin, Poe's fictional master of detection, to look into the author's suspicious death. But then someone else claims to be the actual Dupin. With a 14-city tour.

Ah yes, I have very fond memories of Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club. How can one forget that graphic, heart-stopping opening chapter? Maybe I have been watching too much CSI, but I swear Gil Grissom and company would have had a field day with that murder scene. Grissom particularly, as the first victim was being gutted alive by maggots -- and if only the setting had not been 1865 Boston. The detectives of the novel are none other than the famed Boston Brahmins: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell. Picture it: a group of well-respected poets, celebrities in their own right in their heyday, running against time to find a serial killer who patterns his murders after the punishments in Dante's Inferno, a curious detail, since they themselves had been working on Longfellow's English translation of Alighieri's epic poem. Pearl ingeniously mixes historical fact with fiction, not only writing beautifully and fluidly, but pacing his story like a jaw-dropping movie. Who could have thought the novel sprang from his graduate thesis? *sigh* I'm so excited I almost feel like reading the book again, if only I hadn't lent it. Yeah, as if I didn't have enough unread books already. And why read that one again, when there's a similarly-styled second book coming soon? The Poe Shadow will be out May 2006.

Book publishing made easy. Speaking of debuts, Kabayang Kyo has come out with his first book, Chroma, produced through that marvel of a site, Bookmaking has never been as accessible as now. With lulu, you can publish and sell your own books for free. What's more, you have full creative control, you retain the rights of your work, and you can set your own royalty fee. Sounds too good to be true? It probably is, so read the terms carefully. (I will write more about this some time, hopefully when I've had some firsthand experience. *wink*)

Chroma is a collection of color photographs taken around the San Francisco Bay Area. Go check it out and take a peek inside the book from here. If you want to see more of Kyo's images, go visit his website.

Beam me up, Willy (eck, doesn't have as nice a ring to it as Scotty does, but you catch my drift, `ya?). And speaking of creativity. My friend Queena Lee-Chua invited me to her Irwin Chair lecture, Venturing into Science: Creative Writing by Non-specialists, on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 3:00 p.m. at the Social Sciences Conference Rooms 1 & 2 of Ateneo. To be presented during the lecture are the steps taken by her 15 students, all non-science majors, the challenges they faced and the techniques they utilized (drama, analogy, definition, process, character, scene, real-life applications) as they tried their hands at creative science writing this semester under the English Department. Excerpts from their works will be read.

Talking to Queena about this special writing class of hers reminded me of a book I enjoyed a few years ago that goes into a related topic, that is, the impact of emerging technologies on storytelling. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace by Janet H. Murray, takes off from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s notion of a holodeck: a computer’s projection of “elaborate simulations by combining holography with magnetic `force fields’ and energy-to-matter conversions”. With a holodeck, you can program any world you want into the computer, step in, and join in the creation of a story. Take it as a very high-tech virtual world that you can actually experience with all of your senses. (Needless to say, the holodeck is only one among the many reasons why Star Trek: TNG is the best ever sci-fi tv series in my book. *beams* *Oh hey, that's a pun!* *amused*)

In the book, Murray envisions the future Shakespeare as half hacker, half bard. Considering how so many more advancements have been introduced since Murray wrote it in 1997, Hamlet on the Holodeck merely touches the tip of the iceberg with its discussion of hypertext narratives, interactive fiction, electronic games (games as stories or stories as games), and various hypermedia productions. Even so, today the book still remains a compelling and relevant read.

Murray wonders about whether the world is ready for a new narrative format that is delivered in a fully digital environment. Will hypertext fiction, for instance, ever be an accepted art form? I did try a couple of hypertext stories myself, (e.g. Jackson’s The Body), but I must admit that I never got to finish any. I was thinking (at least five years ago when I first tried them), it may be that my brain had not yet evolved to the point where I could efficiently absorb and process the narrative and still appreciate the art form – heck, I couldn’t even get past a third of Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and that was in print, an experimental fiction that relied on a lot of extraneous bits of information scattered in the form of footnotes, images, lists, diary entries and such other scraps thrown into a dictionary-sized tome. It is the scourge of linear thinkers, surely! But I digress. The point is, who knows, perhaps now I’ve been able to adapt to calling up several references at the same time (e.g. opening window after window of not necessarily related webpages), processing data and filing some latent meaning into the brain that I can later appreciate and contemplate?

Taking the subject of hypertext fiction alone, think of the challenges that are posed to the author: how does one create a non-linear story that will still be coherent in the end, no matter how your reader proceeds with it? And how in heck do you still make the end surprising? Or hmm, ok, the concept of an “ending” presupposes a structure like that of the printed word. Let’s just say, how do you construct your story such that your audience will still get a satisfying revelation when they are done? One random thought: the idea of postmodern hypermedia creations is mindblowing. How can one take advantage of the nature of digital environments in creating a narrative that refers to itself? If the computer takes its position as the storyteller, in how many ways can you muck up your audience, eh?

But seriously now, beyond Murray’s discussion of the aesthetic aspect (the chapter on the characteristics of digital media is quite riveting, imo) of the digital narrative are fascinating questions that such a device raises, questions that touch on moral issues even. Since the future of storytelling increases the stakes and makes us participants, each and every format carries with it its own issues. Some questions are old, some are new. (I am now going into forms that Murray did not necessarily refer to since they either did not exist yet or were not prevalent at the time she wrote the book.) One may wonder: Are we in danger of losing our humanity in the virtual world? Does it reduce us it into nothing more than unthinking hedonistic animals? Does electronic gaming promote violence? Is blogging essentially narcissistic? Are cyber-relationships destructive? Is `social' interaction within a virtual environment as valid as human contact? Is a person being unfaithful to a real life partner if he has an online significant other? Are Mary Suisms* in virtual fan fictions potentially pathological (I mean if such existed, I just made this up; but hey, surely we aren’t far off from multi-user virtual fan fiction environments (maybe there already are MUVE** fan fictions, I haven't checked yet)? Think Counterstrike or World of Warcraft or Ragnarok meets Me-as-my-favorite-celebrity’s-lover-in-a-fan-fiction-made-
especially-for-me-cyber-novella. Yiiicks, scare you much?)?

Don’t get me wrong, Murray starts off on an optimistic note, and ends her book still hopeful. And then again, all that scary, negative stuff, it also came with the advent of the printed word hundreds of years ago. Come to think of it, they’re still the same issues, albeit draped in fancy techno-talk. But the difference, imo, is that this time around, there’s much greater risk of losing this thing we call reality.

Hmm. Perhaps that wasn’t particularly uplifting. Let me get back to this later. *sigh*


*In fan fiction, a Mary Suism is that propensity to insert a new character into an already established fiction/world that in truth represents the fan fiction writer himself/herself. Thus, for example, a Princess Arianna can write herself into a Lord of the Rings fan fiction say as the tenth member of the fellowship, the elven love interest of Legolas. I kid you not, such things do exist on this earth and can be found in the worldwideweb. If you want to know more, google fan fiction.

**MUVE stands for Multi-user virtual environment, a.ka. MUD or multi-user domains or multi-user dungeons. Check the definition here, and its history here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


European Starling, in breeding plumage
Sturnus vulgaris

“The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion.”

--- from Henry IV, William Shakespeare

European starlings are said to have a population of over 200 million in North America today. They are considered pests which have taken over the nests of many native birds. Awww, so pretty, but what aggressive creatures, and relentless! Removal of their nests does not deter them from building it in the same spot the next day, and so on.

Whadda `ya know, it's Shakespeare's fault! Or, more accurately, his fan's. In the 1890s, a fan of the bard resolved to introduce to North America all the birds mentioned in his works. Today's European starlings descended from 100 individuals released in Central Park, New York. All because of that single mention in Henry IV. (More info for bird lovers here.)

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(Special thanks to isa for help in identifying this birdie. Didn't even know where to begin, whew!)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

From my postcard collection # 2

Le Trocadéro
Vintage postcard by Cavallini & Co., San Francisco

Le Palais du Trocadéro was constructed by the architect Gabriel Davioud and inaugurated in 1878 for the Universal Exhibition. For some time it was a venue for various society events like art exhibitions, concerts and public ceremonies. It was destroyed in 1937. The Pallais de Chaillot now stands in its place. A crying shame, imo. (More images here.)

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(Special thanks to the contessa for help with the research on this magnificent structure from the past.)