Whether it’s fairy dust trailing after the Darling siblings as they leap out their nursery window, or the glass slipper sitting idly on the staircase of an extravagant kingdom, fairytales have always been staple in children’s bedrooms for many years. They are familiar and magical, allowing kids to step into the realm of the whimsical where good always triumphs over evil.
Ateneo Blue Repertory (blueREP), however, takes a spin on the characters we all know and love and gives them all dark twists. With director and stage veteran Missy Maramara, lyricist and composer Ejay Yatco, and playwrights Gabbie Campomanes, Helene Enriquez, Stephanie Escuadro, and Robyn Jereza, this blueREP original is sure to change the way you see these characters so loved by time.
Real Life Fairytales is composed of six vignettes with each one incorporating a real life issue that drives the characters to make alarming, and sometimes dangerous, decisions. The writing focuses its lens on these issues while maintaining a grounded story and, thanks to powerful performances from the actors, draws emotion from the audience.
The best example of this is what may arguably be the most successful vignette: The Sleeping Beauty-inspired narrative featuring Justine Narciso and RJ Santillan. It starts off with Rosie (Narciso) trying to sleep and counting sheep before she reveals to Sandman (Santillan) a shocking secret that quickly changes the whole energy of the story. It’s a near tear-jerker that will surely tug on the audience’s heartstrings. Its calculated subtlety coupled with the bold choreography packs enough of a punch that when the audience finally catches on, the only appropriate response is stunned silence and glassy eyes.
Another noteworthy demonstration of successful storytelling centers on the characters of Ariel (Rion Reyes), Cinderella (Monica Gamboa), and a witch (Marga Crisostomo) as they lament their dress sizes and look for a magical solution to appease themselves. It was a breath of fresh air to be met with such a lighthearted and hilarious interaction amidst the grimness of the rest of the script. This is not to say, however, that subject matter was light—it was anything but. The music and the dialogue were undoubtedly the stars of this scene and where they were utilized the most effectively, the powerful voices of the entire cast coming together to blow everyone away as the characters, so vulnerable and well thought-out in their desire, got what was coming to them.
The set also contributed to the overall foreboding feel of the play. Anissa Aguila decorated an otherwise bare stage with a huge spiral that was plastered with ripped storybook pages. It’s used for scenes as simple as signifying Lance and Gwen’s companions eavesdrop on their conversation from around a corner to something as clever as a medium to access another realm altogether. Given the magic pervading the entire production, this set offered its own share of enchantment.
One also cannot discount the more daring voice of blueREP in this curation of stories. The narrative of Isabelle (Nikki Cadiz) confronting her boyfriend Adam (Raffy Nepomuceno) of their complicated situation, and a mysterious scaled girl (Helene Enriquez) is arguably the most venturesome story. While some ends were left loose and the story as a whole lacked consistent pacing, it was refreshing in tone and in emotion. Vocal heavyweights Cadiz, Enriquez, and Nepomuceno all displayed their aptitudes in song with finesse and allowed the scene to elevate itself and make up for the inconsistencies.
As expected, each and every cast member delivered in terms of vocal prowess. Unfortunately, however, some of the lyrics were difficult to decipher as they sang because their voices were either too soft or they were overpowered by other noise. Despite this, lyricist and composer Ejay Yatco flaunted his mastery over music and provided heart wrenching numbers that audience members could bring home with them.
However, there were aspects of the play that didn’t live up to expectations. The vignette with Lance (Juancho Escoto) and Gwen (Justine Narciso) started out charming enough thanks to the chemistry between the two performers but some undeveloped points in the storyline held it back from becoming something really memorable. Paired with the difficulty in pinpointing the round table romance of Lancelot and Guinevere as the inspiration for this couple’s story, it quickly became the chink in the production’s armor.
When it came to the script, there were very evident stumbles over lines with the often-clunky mix of English and Filipino words. While it was refreshing to hear Filipino being included in the script, it wasn’t as effective as it could have been and came off awkward. Coupled with some instances of silence or even stiffness, the play came to distracting halts that the audience would often resist. The very abrupt transitions that came from singing songs in straight English to utterances of disjointed phrases in Filipino were jarring and contributed to the imbalanced feel of the script. This movement towards incorporating more Filipino in the play, however, is something many feel is a step in the right direction and this original was a good way to explore it even if it wasn’t perfect.
Overall, blueREP’s Real Life Fairytales is a heartfelt gem, familiar because of the characters and context and even more so because of how close to home all the stories are. While it wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, this blueREP original powered through and finished strong, staying true to blueREP’s artistic roots while daring to forward conversation and, as their final song says, to “play by ear.”
Shows are at 8 PM on September 13-17, 20-24, 27-30 and October 1, while 3 PM shows are on September 17, 24 and October 1. Tickets are priced at Php 300 each. For ticket inquiries, contact Nicole Garcia at 09065745545; for ticket reservations, go to http://bluerepertory.org/Tickets.