Ateneo ENTABLADO’s Batang Rizal is more than just a history lesson. The play is a fascinating blend of amusement and nostalgia that ties Rizal’s era and the modern era together, as it rekindles a childlike sense of wonder in each one of us.
Written by Christine Bellen and directed by Jerry Respeto, Batang Rizal follows Pepito (alternates Vino Mabalot and Son De Vera), a bright-eyed student of Rizal Elementary School. He gets into trouble for accidentally breaking the Rizal statue donated by Mayor Rapcu (alternates Jethro Tenorio and Adrian Reyes). Frantic over the mishap, Pepito encounters a magical book that happens to be a portal to 19th century Calamba, where he and the young Jose “Pepe” Rizal (Albert John Reyes) cross paths.
Batang Rizal is a musical comedy that evokes the inner child in its viewers. The youthful elements infused in the play transport us back to simpler days. Well-crafted picture books are used to display vibrant sceneries, making the show play out like a children’s storybook, where each scene transitions to the next with a flip of the page. The sounds, lights, and props also aid in bringing the production to life, especially during Rizal’s famous fable, “Si Pagong at si Matsing” and his mother’s story of the moth and the candle flame.
Enhancing the colorful sights are the lighting and costume designs. The lights are impeccably placed and often change colors that reflect the mood in the different parts of the show. The costumes make the actors look like school-aged children, with Pepito and his classmates wearing blue and white school uniforms accented with rainbow-hued accessories. Actors from Rizal’s past, on the other hand, wear brightly-colored dresses and suits, which make them look like they came straight out of a children’s book.
There is no doubt that the cast is what makes the show brimming with humor and exuberance. The two leads, Pepe and Pepito, are a delight to watch. Mabalot and De Vera as Pepito perfectly capture the attitude and energy of a typical kid, while Reyes as Pepe exudes charm and wit while still maintaining the innocence of a young Rizal. More than just captivating the audience with their playful interactions, they also exemplify what it means to be a hero: One portrays the greatness of someone who devoted his life for an entire nation; the other represents an ordinary citizen who is able to influence the people around him to change for the better.
While the two leads are certainly the heart of the play, the supporting characters are the ones that breathe life to it. Notable ones include fellow student Manuel (alternates Miguel Agcaoili, Ethan Reyes, and Reego Regala) and his boisterous gang (alternates Austin Gonzales, Miguel Ocampo, and Patrick Ong; alternates Karlo Erfe, Jerome Ignacio, and Norbert Alensuela; and alternates Chrisse Joy Delos Santos and Iman Ampatuan), and their girl gang counterpart (alternates Zoe Delos Santos and Kathlynn Tolentino, alternates Dolly Dulu and Dane Figueroa, and alternates Gigi Matubis and Lulay Santiago) who exude youthfulness with their juvenile antics and humorous pop culture references. Mayor Rapcu is also a standout character; his over-dramatic actions and funny mispronunciation of words continually brings viewers into fits of laughter.
The show offers many laugh-out-loud quips, but it also has its tender-hearted moments. Pepe’s mother, Donya Lolay (alternates Jem Baldisimo and Nat Cabrera), entrances the audience when she sings a bedtime story to the young Rizal, and evokes heartfelt emotions as she expresses genuine love to Pepe, Paciano (alternates Quiel Quiwa and Arvin Baltazar), and her three daughters, Neneng (alternates Dane Figueroa and Chrisse Joy Delos Santos), Maria (alternates Elaine Macaspac and Lulay Santiago), and Sisa (alternates Gigi Matubis and Lexi Cruz).
Overall, Batang Rizal explores what it truly means to be a hero and how anyone, no matter how old or young they are, can also become one. It presents Pepe Rizal as an ordinary boy who was just as curious as any other kid, rather than as our national hero and a subject we study in school. Lighthearted and highly entertaining, the production is certainly a refreshing and pleasant experience that promises a night filled with laughter.