Arts & Culture

Into the heart of a new play

Director Carlitos Siguion Reyna. The communal experience of theater makes it all enriching for him.

Film and stage director Carlitos Siguion Reyna is one of the directors participating in the 13th Virgin Labfest devoted to new works for the stage sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Assigned to the award-winning film director is Dingdong Novenario’s “Nothing But Dreams” which will have eight performances at the CCP Little Theater July 1 to 15 with a cast that includes Audie Gemora, Lhorvie Nuevo, Madeleine Nicolas and Thou Reyes.

With the over-all theme “Wagas” (Pure), the festival will see new works finally given full stage production.

Siguion Reyna says he appreciated Novenario’s play for its lifelike portrayal of a family in dysfunction — marital tensions due to unrealized dreams, a parent’s attempt to control the child and the child’s longing to break free, a father living his frustrated hopes through his daughter. “The challenge for me was finding the tonal balance between the humor on top, and the buried pain—and sometimes cruelty—beneath it. Also, in balancing the comedy (broad or simple) to start the play with, and the drama to end it on. A husband and wife excitedly anticipate their daughter’s arrival with her American boyfriend. When she knocks on their door, they find her companion is not the guy the father had dreamed of for his daughter.”

Director Carlitos Siguion Reyna with the cast of Dingdong Novenario’s “Nothing But Dreams” from left to right, Audie L Gemora, Madlen Nicolas, Lhorvie Ann Melendres Nuevo, and Thou Reyes. Experienced, talented and smart plus good creative impulses. Photo by Tuxqs Rutaquio and Virgin Labfest.

The director stressed that he connects with the material in some ways. “I am moved by it, recognize truth in its theme and characters—a sense that these are real people. As the story moves on, you uncover the truth behind the characters’ actions. Then you feel a sense of event—that something has happened that permanently changed the characters or their relationships, however small that change might be. While there’s a sense of drama in the lives of the members of this family, one never loses the sense of ordinary life. It’s real, funny, and weird. At one point, while father and daughter rage about their dreams and crave understanding from each other, the father demands attention on social media. The stuff of strange, everyday reality.”

As rehearsals progress, the director says the main challenge is the exploration of choices and dissecting meanings beneath lines and making sure that the narrative strategy does not conflict with what feels true for the actors-in- character. “I also think about how the audience reaction would affect the dynamics in pacing and tone during performance. For me, that is the big unknown before opening night. It’s a thrill to see how the performances would go with viewer participation thrown into the mix.”

He describes his cast as experienced, talented and smart. “Plus, they have good creative impulses that make the team effort helpful towards realizing the point of the play and heightening audience identification with, hopefully, every character onstage.”

Poster of “Nothing But Dreams.” Good exposure for untried and unstaged new works.

The challenge of directing film and theater he enjoys both ways. He can take the audience as close to or as far from the action as required by the point of the scene. “Through the camera, I can change the proscenium whenever I need to switch points of view. I can take the audience right into the center of the characters’ playing space, their actions, right into their heads even. I enjoy the collaboration with cast, cinematographer, designer, editor, sound designer/mixer, and composer during production and postproduction. In theater, I like the ample rehearsal period even for a shorter work like this one (14-16 sessions from early readings through final technical dress rehearsals). It allows the writer, the director, and the actors to explore various choices in everything. The ultimate thrill is seeing the characters evolve from beginning to end, particularly during run-throughs. And of course, the audience reaction is live, immediate, and can actively shape a performance, which can be nerve-wracking and a big high all at once. I enjoy both experiences.”

Many things absorb the director before opening night beyond connecting with the material and how he sees the sense of truth in characters and theme. “I try to deliver the point of the play, and make the audience consider and feel what the playwright wants them to think and feel in a way that feels right, real, convincing, inevitable. I hope to get the audience to empathize with every character onstage, if possible. Even if each viewer will own the story his way which might not necessarily agree with every other viewer’s take on the story, I try to get everyone on the same ride even for just the duration of the play itself. It’s the communal experience that makes it all enriching for me.”

Novenario’s “Nothing But Dreams”directed by Carlitos Siguion Reyna opens at the
CCP Little Theater July 1, 3 pm and 8 pm and will run until July 15 as part of
the CCP’s 13th Virgin Labfest.
Performance dates and time: July 1/6/11/15, 3pm
July 1/5/9/14, 8pm