MANILA – When young playwright J-mee Katanyag was tasked to pen a new children’s musical for the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), the only guide given to her was that she should try to include themes or characters from the previous children’s production of the company.
After all, PETA is celebrating its 50th anniversary and what better way to mark this milestone that by paying tribute to its glorious past.
Katanyag did just that in “Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” which opened last Friday, August 18, at the PETA Theater Center. She brought back characters like the playful Pepe and Pepito from “Batang Rizal,” the schizophrenic Prinsesa Mina from “Ang Tiririt ng Ibong Adarna,” the English-speaking Little Match Girl from “Hans Christian Andersen Must Be Filipino,” the mouse Ngo from “Ngo ang Dagang Patay” and the competitive Ismail and Isabel from “Ismail at Isabel,” to help our young hero Popoy save the fantasy land of Saysay Lupalop from the evil Papaw Halimaw.
Popoy, it turns out, is also a descendant of Lola Basyang of PETA’s longest-running children’s production “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang.”
But “Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” isn’t just a celebration of PETA’s past successes but a reminder of “the power of stories,” given how we tend to outgrow fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
“Tumatanda talaga ang mga bata at kadalasa’y nawawala ang pantasya ng mga kuwento sa buhay nila. Naiiwan ang mga kuwentong ito sa nakaraan. So what? May harm ba talaga ang pagkalimot?” she wrote in her playwright’s notes.
For “Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” Katanyag once again delved on the themes of memory and family, just like in her acclaimed one-act play “Betang” for Virgin Labfest.
While much of the action in the play concerns Popoy’s fantastic mission to save the world of Saysay Lupalop, the story also constantly reverts back to the boy’s sad reality – his father is emotionally detached, his mother works abroad, and his grandmother is becoming senile.
For Katanyag, children’s tales aren’t just escapist fantasies but an important way for youngsters to cope with the real-life “monsters” in our midst.
In director Dudz Tarana, who helmed “Batang Rizal” for PETA, Katanyag found the right partner to stage her work. Tarana deliberately junked the usual tack in children’s theater of call-and-response to focus on the storytelling and encouraging the audience to use their imagination.
This brief was also perfectly executed by the rest of the creative team. Charles Yee’s stage design, dominated by a moon that doubles as a screen for traditional shadow play as well as video projections, is simple yet effective as the action shifts from fantasy to reality, while Leeroy New’s upcycled costumes using common household items is appropriately imaginative.
Tarana also assembled a fine cast, led by child actor Albert Silos, who gave a natural performance as Popoy; and Joann Co who exudes warmth as Lola Luna.
Among the featured actors, Roi Calilong as Ngo was a hit among the kids.
“Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” is that rare children’s play that doesn’t just speak to its main audience of young students about the importance of stories. More importantly, it reaches out to the adults, reminding them not to lose that sense of wonder and enchantment that they had as kids and to continue creating.
“Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” runs until August 27 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City and from September 1 to 3 at the Star Theater in Pasay City.