I’ve known Palanca winner Edgar Calabia Samar since his 2012 novel Sa Kasunod ng 909 but there was never a chance for us to meet even if we have long since been Facebook friends. It has always been nice to read his posts on Facebook and I’ve been wanting to meet the guy in flesh and see how he speaks his mind. When I first learned that the first of Janus Silang series will be adapted into a stage play, the excitement grew on me, knowing that his style is more contemplative than narrative. How on earth could this slowburn novel be written into stage? If there was one thing I looked forward to seeing, it has to be the faithfulness the adaptation would be willing to take in order to bring to life something as adventurous as Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon. Much to my satisfaction, Tanghalang Ateneo does not disappoint with its play adaptation of Janus Silang. I was able to see it on its press screening—one great opportunity to hear Samar’s thoughts and learn more about the production itself.
Tanghalang Ateneo’s Janus Silang is directed by alumnus Charles Yee and written by Guelan Varela-Luarca. It plays at the Rizal Mini Theater in Ateneo de Manila University. With a cast mainly composed of students, it is amazing to see how these young folks look passionate as early as now on their career as performers. Led by senior high schooler Earvin Estioco in the title role, Janus Silang eerily juxtaposes modern technology with Philippine mythology. The resulting backdrop is a horror story set in the now with creatures that we normally hear as folktales—stories our parents and grandparents would usually tell us to keep us from playing outdoors at nighttime.
Thanks to the stage design provided by Gwyn Guanzon, the production is confident enough to stay true to its desire to show the contrast between this generation’s computer-centric lifestyle and the almost dormant-looking caves to represent Tábon in Quezon, Palawan. The wall is decorated as if it were the insides of a computer, with colorful lights for the circuits. Gray is the primary color utilized to set a neutral tone for all settings. The floor and the ceiling are both teeming with different sizes of hexagons, all the more adding accent to the binary board background. Hanging on either side of the stage are two large hexagons used to project exchanges of text messages. I can only imagine the length of rehearsals it took to perfect acting plus projection.
It is also delightful to witness Janus and his friends play a local online game called TALA with local creatures as characters in it. There are neither computers nor graphics to enhance the visuals but the sound design is sufficient to tickle the imagination. The compromise is, of course, forgivable, granted the constraints. When the story leads to uncalled-for deaths, the play turns to a darker path as scary as the novel. Janus is then on the brink of self-discovery as he pieces together his origins.
Heart-pounding music and dim light work together to take one level higher of being scary. The lighting managed by Meliton Roxas deserves a commendation. The most surprising part is the entrance of tiyanaks, tikbalangs, and the likes. The costume designs by Mitoy Sta. Ana are outstanding and hair-raising. Notably, the production has a grasp on how to take mystery on stage by not showing everything right away.
While Tiyanak ng Tábon serves as an introduction to our lead character’s adventures, this stage play adaptation is faithful on showcasing Samar’s superb novel in which characters are grounded on their roots, desires and ultimate dreams. Right before it gets adapted into a TV series via ABS-CBN this year, Janus Silang has rightfully created an amusing world of his own, together with interesting characters that support (or oppose) his undertakings. Should there be other productions adapting Samar’s best-selling serial novel, Tanghalang Ateneo’s presentation is indeed the benchmark to surpass.
Tanghalang Ateneo’s “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon” runs until February 25 with performances starting at 7:30 PM and Saturday matinee shows starting at 2:30 PM.