MANILA – Illustrator and graphic designer Carlo Vergara, who created the Filipino superhero Zsazsa Zaturnnah, is making his debut as a playwright at the ongoing Virgin Labfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
His one-act play, “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady,” is one of the most-awaited plays in this year’s Virgin Labfest, easily packing the small Tanghalang Huseng Batute when it premiered last Saturday to raucous laughter and hearty applause.
Although this is his first professionally produced play, Vergara is hardly a newcomer in theater. He was a member of the Harlequin Theater Guild during his college days at the De La Salle University and was even cast in a pivotal role in the local staging of “Angels in America” by New Voice Productions in 1994.
Vergara is best known for his graphic novel, “Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah,” which was made into a hit musical by Tanghalang Pilipino, which was staged a whopping nine times since it premiered in February 2005. The musical was also turned into a movie, starring Rustom Padilla, Pops Fernandez and Zsa Zsa Padilla in the title role.
Vergara credited Virgin Labfest festival director Tuxqs Rutaquio for convincing him to write a play. Rutaquio played the lead role of Ada in the Zaturnnah musical and has since become a close friend of Vergara.
“Tuxqs is an accomplished theater director and educator, and on many occasions we'd talk about the technical aspects of story. He's the closest I've ever come to having a mentor,” Vergara told ABS-CBNnews.com in an interview via Facebook.
“When he took over the Virgin Labfest last year, he asked me to submit, and the idea of ‘Kung Paano...’ hit me. I was only able to write the script, however, early this year. You could say I wanted to test myself,” he said.
Maid to superheroes
Directed by Chris Martinez, who wrote and directed the popular “Kimmy Dora” movies of comedienne Eugene Domingo, “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady” has been described in the program as a “tragicomedy about domestic help, sibling rivalry and shattered dreams.”
When the play opens, the audience is immediately introduced to Mely (Kiki Baento), who works as a maid in what appears to be a futuristic mansion, and her sister Viva (Skyzx Labastilla), who runs away from home after a disagreement with their mother. There is an obvious resentment between the two and Vergara manages to sustain the tension despite a flurry of funny quips and one-liners.
Then it is revealed that Mely is actually employed by a group of superheroes and Viva even gets to meet one of them, Leading Man (Hans Eckstein), which further complicates the situation between the two women.
And then Vergara drops a twisted bomb of an ending that, although not exactly unexpected, had the entire audience at the edge of their seats laughing before erupting in loud applause – just like in a Hollywood superhero movie.
The idea of a Filipino maid working for superheroes was first tackled by Fil-American stand-up comedian Rex Navarette in his classic comedy sketch “Maritess vs. the Superfriends,” which was turned into 7-minute animation short by another Fil-Am artist Dino Ignacio.
But Vergara is not worried about the comparisons.
“While I was writing it, ‘Maritess vs. the Superfriends’ did occur to me, but I never thought about any possible comparisons. Rex Navarrete’s brilliant sketch is a unique creature on its own. My objective for ‘Kung Paano...’ is more about exploring the dramatic relationship between two sisters. It just so happens that I like superheroes,” Vergara explained.
Asked why he chose to create new superheroes for the play, instead of using familiar, existing characters, the playwright said: “Original superheroes are fun! You're not saddled with histories, you can take creative risks, and audiences come in without expectations.”
“It's really more satisfying to witness audiences connecting with a new superhero on an emotional level,” he added.
Vergara said he is happy with how the audience reacted to his play last weekend. “Many have expressed how hilarious ‘Kung Paano...’ is, and that's great,” he said.
He pointed out that there are also those who liked the drama in the play.
“There were a couple of people who appreciated the non-comedy bits, the dramatic conflict. One of them even got a life lesson from it. I guess, right now, I'm focused on building the best ride I can,” he said.
“Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady” ends with a cliffhanger and plays like a prologue to something even bigger. Vergara said the director felt the same way.
“I already have ideas on how this one-act can be a full-length play,” he revealed. “If a company wants to do the full-length, then I'll sit down and complete it. But it's not a priority right now.”
Meanwhile, Vergara also shared his plans for his original creation. Last year, he released “Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila,” the first of the three sequels planned for the groundbreaking superhero.
“I have to finish the remaining two parts first. But there is talk about the musical adaptation. We'll just have to wait and see,” he said.
“Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady” will have two more performances on July 3 at 3 p.m. and July 5 at 8 p.m. as part of Set C of Virgin Labfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.