‘The Normal Heart’ sweeps Gawad Buhay Awards

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DANNY VIBAS

DANNY VIBAS

The Normal Heart’s winning four trophies in Thursday’s Gawad Buhay theater awards at Onstage Theater in Greenbelt Makati is timely and, of course, well-deserved.

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The play about persons with HIV and full-blown AIDS won best play (existing material), best director (drama) for Bart Guingona, and best ensemble acting. It is a timely triumph as the play will have its third run on June 3 to 5 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City.

At the Gawad Buhay, Guingona cheerily announced that the Philippine Educational Theater Association itself is producing the play this time around, thus the change of venue. The play’s first two runs were produced by Guingona’s Actors’ Actors/The Necessary Theater at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater in RCBC Plaza in Makati last year.

Guingona doesn’t only direct the play but also topbills it as the lead character Ned Week, a fierce gay activist whom a Pinoy theater reviewer dubbed as “the gay world’s Antonio Luna,” referring to our fierce hero re-popularized on screen about two years ago by John Arcilla (whose acting career began in theater).

While we’re writing this report, a press conference for the play was to be held at PETA Theater Center possibly to announce casting changes. We hear that those who enjoy plays more when there are mainstream film/TV actors in the cast are hoping TJ Trinidad will still be in it as Bruce Niles, a closet gay activist.

Not having the same cast may affect the awesome collective energy of the production which has just won “best ensemble acting.” It’s easy to prove what fine actors they are.

Jeroen van Koningsbrugge and Georgina Verbaan

Jeroen van Koningsbrugge and Georgina Verbaan

Guingona was a finalist as best lead actor in drama at the recent Gawad Buhay but lost to Jef Flores who plays multiple roles in The Normal Heart. However, the younger Jef won for his performance in Red Turnip Theater’s This is Our Youth.

Another cast member of The Normal Heart—Roselyn Perez–was nominated twice as best supporting actress in a drama. Her other nomination was for Red Turnip’s 33 Variations, but she took home the trophy for The Normal Heart.

Incidentally, TJ was also nominated for best supporting actor-drama, along with Topper Fabregas but both were bested by veteran actor Teroy Guzman for his portrayal of the great Ludwig van Beethoven in 33 Variations.

Well, let’s hope The Normal Heart gets longer runs after its just one-weekend run at PETA Theater Center, where a sixth run of the musical Rak of Aegis will blast after the very relevant Hollywood play by Larry Kramer on AIDS awareness.

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Solar Pictures, the local company that thoughtfully released in the Philippines the movie Spotlight about a week before the not-so popular American film surprisingly grabbed this year’s Oscar’s Best Picture, is bringing over another movie that may yet do well in the US when it gets commercially screened there.

The Surprise is a Dutch romantic comedy directed by Mike van Diem whose movies have won twice in the Oscar’s: the first was when he was a student and the second in 1997 when he had become professional. The latter film was Character, an adaptation of a Dutch novel on harsh social realities in a fictitious town. It won Best Foreign Film.

In The Surprise, an eccentric billionaire signs a contract with an illegal firm that agrees to kill him for money. Although he himself booked the “surprise” package, he has no idea what method will be used to dispatch him. He goes to a funeral parlor to choose a coffin and there meets a young woman who has a similar contract. Both doomed, they get into talking about what led them to decide to end it all, and a warm friendship soon develops between them. Next thing they knew, they were in love—and terrified about their irreversible contracts. Their assigned killers have set up the plot to do them in. They are on their way. The lovers have to outwit them.

The film was shot in Germany, Ireland, and Belgium as a co-production among three movie companies from the countries were it was shot, as well as from Netherland. Production budget soared to €4.6 million.

Portraying the lovers are Jeroen van Koningsbrugge and Georgina Verbaan, both very well-known in the Netherlands and widely regarded as funny and charming. The film has been shown there, as well as in film festivals in Miami and Chicago. It has also been screened in the market division of the Cannes International Film Festival. Reviewers found the two lead stars “very good in their respective roles.” Some have pointed out that “their chemistry is obvious.”

A Dutch critic wrote without reservation: “It is by far the best Dutch film I have seen in years. A bizarre love story that is funny, witty, and above all, heartwarming. Unique not just in Dutch cinema, but everywhere around the world.”

That same critic stresed that though some viewers may take offense at a subject like assisted suicide, “in the end I feel this film is more about finding something or someone to live for, rather than purely life-ending. I left the cinema warm-heartded at least.”

The Surprise is set to open in Philippine theaters on May 11.

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