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Virgin Labfest 18’s revisited plays show why the festival is ripe for the picking

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Well into its 18th edition, the Virgin Labfest (VLF) continues to stage untried, untested, and unstaged one-act plays, this year with the theme “Hitik.” With this, adobo Magazine went to the open rehearsals of “Set E: Hinog” where three plays from 2022 were lifted for a re-stage.

“Punks Not Dead” by Andrew Bonifacio Clete and director Roobak Valle is set in a classroom during the pandemic and establishes the scene with a school teacher checking the attendance of her students online and collecting modules. Enter a parent who complains about an item in the module that discriminates tattooed individuals as criminals, and the situation gets even more complicated when a third character comes in with his trigger-happy tendencies.

While the play’s focus seems to be on the social taboo and stigma against tattoos, it also brought to question the interchangeability of the roles of teachers and mothers during the pandemic, the sacrifices each one had to make, and the ultimate price they paid as the receiving end of an authority’s judgment call.


“Fermata” by Dustin Celestino and directed by Antonette Go-Yadao is a heavy hitter disguised as a lighthearted reunion of two musicians who have gone on their separate paths. For the most part, the banter between the two had the audience guessing what the real score between them was until each unload their baggage in an attempt to make sense of their past.

It also zooms in on guilt and grief, and how machismo factors itself in the coping mechanism of survival; how the duality of a man can create lasting impact and confusion. Eventually, like the directive of fermata on the music sheet, it was left to the discretion of each character what to do with their burden; whether they would prolong or let go. One would not expect that much can be packed into a single musical symbol.

What’s noteworthy about the first two plays is how the characters are believable (perhaps because of the casting too) and its themes can easily be recalled as current affairs. The types of conflict are well carried out in each production.

The third one-act play is the juxtaposition of the realistic nature of the previous ones. “‘Nay May Dala Akong Pancit” by Juan Ekis and directed by Karl Jingco is a take on the soap opera trope of two siblings on a mission to save their mother who dies every time they come home with pancit.

Truly experimental at its core, the play breaks the fourth wall and occasionally considers the audience complicit to the vicious cycle the characters were trapped in. There were self-referential interjections that effectively engages the audience but above everything, “‘Nay May Dala Akong Pancit” is a play that is very demanding of its actors and the cast delivered fully.

While VLF primarily puts dialogue, characters, and plot on the spotlight, the technical aspects of the production do not fall behind. Lighting design paid attention to how each play differs from the other, and sound is highlighted in “Fermata,” not only because of its theme but because of the deliberate silence left in between lines. Set design included details that were well thought-out and serve the plot especially in the final play where all aspects could go as extensive as the show permits.

If “Set E: Hinog” is indicative of anything, it is how the festival breeds new perspective and how VLF 18 has much in store for the audience who gamble on the off-beaten track.

VLF is a collaborative project of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, The Writer’s Bloc and Tanghalang Pilipino. It runs from June 7 to 25. For tickets and other inquiries, get in touch with the CCP Box Office at

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