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What goes on at a tikbalang wedding?

With the recent weird weather, an old saying has been popping up often. "Kinakasal ang tikbalang," we say whenever it's raining while the sun is out. And that's that. We assume that somewhere, a couple of half-horse, half-human beings are being wed, and this explains why the weather can't make up its mind.

In Dulaang UP's mid-season production, a young boy is invited to a tikbalang wedding, and goes on a fantastic journey the audience won't soon forget. Written by Rody Vera, the play was adapted from Gilda Cordero-Fernando's The Magic Circle, where creatures both strange and familiar are all present.

Jepoy Baybayin lives with his mother Barang and their flea-infested pet dog Galis. In their small town, the gossip is that Jepoy's mother is an aswang, and his father a kapre who left years ago. Despite being outcasts, they live quietly and happily - except Barang is prone to melodramatic monologues about her tragic fate.

Every day Barang washes clothes for their neighbors who never seem to run out of extravagant parties. Jepoy helps by collecting water for his mother, but Galis is only interested in running off with the delicate gowns. Eventually, we discover that the dog's fascination with the gowns is not just a penchant for expensive chew toys, but for Barang, Galis is a constant nuisance.

One day Galis runs off into the forest. Jepoy follows and the two find themselves deep in a dreamlike place where dwarves wash dishes by shaking magical leaves, and Galis can talk, walk upright, and dance. One dwarf in particular seems to be in charge, and she sends Jepoy and Galis back to reality, but not before she invites them to a tikbalang wedding.

The wedding day arrives, and they find their way to the enchanted forest. Here, Jepoy meets the beautiful tres marias -- Makiling, Sinukuan and Cacao -- along with Donya Geronima of the tinkling spoons, a couple of tiyanak ringbearers, a whirling santelmo, a sad old kapre, as well as a pineapple, a snake, a rat, and even a cockroach. Of course, the tikbalang couple is there, but as soon as they are married, the wedding revolves around Jepoy and why he was invited as guest of honor.

Like all children's stories, the play comes with a lesson. As Jepoy learns from the wedding guests, it is that everything serves a purpose, even the cockroach which is a barometer of filth. More importantly, we have to take care of the environment. It's nothing new, but the lesson is definitely relevant, and the play shows it beautifully.

Scary but funny

Directed by Jose Estrella, the play was staged at Teatro Hermogenes Ilagan at the Faculty Center of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. The intimate theater was perfect for the small children, who buried their faces in their parents' hugs during the effectively scary scenes. But the creepiness in the play is not the sort that brings nightmares. Once the kids understood that the creatures were not frightening and were in fact funny, they slowly let go of their parents' hands, clapping and cheering with delight.

The play was a visual feast, with sculptor Leeroy New behind the ingenious costume design and Don Salubayba's shadow puppetry - one of the show's highlights. The breathtaking set and lights by Lex Marcos worked wonderfully with TJ Ramos' sound design, and the two hours felt like only a few minutes.

The actors did a splendid job from start to finish, from Skysx Labastilla's frazzled Barang to Karenina Haniel's bossy Pacquita. Bodjie Pascua gave a moving performance as the kapre, but it was Opaline Santos as Galis who really stole the show. No magical creature, no matter how enchanting, stood a chance against a dog who can tango.

Apart from its environment-friendly message, Umaaraw Umuulan, Kinakasal ang Tikbalang was also an introduction to Philippine folktales, legends and myths. What the play accomplishes is in a sense, magical. In this digital age, it is able to enthrall children and grown-ups, reminding them how much fun it is to tell stories, to imagine, and to feel compassion for creatures big and small, whether from this world or others. -- KG/YA, GMA News