Theater: Bibeth Orteza earns nods in Singapore

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Film actor and TV director Bibeth Orteza is headed for critical acclaim as the first two reviews of Singapore critics hailed her portrayal of a Filipino maid “masterful” in the comedy play Boeing Boeing at Victoria Theater on its June 23 opening.

The critic in Arts Lifestyle noted, “Even in a smaller role, Bibeth Orteza is a constant presence throughout the play, and her humour extends beyond her stereotype as a Filipino domestic worker when she reveals her sassy attitude towards the other characters and exasperatedly airs her grievances.”

The Strait Times of Singapore wrote:, “Bibeth Orteza stole every scene she was in, leading the audience to yell out her punchline, “It’s not eeeea-sy!”, with her whenever Bernard (a lead character) demanded she cover for him for the nth time.”

The critic further noted that under director Pam Oei’s sure, deft and brassy ministrations, the fourth outing of this play in Singapore is as refreshing as a hot face towel, with the cast’s slick repartee rife with zip and zing.

Produced by Wild Rice Theater Company, Boeing Boeing saw Orteza as the Filipino maid Rosa in the comedy with multi-racial characters.

Bibeth Orteza in a scene from ‘Boeing Boeing’ wherein she plays a Filipino maid critics described as ‘masterful’ (Photo by Wild Rice)

A cancer survivor, Orteza said her last theater appearance was in the Mrs. B series, a monologue based on Edith Burgos’s search for missing son Jonas, at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Theater in Quezon City, in Naga, UP Baguio in both English and Pilipino. “I alternated with Gina Alajar, and Malou de Guzman. There are talks of bringing the monologue to key cities in the US and Europe.” 

Orteza said it helped that her director, Pam Oei has played various Filipino characters herself. First order of the day was to get into her character and look like a household helper in Singapore, not in Manila. “It just got harder and harder to pass off as Filipino here in Singapore, where there are Filipinos all over. I am portraying my character as a maternal housekeeper. Director Pam created a backstory for me as one who took care of the lead character Bernard since he was a young boy. He sort of inherited me from his parents. So I tend to tolerate all his misadventures.”

The director’s husband, Ken Kwek, is a filmmaker who directed Epy Quizon in Unlucky Plaza, a film that played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. “They are very familiar with Filipinos and they know the Filipino soul having been to Manila many times before. “It was Pam’s interaction with Michael de Mesa with whom she appeared in Rent that got him to recommend me for my role.”

Bibeth Orteza at Victoria Theater in Singapore. (Photo by Ang Ter Shien)

In this theater debut in Singapore, she discovered an active theater life. “Wild Rice just finished mounting La Cage aux Folles. Rodney Oliveiro directed Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, staged in the first week of our rehearsals. The Singaporeans take to theater very well I think. Monique Wilson and Sheila Francisco are here to do plays, as well. My director and I were in a restaurant, and the proprietor told her he remembered her performance in a play.”

For this Singapore engagement, Orteza had to advance her TV episodes for two months. “I was able to advance episodes of my TV show because I had a boss like Vic Sotto who understood why I wanted to do theater. Part of bucket list was all I had to say.”

So what does she enjoy in theater and the one thousand and one chores that go with it?

Said she, “Audience reaction is fast. You don’t get that in film. It’s toughest part? Everything. I’m 63 and my memory is kind of scary already. I’m hoping to get to appear in more plays before I really lose the ability to do lines. And blocking. My approach? I suppose it’s the same as acting on film and that is playing it out as truthful as I can. Future roles I am dreaming of? This question just made me confront fact: I can’t sing or dance to save my skin, so musicals are out. I am blessed to do this as I also enter my 14th year as breast cancer survivor. I can’t thank the Lord enough.”

Boeing Boeing runs at Victoria Theatre until July 22. Ticket at S$50 – S$75 (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m.) S$55 – S$80 (Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 3 p.m.

For bookings of 20 or more tickets, please contact Ross Toh at 6292-2685 or [email protected])

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