By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

Theater Review
Kung Paano Nanalo sa Karera si Rosang Taba
Presented by Dulaang UP

IN 2006, Dean Francis Alfar won a Palanca award for How Rosang Taba Won a Race, a short story for children set in the Spanish colonial period. It’s a story that has everything going for it, most notably an endearing underdog lead who overcomes unending taunts and condescension (for being plus-sized, and for being an indio) that fuel her rather than tear her down.

Though it was staged as an online production in 2021 and 2022, and finally brought to the physical UP Theater in 2023, this year sees campus theater group Dulaang UP bring Rosang Taba to a newer, more spacious stage, befit-ting its big-hearted story.

Kung Paano Nanalo sa Karera si Rosang Taba blooms into its fullest potential very quickly within the first 10 minutes. Its opening sequence engaged audiences with witty character introductions and slapstick-style breaking of the fourth wall. The dialogue, a mix of Tagalog and Spanish, is not too complicated. Colorful stage and costume design and live guitar and percussion-led folk music punctuate the inherent joy and fun in the play.

At the University of the Philippines’ IBG-KAL Theater, the children’s story comes to life thanks to the titular Rosa, played with infectious chutzpah and defiance by Kiki Baento. Her physical size is nothing compared to the enor-mity of her performance, going from raw and vulnerable to unwavering in spirit. The narrative kicks off at the mansion where she works, on an afternoon filled with insults of the natives care of Gobernador Heneral (Jojo Cayabyab) and his friend, the arrogant mestizo Pietrado (Victor Sy).

Unable to take any more of the verbal abuse, Rosa answers back, and the verbal sparring turns into a challenge — where the dashing, athletic Pietrado is set to defeat the large-figured yet determined Rosa in a race. All the while, the governor’s wife, Señora Andrea (MeAnn Espinosa), seems amused at the idea of such a native defeating the arrogant Spaniard, and pushes the match to continue.

Of course, Rosa’s parents (Aldo Vencilao and Peewee O’Hara) aren’t too pleased about their daughter’s decision to take on a beast, especially considering her disadvantageous girth. To everyone’s delight, she outsmarts the Spaniard in the epically staged race.

The play is exciting and farfetched and delicious in its wondrous, lively take on a colonial comeuppance story. The actors playing the Spanish characters are a delight to watch because of how comical their accents and move-ments are, and the cast of native Filipino characters are satisfyingly equal parts kind and spunky.

Directors José Estrella, Issa Manalo-Lopez, and Mark Daniel Dalacat (who also did the electrifying production design) did a great job letting the story come to life in a unique way, in what some traditional theatergoers may see as a somewhat off-the-rails manner. Playwrights Rody Vera and Maynard Manansala adapted the narrative to be friendly to audiences, namely kids and kids-at-heart, but refined to make the subtext exist naturally.

It is worth clarifying: Rosang Taba is not a period piece. It creates a lively alternate world where the cast exaggerates their accents and movements, and their conversations are filled with anachronistic movie and song refer-ences, TikTok dance moves, and free flowing improvisation. It is here where the light-hearted production launches its underdog tale, and audiences have to be willing to run with it.

Treating it more like a fiesta performance than a strict play lends it a magical quality — it is boisterous and jumps back and forth in time as the characters ruminate and reenact things. Even the future part of it, where Rosa’s granddaughters Rosanna, Rosa Mia, and Rosalinda sing and dance while managing a restaurant and recalling their grandmother’s feats, feels more like a party than a play.

More than being a school production, this restaging brings to life a relatable yet larger-than-life story, where body shaming and colonial superiority are cast down by the Rosas who refuse to surrender to the bullies of the world. It’s packed with meaning despite taking audiences all over the place and, most of all, an enjoyable treat all throughout.

Kung Paano Nanalo sa Karera si Rosang Taba has shows on Fridays to Sundays until May 5. Regular tickets cost P1,000 while PWD and senior citizens can buy tickets for P800. For more details, visit Dulaang UP’s social media pages