Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MMK's "Cross-Stitch" - Iza Calzado's Dramatic Milestone

Abby and Egay (Rica Peralejo and Zanjoe Marudo) are blissfully contented. They adore and relish each other’s company. They even dance and laugh together the way young lovers often do. Meanwhile, Abby’s friend, Liza (Iza Calzado) takes the sidelines, elated to be part of a congenial match made in heaven.

But some stories aren’t ordained with happy-ever-afters. One day, Abby starts getting unexplained lumps on her leg prompting consultation with a doctor who informs the couple that Abby is afflicted with cancer: Stage 2 Malignant Soft Tissue Sarcoma to be exact. This doesn’t bode well for chirpy and buoyant Abby, but she stays convinced that radiation would remedy the problem. In her mind, good things happen to good folks, right? But with an attentive husband and a subservient best friend, Abby’s six months gets further lease in life. She lives on as she gets rushed in and out of the hospital.

Lisa, meanwhile, decides to leave the bakery where she works to try her luck abroad. Her family is in financial discord and her siblings need her help. Despite Abby’s objections, Lisa flies to Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic helper. While Lisa was gone, it becomes clear to Abby that her life is gradually slipping away. She was distressing about Egay – the love of her life. Could she find someone who will take care of him? And isn’t it convenient that the her best friend Lisa is eternally single? In fact, her friend has come to terms with her uncompounded, relationship-free status.

Lisa didn’t finish her 2-year contract as she becomes statistics to employer abuse. She comes home and finds Abby weaker and sicker. Little did Lisa know that Abby has rolled the ball to maneuver an awkward kinship between her and Egay who was never her friend. When Abby finally expires, Egay is inconsolable - and dismissive! But Lisa has boundless patience for her dear friend’s husband. One day, the unexpected transpires between the grieving husband and the sympathetic friend. As though dictated by fate, Lisa gets pregnant! And it isn’t even a year since Abby’s death. What would people say?

When Egay learns of her pregnancy, he offers to take care of Lisa and their child. But living with a grieving widower is a contentious proposition. Lisa realizes that Abby is still a staunch competition for Egay’s devotion. In fact, Egay professes never to let go of Abby’s memory – or affection. At the home front, though Egay is the perfect father to their child, Lisa's presence becomes inconsequential where Egay is concerned. She is treated like a maid. When Egay's utter disdain becomes unbearable, Lisa troops to her friend’s tomb and swears she will do everything to win the cold and antagonistic man she has learned to love. “Aagawin ko si Egay sa ‘yo,” she swears. Will Lisa get her own happy-ever-after?

We feel compelled to write about this episode because MMK’s “Cross-Stitch” is, in itself, a milestone. This is Iza Calzado’s first foray in her new home network. Though GMA would understandably scoff at this suggestion, Iza Calzado was indeed the station’s Best Actress – bar none! – until her untimely departure. At GMA, Iza reigned like a queen without a crown, dispossessed like a cinematic Cinderella. Her entry into ABS CBN’s stable of competent actresses should create ripples. Here comes a great beauty and a spectacular actress who can hold a candle against Kapamilya’s very competent homegrown queens. We hope she gets treated better!

In “Cross-Stitch”, Calzado deftly displays her thespic dominion on an otherwise maudlin character such as Lisa – and I am referring to how the character was initially written. Director Nuel C. Naval occasionally succumbs to old school theatrics, but the amazing Iza never resorts to excesses expected from such material. Lisa’s scene at Abby’s tomb is instructive. She pours her heart out and bewails the injustice from her friend’s deception. Iza renders clarity and believability to her predicament. But we believe that Lisa’s character could have been expounded earlier. We hardly know anything about her even midway into the story. This somehow results to an uneven narrative structure, if a tad disconcerting. After all, Lisa is the protagonist - the story’s heroine.

Rica Peralejo's return to the screen is a welcome development. She imbues empathy to Abby and makes us understand why her husband is besotted with her. Zanjoe Marudo does wonderfully as the conflicted Egay. His monologue at Abby’s tomb is particularly heart breaking: “Hindi ko balak na sundin ang hiling mo, pero nangyari. Mahal ko si Lisa’t hindi ko kayang mawala sya sa akin.“ He then symbolically removes his wedding ring as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” plays on piano. Some aspects of life are meant to endure mortality like the memory of a departed love one.

Circumstance may not always conform with our plans. Things happen, others don't. We learn to live with them. When Egay finally takes Lisa in his arms, whispering multitudes of “I love you’s”, he dances with the woman who has nurtured the hope of loving again. Maybe it’s pre-ordained.

Lisa cries on her friend's grave.

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