September 27, 2014
I have long heard of "Death of a Salesman" but I have not read the play, seen a stage performance nor even a film version of this classic by Arthur Miller. When I got wind of the news that Tanghalang Pilipino was staging it this year, I knew had to see it, even it were in a Filipino version translated by Rolando Tinio entitled "Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente". When they released their cast list last month, this play simply became a must-see.
I liked the Filipino title. Instead of a literal translation like "Pagkamatay" for "Death", Tinio used the word "Pahimakas" which means "Final Farewell," which makes it a decidedly poetic. Then instead of the preposition "Ng" meaning "Of", Tinio chose to use "Sa" to mean "For". For me, it gives a sense that this play was written FOR the titular salesman, instead of being only ABOUT him. Changing that one small word gives the Filipino title a more romantic dimension.
The play is about Willy Loman, a travelling salesman and also family man happily married to Linda, with two grown sons, Biff and Happy. As he gets older though, his boss takes him out of the company payroll and makes his earnings per commission-basis. With this demotion at work, his own sanity begins to unravel. Willy's stubborn pride makes him resist help from his family and friends. Ghosts from his past, like his elder brother Ben and the mysterious woman from Boston, insidiously creep into Willy's present dementia, throwing his family into a major turmoil.
Nanding Josef, who is concurrently the Artistic Director of Tanghalang Pilipino, played Willy Loman. Being the central character, everything about this play hangs on his performance and Mr. Josef nails it. He has the physical look of Willy down pat, with the sad face and the drooped shoulders, further emphasized by loose-fitting clothes and suspenders which can't stay up, all fully embodying this troubled and down-and-out character, tortured by his own forced retirement, the nightmare of a materialistic society. Josef shines in those big confrontation scenes he had where he was most real, like he was not only acting at all.
Gina Pareno played Willy's supportive wife Linda. At the start of the play, Ms. Pareno was rather tentative in her performance. There were several scenes when I could not make out anything she was saying because she was not projecting her voice loud enough. However, by the end of the first act, Linda had her biggest moment when she reveals to her two sons that she thought their father was trying to kill himself. Fortunately at this point, Pareno fully realized her character in a most riveting manner. Linda's real self finally bloomed for all of us to see and we will then understand her role in this family's fractured dynamics.
Yul Servo played Biff Loman, Willy's slacker 34 -year old eldest son who never realized his potential, a failed jock. I only knew Servo from some of his films that I have seen, and his screen performances tended to be uneven. For this play though, he had the perfect look for the character It was in the second act where his character finally explodes. Servo's climactic confrontation scene with his father is worth the price of admission in itself. That scene is sure to nab him Best Supporting Actor nominations and wins come awards season.
Ricardo Magno played the youngest son, Happy Loman. This young actor had his work cut out for him with all the award-winning senior stars he had to work with, and he more than passes muster. Dido de la Paz played the Loman's next-door neighbor and Willy's only friend Charley. This guy is really has a natural comic flair, consistent from the other plays I have seen him in. The imposing heft and grand mustache of Ding Navasero contrasts so strikingly with Willy's stooped posture, making him a good choice to play the ghost of Willy's successful brother Ben.
This performance I caught featured the Senior cast. Some other performances will feature a Junior cast (Jonathan Tadioan, Racquel Pareno and Marco Viana) in the main roles.
"Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" is no doubt a formidable play. It runs for about three and a half hours long. The main characters all have lengthy soliloquys, made more difficult by being in delivered Filipino. Some lines can be awkward to say in Filipino because they possessed a distinct American flavor in the words. The innate complexity of this play automatically makes the actors who take on this big challenge a notch above other actors.
For audiences, this is the type of play that will make you think about your own family relationships. You will be able to see yourself as a parent, or as the children, or both. The characters of this play, despite being set in the 1940s, remain to be very real to this day. This play is a timeless mirror for the audience to reflect on, hence its successful longevity.
Kudos to director Chris Millado and the cast and crew of Tanghalang Pilipino for once again bringing an essential theater masterpiece back to life again. Special mention goes to Leo Abaya for the two-tiered set with details (like the refrigerator, the telephone, the lamp) that evoked the nostalgia of 1940s suburban America.
"Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" will be running at the CCP Studio Theater (Tanghalang Huseng Batute) from Sept. 26 to October 19, 2014. Shows are at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. You can get your tickets for only P 800 each at the CCP Box Office (832-3704) or on TicketWorld (891-9999). For further inquiries, please call Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-1125, local 1620-21.