Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's RITE OF PASSAGE: "Equus" with Chickens

November 30, 2014

Isoy was left in the care of his strict and grumpy spinster aunt Susing, who made him drop from school and kept him at home doing chores like cooking or minding her chickens. He is at the awkward age of 15, and would rather spend his time peeking at their girl neighbor as she took a bath, or going to the cockpit with his favorite uncle Berning. Once at a drinking spree with the men, Isoy bares his inner turmoil and frustration about his aunt. This results in revelations about Isoy's errant mother who abandoned him and the father he never knew.

"Rite of Passage: Sa Pagtubu kang Tahud" was adapted by Glenn Sevilla Mas from a Kinaray-a short story by Maria Milagros Geremia Lachica. This production by the Tanghalang Ateneo, the second in their current season with the theme of "Navigating Identities," is directed by respected theater playwright, actor and translator Ron Capinding. The set by Gwyn Guanzon has transformed the front of the classroom-like Rizal Mini-Theater into a realistic nipa hut with a "batalan," shower stall and real soil around it. The effective lighting design by D Cortezano enhances the stifling tension of the story.

The script is basically in English with a heavy Visayan accent. There was also a good dose of Kinaray-a (or the dialect in Antique, where the play is set) which most of us do not understand but we could just make an intelligent guess as to what they mean based on the gestures of the actors. Some Tagalog also makes it in there, but not as much. The script is heavy with intense confrontations. There are several uncomfortable situations of a sexual nature, so that this is only for mature audiences. It is reminiscent of Mas' other coming-of-age play "Games People Play."

The central character Isoy is played by college freshman Cholo Ledesma. He had that awkward height and stance that served his portrayal of his disturbed character very well. His highlight should be that sick climactic scene which felt like "Equus" to me, only it involved a chicken instead of a horse. Now how sound guy Jethro Joaquin knew what sound effect to accompany that scene, I'd rather not know.

Despite the fact that Ledesma was onstage for practically the entire play, the more memorable performances come from the supporting adult cast. Veteran actress Frances Makil-Ignacio plays the always glum and negative Tiyay Susing. She may have seemed one-note in Act 1, but it turns out she was just warming up. In Act 2, her character simply exploded with all her pent-up bitter emotion all those years, and Ms. Makil-Ignacio truly displayed radiant bravura acting.

I had to ask an usher who that awesome actor was who played the consenting Uncle Berning. His face and complexion does not really look like he's from a remote barrio, but his natural acting more than made up for the physical disconnect. It turns out that Tiyoy Berning today was played by the director himself! I confess, I knew the name Ron Capinding, but I did not know how he looked like till today. I thought his role ran the gamut of emotions and Mr. Capinding more than effectively pulled it off. (The usual actor portraying this role is Teroy Guzman, a local Shakespearean actor whom I have seen play King Lear in PETA before. His take on this character should be interesting to see as well.)

Honestly, the play is not exactly easy or pleasant to watch. However, the ideas and questions it proposed are thought-provoking and controversial. The metaphors implied within the story and the set well-crafted and well-executed -- the circumcision, the cockfight, the bamboo fences at the end. Isoy's climactic scene with the chicken is sensational in the most disconcerting, upsetting, and disgusting sense. But what a brutal metaphor that was -- the ultimate flip-off! 

Kudos to director Ron Capinding and the rest of the cast and crew of Tanghalang Ateneo for daring to stage a sensitive and challenging play like this.

"Rite of Passage" runs November 27-29, December 3-6 and 10-13, 2014. Show starts promptly at 7 pm. Saturday matinees start at 2 pm.  All performances will be held at the Rizal Mini Theater of the Ateneo de Manila University. For details about the show and tickets, contact Acel Go at 09164802195. Tickets at P300 each only.

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