Saturday, October 24, 2015

Review of Dulaang UP's HARING LEAR: Campy and Colorful

October 24, 2015

Afraid that his end is near, King Lear decided to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. The elder two, Goneril and Regan, praise him to high heavens, and they got to divide the kingdom between them. The youngest Cordelia was more reserved with her answer, which disappointed the king no end, resulting in her banishment from the kingdom. Not long after, the true evil natures of Goneril and Regan show and they banish the king himself into the wilderness. The king goes mad with extreme grief.

"King Lear" as written by William Shakespeare is a very complex tragedy. Not only do we see the drama between Lear and his daughters, but there are several subplots woven around this main story. The daughters also have their respective husbands with their own political ambitions. There was also another brewing drama about a family close to the king -- the Duke of Gloucester and his two sons, the loyal legitimate son Edgardo and the power-hungry illegitimate one Edmundo. 

For this Dulaang UP version I watched, the new Filipino translation was by Nicolas Pichay, which was adapted and directed by Tony Mabesa. To set it apart from other local stagings of this same play, it was decided to employ a Southeast Asian motif to the set and costumes. The backdrop set pieces by Ohm David were inspired by the temple ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia with its gnarled giant banyan roots. The colorful costumes by Eric Pineda were mostly Thai in design, with elements of Chinese and Balinese in others. The overall effect of the language, set and costumes was very striking, although a disconnect can be felt when the place names mentioned remain to be British, like Kent, Cornwall or Dover. 

Film director Joel Lamangan takes on the role of King Lear in this Filipino version. Lamangan played Lear in such a open and light manner that it was easy for audiences to connect with him and his character's plight. This kind of over-the-top acting style and melodramatic line deliveries became appropriate though when seen in the light of Lear's eventual madness. Albeit uneven and hammy, the deterioration of Lear's dignity and mental stability was very well-conveyed this way.

Because she is quite petite, I was surprised when it was Martha Comia who played the eldest daughter Goneril. Comia always plays a vixen in her various UP roles and her Goneril was another one. While this one was truly contemptible, the way Comia played her was still such a delight to watch. Astarte Abraham I first saw as Madre de Dios in "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" earlier this year. As she played the equally hateful Regan this time (and she was very good at it, mind you, with her very expressive face), I was worried about how all the shouting she needed to do for this role may affect her amazing singing voice. Chesca Ostrea was a very pretty, fresh-faced Cordelia, but she was still stumbling with her lines despite this being the last weekend of the show's run.

The best overall performance for me for the whole show was given by Jojo Cayabyab as the Earl of Gloucester. This actor was consistently tops in his intense delivery of lines, in true Shakespearean style. He never went out of character even once from beginning to end. His best scene were those during and after when certain injuries were inflicted to his face. The technique of how the production achieved the effect of this scene was stunning. 

Edmundo was played by Brian Sy. Sy clearly played this villainous and amorous role with relish. He possesses the duplicitous charm required to make this role convincing. He even shocked the audience with a kissing scene with an unexpected partner. Edgardo was played by Carlo Tarobal. This role was done so awkwardly, especially in those scenes when Edgardo pretended to be the madman Tomas. Of course, the role is attention-grabbing no doubt, but I only found it all very awkward. Tarobal's difficulty in drawing out his sword drew giggles in what should have been dramatic moments.

I could not help comparing this production with the one by PETA staged 2012, just three years ago. The Filipino translation staged then was by Bienvenido Lumbera and the show was directed by Nonon Padilla. That version with an all-bald, all-black, all-male cast was much darker, more intense and very serious. It also had a real thunderstorm with water right there on the stage! (My review of that show was posted HERE.) 

However, this DUP production had its own charm by being the naughtily campier and more vibrantly colorful version. Fresh from the innovative postmodern take on "Romeo and Juliet" in their last show "R </3 J", with this production of "Haring Lear" in Filipino, DUP created yet another fresh and entertaining interpretation of a classic Shakespearean tragedy.

True to DUP tradition, there is a parallel English version of "King Lear" in straight Shakespeare. This one stars Leo Rialp as King Lear, with Frances Makil-Ignacio, Jeremy Domingo, Guelan Luarca among others in the alternate cast. That promises to be a totally different viewing experience from this Filipino version.


"King Lear" opened last October 7, 2015. It will have two last shows on October 25, 2015. The 10 am show will be the Filipino version, and the final show at 3pm will be the English version. Show runs at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. In celebration of DUP's 40th anniversary this year, they had a slideshow showing notable actors who had performed with DUP over its past 40 years. That slideshow alone is an interesting must-see for theater fans.

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