November 12, 2016
Adapting Shakespeare into Filipino certainly sounds like a formidable venture. However, in various such local productions, the talents of Filipino theater artists have made the tricky transition look easy. This year alone, Dulaang UP had done "A Comedy of Errors" while Tanghalang Pilipino did "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to great success. In recent years, PETA had done "King Lear" in 2012 and "Twelfth Night" (as "The Wonder Twins of Boac") in 2013, both of which were very well-received.
This present production of PETA entitled "The Tempest Reimagined" was done in cooperation of the British Council, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and The Japan Foundation Manila. The director and playwright of this play Nona Shepphard is British, as is the set designer Marsha Roddy. The lighting director Tsuguo Izumi is Japanese. This international technical staff together with the all-Filipino cast gives this play its unique look and flavor. The script was translated to Filipino/Taglish by Liza Magtoto. The sound design is by Teresa Barrozo.
"The Tempest" was about a sorcerer Prospero who ordered his enslaved spirit named Ariel to whip up a destructive storm at sea, sinking the ship which carried the Queen Alonsa and her family. The survivors all sought refuge on Prospero's island, enabling his daughter to meet and fall in love with Alonsa's son Ferdinand. This main story line was complicated by subplots about Prospero's brother Antonio and his treacherous plots, as well as about the island monster Caliban and his drunken encounter with the fools Stephano and Trinculo.
In her adaptation, Shepphard changed "The Tempest" from a play containing only one major female character (Miranda) into one with six female characters. The central character of the sorcerer Prospero remained to be male, but was now played by a female actor. The King Alonso was now a Queen, Alonsa. The king's brother Sebastian was now a sister Sebastiana. And in the most inspired deviation from the original, the powerful sprite Ariel is now being portrayed by three actors, one male and two female.
Furthermore, this main story was extended to include the story about the fates of Papa Boms, Edith, Alina and Diego, four strangers who got together when they were swept up by the giant storm surge that rose and flooded Tacloban City at the height of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Social commentary was directed towards the national government, local government and the private sector and the quality of their relief and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of the disaster.
I was not familiar at all with the story of "The Tempest" so it took some time for me to get into the drift of the story. The casting of Prospero as a woman (CB Garrucho) was a particularly puzzling modification of uncertain significance. The portrayal of Ariel as a trio was initially confusing (but this later turned out to be a fantastic decision). Why were Jenny Jamora and Brian Sy (who seem to be the same age) cast as mother and son?! The whole Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo subplot did not seem to fit too well into the narrative.
The inclusion of the Yolanda characters, portrayed by the same actors running around the stage and varying their costumes to signify the character they were playing, did not make it any easier for me to understand what was going on at first. To be honest, the manner how and the reasons why the two stories connected to each other at the end were not so clear for me even up to now that I am writing about it.
This was the first time I saw PETA President CB Garrucho in a major stage role. She had those long Prospero lines perfectly down, delivered with no errors. While I can imagine a man play this character with ruthlessness, but Garrucho instead imbued her Prospero with gentility and compassion. Bodjie Pascua is such a reliable veteran with his effortless natural style as Papa Boms. Norbs Portales had an easygoing sense of humor as the narrator Jaime. This was the first time I have seen the Red Turnips Jenny Jamora and Topper Fabregas deliver lines in Filipino. Meann Espinosa, John Moran and Renante Bustamante all had their moments to shine as Edith, Caliban and Antonio respectively.
In the show I watched today, Ariel was played by Gio Gahol, Neomi Gonzales and Gab Pangilinan. The conceptualization and execution of this character was flawless, great lines. Their makeup and costume really stood out among everyone else. Their harmonizing in song was also so beautiful to hear. There was another memorable trio that made a lasting impression: John Moran, Jack Yabut and Topper Fabregas as Gods 1, 2 and 3. Their hilarious exchange of lines made its implicit mocking of governmental action (or inaction) during Yolanda most engaging with effective satire.
The acting talent on that stage was undeniable and this was the saving grace of this show. The set may have looked very simple before the show began, however the way they portrayed the titular tempest onstage was so good. We all felt like we were aboard that ship being tossed around by the waves. The lighting and sound design both deserve commendation as well. I admit my difficulty in fully grasping the structure of the play and some of the casting decisions. The intention to integrate stories of Yolanda with Shakespeare may have been noble, but the overall result of the complexity was a little unwieldy for me.
"The Tempest Reimagined" will run from November 11 to December 4, 2016 at the PETA Theater Center. For tickets, ticketworld.com.ph, 8919999.