February 18, 2017
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" is a familiar fictional character I had known for years. I only knew he sold his soul to the devil, but I had never actually known his whole story. I had also never watched a play or film about him at all. When Dulaang UP announced that it will be staging a Filipino adaptation of this classic tale by Rodolfo Vera, I welcomed this chance to finally see Faust's story unfold onstage.
In Act 1, the Devil Mephisto makes a bet with God that he can tempt and convert to evil the righteous man Faust. Devil takes advantage of a depressed and frustrated Faust to offer him anything he wants while he is on Earth, if Faust agrees to serve the devil in Hell in death. Faust agrees to the terms and seals the contract with his blood.
In Act 2, Faust fancied a 14-year old lissome maiden named Margarita and asks the devil's help for him to possess her. With two gifts of jewelry and the devil's intervention, Faust successfully seduces the girl. After their tryst though, Margarita would experience one family tragedy after the other that eventually drives her insane.
The acting from the two lead stars -- Neil Ryan Sese as Faust and Paolo O'Hara as Mephisto -- felt oddly wanting. I did not sense energy nor conviction from Sese. Even his sex scene lacked any passion. At least, O'Hara was able to put some humor into his lines to enliven certain scenes, which I suspect were mostly done on the sly. I guess he felt the need to inject some life into the unbearably morose proceedings. That said, I am curious how their alternates Jack Yabut (as Faust) and Mailes Kanapi (as a female Mephisto -- tempting to watch) can give this a different spin.
In the show I caught, it was understudy Ina Azarcon-Bolivar who played the third major character -- the very tragic character of Margarita. The role is very challenging for any actress. You can feel that theater student Ms. Bolivar was giving it her all, despite some awkwardness in the delivery of her lines. However, fortunately for her, she was able to nail a stellar moment in that climactic big soliloquy of hers at the asylum in the end to salvage matters in a way. The main actress playing Margarita is the more experienced Karen Gaerlan, so it should be interesting to see how she would attack this role.
Ed Lacson Jr. did the set, Carlo Pagunaling did the costumes, Barbie Tan-Tiongco did the lights, JM Cabling did the choreography -- all are award-winning artists in their field, yet in this show, these aspects were uncharacteristically not up to their usual par. Case in point where you can judge all of these technicalities together was that truly bizarre scene of wild bacchanalia featuring demons with the oversized deformed breasts and phalluses. I understand that this is supposed to be a demonic vision of sorts, but it looked too dim, disorganized and dismal on that dark bare stage. Even the injection of modern day political parody in that scene lacked impact.
It is difficult for me to say this about a Dulaang UP play, but I felt there was something amiss about this particular production. It strangely felt haphazardly put together, which is unusual for DUP standards. There were three dramaturgists who worked on this play, yet I was still underwhelmed with the way it was staged. Sorry to say, it seemed as if director José Estrella may not have been able to rein in the various elements together tightly enough to tell the story in a more engaging manner. Or then again, maybe I just simply did not get her style. Perhaps I should try to catch the alternate cast to get another perspective.
These are just my thoughts about this particular staging of "Faust" on Feb. 18 at 3 pm. It does not mean it will always be this way. Don't let my personal opinions dissuade you from catching this show and making your own opinions about it.
"Faust" runs at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at the Palma Hall in UP Diliman. Show schedule is as follows: Feb. 15, 16, 17, 22, 24, 28, Mar. 1, 2, and 3 at 7 pm; and Feb. 18, 19, 25, 26, Mar. 4 and 5 at 10 am and 3 pm. Tickets are at P 500 each. For further inquiries, please contact Arkel Mendoza, DUP’s Marketing Manager, through 0917-967-3616.