Just last February, Artist Playground presented a 40-minute one-act play by James Chalmers entitled "Prelude to Macbeth." This play laid out the possible scenario that occurred before the events of William Shakespeare's classic play "Macbeth." Since I was already familiar with "Macbeth," I was thoroughly entertained with the imaginative story about how one poor but ambitious girl Lorna Stewart manipulated her way (upon the prescient prodding of three witches) into the ruling royal house of Scotland, eventually winding up as the Lady Macbeth we all know and hate. (MY FULL REVIEW HERE)
At the end of that show, director Roeder Camanag excitedly told us that he was cooking up a bigger project tentatively middle of this year to merge "Prelude to Macbeth" back-to-back with an abridged version of "Macbeth" itself. That formidable project now comes to fruition even ahead of his initial plan of a July schedule. This is the longest Artist Playground production ever, running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission.
The new Artist Playground II
(photo from their FB page)
In addition, Artist Playground had collaborated with St. Vincent's School to form Arts Above with a vision to establish a School for the Arts. As an offshoot of this collaboration, a new Artist Playground II is located in the penthouse of the BIR Building along West Avenue in Quezon City (right across St. Vincent's School) to provide a much bigger staging venue for this bigger project. The auditorium and its spacious anteroom / cafe is remarkable because of its elegant narra paneling on its ceiling, walls and floor which had been obtained and reassembled from an actual old ancestral house.
Act I "Prelude to Macbeth" played like how I remembered it from five months ago, with basically the same cast I saw back then. I liked it all over again. However, with the transfer to a much bigger room than its original venue in Little Room Upstairs came some noticeable challenges when it comes to voice projection. This was most notable in the case of the charming actress playing Lorna Stewart herself, Jernice Matunan. She had the vixen-like character of this central role down pat, however, there were some lines she delivered which could not be heard where we were seated.
In the Little Room Upstairs before, every little unsettling wheeze of the Witches could be heard, but here in the bigger room, they were softer and less ominous-sounding. By the end of Act II, actors were noted to hoarse in trying to project their voice louder without a lapel mic, sometimes competing with the loud musical score. To his credit, Andre Tiangco, who played King Duncan (as well as the Doctor in Act II), enunciated his lines clearly and projected his voice effortlessly and effectively.
Paule and Matunan
as Macbeth and pre-Lady Lorna Stewart
After the intermission is Act II, "Macbeth" itself, condensed into a supposedly more practical and digestible one hour and a half with no break. You can immediately feel the difference in the language used. Even if "Prelude to Macbeth" was in "heightened English," it was still far more accessible and understandable than the original Bard's English when it came to those complex verses the characters were saying. As the actors were all more used to doing Filipino plays, they were more obviously having difficulty with Shakespeare's tongue-twisting lines of Act II than Act I. As this only the first weekend, surely this will improve further as the run progresses.
A person who did not know anything about Macbeth would probably get lost within Act II. There were simply too many events going on, too many things being said and too many characters to distinguish from each other. I do not know if I just did not hear certain important story details or they were lost in the abridgment process.
For one thing, I don't recall it being explained why was it Macbeth became the King upon Duncan's death. I know that this was foretold by the witches, but what happened to Prince Malcolm, the king's son? This part was not clear. Also, was it explained why Macduff was able to kill Macbeth even as the witches advised that Macbeth no one "born of a woman" could harm him? Of course I know the explanation, but I did not hear it during the cacophonous din of the final fight scene that drowned out the dialogue.
Paule and Kanapi
as Macbeth and his Lady
Another confusing aspect in Act II was the casting of the wonderfully quirky Mailes Kanapi as Lady Macbeth. Ordinarily, this casting choice would be genius, and indeed Ms. Kanapi came up with an outstandingly subtle performance. That sleepwalking scene of hers is faultless! However, side by side with a Macbeth played by still young-looking Paul Jake Paule, with only facial fair painted on to make him look older, there is a very obvious age discrepancy. This was made more puzzling since this Act II followed an Act I where Lorna was played by a very young Ms. Matunan. Not to discredit Mr. Paule's efforts, but maybe Ms. Kanapi should have been paired with a more senior actor as Macbeth. Or Mr. Paule with a younger Lady Macbeth.
For those who know Macbeth by heart though, the staging of Act II was very imaginatively staged by director Roeder Camanag despite logistical limitations. The audience is haunted with genuinely creepy "ghost" scenes happening on and around the main stage. The omnipresent witches were a continuation of how these characters were developed in Act I Prelude and three actresses playing them (Tasha Guerrero, Princess Tucson and Jeremy Cabansag) all deserve commendation. The climactic sword fight between Macbeth and Macduff (debonair tenor Al Gatmaitan) was very energized and exhilarating as staged. Kudos to choreographer Myra Beltran for the dynamism of these scenes which kept the audience up and interested throughout despite the challenging text.
"M Episode" will run at Artist Playground II Arts Above located at the 4th floor of the West Venue Bldg. (a green and white building housing the BIR Office beside Mc Donald's, with the St. Vincent's School across the street), 112 West Avenue, Quezon City.
Show dates are: June 16 , 23, 30 & July 1 - 7 pm; June 17, 18, 24, 25 & July 1 - 3 pm. Tickets are at P500 each, with discounts for students, available on Ticketworld or on site. For more information, visit Artist Playground’s website at https://www.artistplayground.ph/ or contact 09759193179.