Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review of KLSP's SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED: MACBETH: Engaging and Explanatory

May 29, 2018

From May 28-30, 2018, the Asian Shakespeare Association, an organization dedicated to researching, producing, teaching, translating, and promoting Shakespeare from an Asian perspective, is holding their 3rd Biennial Conference in Manila. Aside from panel sessions, seminars, workshops and screenings, there are also theater performances (with Q&A sessions with the director) scheduled. 

One of them is "Shakespeare Demystified: Macbeth" by the KL Shakespeare Players from Malaysia, performed today at 4 pm in UP Diliman. Since 2011, the KLSP is a theater company in Malaysia that focuses only on Shakespeare’s works. Their signature Shakespeare Demystified series target young audiences. In order to keep them interested in the play, the Players judiciously cut the play short enough (this "Macbeth" was only 110 minutes with a 10 minute intermission) and incorporate explanatory narration in modern English, while still maintaining key scenes in their original text. 

Director Lim Kien Lee demonstrates his Tibetan singing bowl,
as actor Zul Zamir looks on.

The director Lim Kien Lee was also the musician, seated on one side of stage, with his various instruments (like a djembe drum, a Tibetan singing bowl, a thunder-maker drum) on hand to create the mood and tension in the various scenes. 

Once the play started, the five actors never left the stage almost the entire time. They sat on monobloc chairs upstage, waiting for their next cue to enter. Their props and costumes (mostly scarves of different colors) are right there onstage beside their seats. The ensemble acting effort of this multiracial cast was amazing to behold as the actors seamlessly shifted in and out of different characters, plus being narrators to boot.

Macbeth was played by Lim Soon Heng. He may have been the most senior member of the cast, but his energy was electric and his stage presence was very strong as he essayed Macbeth's descent into mad ambition and tyranny. The delivery of his lines was flawless and clear at all times. Lady Macbeth (also Lady McDuff, First Witch and Fleance) was played by Safia Hanifah. She nailed Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene with that chilling soliloquy about the spot on her hands. Her beautiful singing voice was highlighted when Lady McDuff sang a sorrowful lullaby. 

Nave VJ, Safia Hanifah and Ivan Chan in one of their clarificatory scenes.

McDuff and Banquo were played by Zul Zamir. This actor with long hair (which he tied up in a bun as McDuff) delivered on the anguish and anger of his characters. King Duncan (also Ross, Third Witch, Murderer and Messenger) was played by Ivan Chan. This tall bearded fellow was a very lively physical actor. Malcolm (as well as Second Witch, Murderer, and Young McDuff) were played by Nave VJ. This darker-skinned actor had a clear resonating voice which he can delineate the characters he played.

Since I knew the story of Macbeth very well, I knew what was going on even if there were times I did not catch clearly what was being said. Mostly, the shrill cackling voice quality assumed by the witches was not too easy to understand. It was in those scenes that I really appreciated the explanatory narratives woven into the main text. I noted that these were the same explanations I was giving my daughter the first time she watched Macbeth. These clarifying interludes definitely could hook those unfamiliar with Shakespeare into the story.

Q&A session with director and cast after the show
(L-R Ivan Chan, Safia Hanifah, Nave VJ, Lim Soon Heng, Lim Kien Lee, Zul Zamir)

I wish one day I could catch their Demystified performances of "Othello," "Julius Caesar" or "Merchant of Venice," which I had never seen performed live before. Like the "Macbeth" I just saw, I am sure these other plays will also be as engaging and interesting because of their clear abridged text and enlightening side commentary. Be that as it may though, I know the essential spirit of Shakespeare's story does not get distilled, thanks to the focused direction and impressive acting.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


May 5, 2018

The PSF Theater Festival is not only a forum for some very daring pieces of original Filipino one act plays. For me, I also get a valuable education about the theater process from the commentary given by the illustrious and learned panel of judges and theater professionals in attendance. Like for the third week shows today, I learned a lot about appreciating various aspects of theater from judges Frank Rivera and Rodel Mercado and guests Ronald Carballo, Jeffrey Ambrosio, Robert Encila, and Neil Tolentino. Their spontaneous, frank, passionate and precise comments, borne out of their years of theater experience, were very instructive and enlightening for a theater enthusiast like me, and moreso for the young theater artists in the house.

The workshop showcase this week was "I DIDITH SHOW", the first prize winning play in the 2014 PSF Theater Festival. It is written and directed by JP LopezDidith Lorenzo is a superstar singer who has had been hosting a long-running TV variety show, on air for the past 20 years. In this latest episode of her show, her special guest was a pretty and popular new singer named Love Moreno. The two singers vie to get the upper hand over the other during the whole show. While Love had her boyfriend Stephen (Michael Cabangon) and her manager Ferdie (Roznel Destajo), it seemed that all Didith had on her corner was her loyal gay PA Lilibeth. Or does she?

Love (Rachel) steals the camera from Didith (OJ)

Didith literally steals the camera!

Lilibeth (Ado) makes a move on Stephen

The play is very entertaining, frenetic and hilarious, roasting showbiz stereotypes. At the same time it also had some unexpectedly touching bittersweet moments. OJ Bacor delivered such a rousing bravura performance as Didith, you won't believe he only pitched in today. JP Lopez gave a wry portrayal of the show's cynical floor director Rick. Standing out among the workshoppers was Rachelle Mae Penaflor, a pretty petite girl who exuded Ariana Grande-like confidence and verve as Love; and Ado Tolentino, who gave a poignant performance as Lilibeth, Didith's big fan now her personal slave.

The revisited play of the week was "TULA NI VITO AT LIRA", which won the first prize during the 2016 PSF Theater Festival. The playwright is Rachael Gianan and directed by Vince Tanada. It was Valentine's Day at a Spoken Word Night in a bar, where two contestants tackle three given topics using extemporaneous poetry. The contestants that night were a shy newbie Lira and a confident veteran Vito. As the contest between the two ensue, their poetry revealed a painful past relationship that never had proper closure. 

Gianan, Sadsad, Olmedo

The poetic writing of Gianan in the Filipino language was gloriously eloquent. The delivery of those dueling lines by Vean Olmedo (as Lira) and Kenneth Sadsad (as Vito) was flawless, brimming with sharp emotions that just poured out so naturally from them. Those tears were flowing even when the tension was still on the rise, testifying how deeply in character these two actors were. Their chemistry together was undeniable and vital. Humor was provided by the flamboyant emcee Dindi (Jayjay Andres) to keep the play from going into full-on romantic melodrama mode.

The first play in the main competition tonight was "LUKREZIA" written by first-time playwright Johnrey Rivas and directed by Vince Tanada. An exhausted set designer (JP Lopez) brought in the main prop for their play, a life-size porcelain doll. Going into the doll's history, this doll was created by a man named Vladimir with an obsession for his departed childhood friend Lukrezia. A widow named Olga, who rented a room in Vladimir's house, would soon realize why Lukrezia's face looked very familiar to her.

Adult Vladimir (Magallanes), Lukrezia (Belen) and Young Vladimir (Dean Rafols)

Rivas shared that his play was inspired by a minor news article with a story so bizarre that he felt it would make a perfect macabre play. Gerald Magallanes gave another one of his intense creepy performances as the disturbed doll maker Vladimir. Adelle Ibarrientos with her intentionally melodramatic acting as Olga provided some lightening balance to the dark story. The center of attention though was the riveting performance of Pearl Belen as the doll Lukrezia. With her bright open eyes and limp arms, she had no lines, but she dominated the stage the whole time with her mere chilling presence.

The second play in the main competition and final play of the night was "BABAE NGA NAKA-ITUM" written by Chin Ortega and JP Lopez. This was again directed by Vince Tanada. The story told about beautiful Jacinta (a boldly incandescent Cindy Liper) who was the town's celebrated prostitute, and her profound effect on the devoutly Catholic townspeople, in particular, the grotesquely deformed sculptor Ramon (Chin Ortega) and the spunky lesbian, Judit (Arian Golondrina). 

Cindy Liper

In his introduction, Lopez shared how the script, written in the Ilonggo language (with Filipino surtitles on a TV screen on the side), had been so difficult to write, barely completed four days prior to showtime. While watching the play in progress, you know you are watching something special. Even if you do not really comprehend at once every thing that was going on, this provocative material will make you ruminate about it and discuss it well after its final scene and lights out.

Ramon (Ortega) and Judit (Golondrina)

As the show was in progress, one can only stare in awe in how the director Tanada was able to achieve such a complexly artistic staging of such a philosophically-loaded, religiously-charged controversial material in so little time, with a bare stage, classically inspired choreography, with practically no props. This could only be a collaborative product of sheer genius.


The first play of the afternoon was already ongoing. This was an competing entry in the Inter--Collegiate category, "FELIPA" by senior high school students from the University of Batangas. The depressing play told the tale of the town prostitute Felipa (representing the Philippines) who was consecutively abused by a series of "customers" (representing the presidents, from Marcos to Duterte). 

"Felipa", writer-director Errol, and "Rudy"

I cannot comment much because I came in towards the tail end already. A snooty "GMA" was doing a Cha-cha dance, a childish dolt "Noy" was stealing potted cactuses, then brusque "Rudy" came in for the final rape. The concept was daring, but the final execution was limited, maybe because of the very young actors. The episodes of presidential "abuses" could have been staged with better symbols. I was disturbed that Felipa was depicted as a resigned prostitute, especially when who she symbolized became apparent.