Watching a new unfamiliar Shakespeare play is not exactly easy to understand right away. I had no idea what "Coriolanus" was about before I went to watch it, nor do I know the names of any character from it. If Shakespeare is adapted in Filipino, it may either be easier or harder depending on how the adaptation was done. If it is done by the award-winning Guelan Varela-Luarca, it should be good (and in this case, it was).
Cayo Marcio was a proud Patrician soldier who did not shy from expressing his contempt against the Plebians who worked under him. After he successfully led a campaign against the Volscian city of Corioli (under the leadership of Gen. Tulo Aufidio), Marcio was given the honorary title of Coriolano. When he was nominated by the Senate to become consul, Marcio faced stiff opposition from the two Plebian tribunes, Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto, who rallied the common people against the Coriolano.
The Tribunes rally the crowd vs. the Coriolano
(photo from TP FB page)
As the play went on, there were so many characters with names which were not exactly easy to hear, to learn or to remember. There were also actors in the ensemble who were playing multiple roles, further adding to the confusion. It took some time for me to figure out that Cayo Marcio was the lead character's name. The play's title "Coriolano" was just an honorific Cayo Marcio earned after he won the battle against the Volscians (an Italic tribe I also never heard before, so it took some time for me to figure this out as well). Up to the very end, I never figured out why the chaste lady Valeria was there at all.
However, despite the difficulty of the first scenes, the flow of the play was engaging enough for you to eventually get the drift of where the story was going by the time the Tribunes were convincing the people to rise against the arrogant abuse of the Coriolano. Actually, the rise in action was remarkable from this point on, until it reaches a climax when the Coriolano was sentenced for exile. It actually felt like a good conclusion right there after an hour and a half, but then you realize it was just the end of Act 1.
Act 2 presented a uniquely ironic situation about the Coriolano and his mortal enemy Tulo Aufidio. This act was easier to get into than it was at the beginning of Act 1, but there were still a lot of talky scenes which can feel too long and meandering to sit through. It would take approximately another hour and fifteen minutes or so before the final curtain. Despite the efforts of the director Carlos Siguion-Reyna and cast to keep the play interesting, I felt that the play's epic length was the major impediment in fully enjoying this play. You should not watch this when tired or sleepy.
The Coriolano with his frenemy Tulo Aufidio
(photo from TP FB page)
Marco Viana owned the title role of Coriolano with his magnetic stage presence. The Coriolano is a puzzling character with his arrogant elitist outbursts contrasting starkly with his seeming humility when being praised for his exploits. Jonathan Tadioan was a calming presence as Menenio Agrippa, as the voice of reason within the Senate. Frances Makil-Ignacio camped it up with her satin pants in her showy role as Volumnia, the Coriolano's influential mother. (Sherry Lara alternates as Volumnia.) JV Ibesate and Doray Dayao were effectively conniving as the Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto respectively. Brian Sy relished his intimate "bromance" scenes in Act 2 as Tulo Aufidio.
Ohm David built "stone" steps to occupy the entire breadth of the stage with huge "stone" pillars positioned all around to frame the action within. The costumes of Bonsai Cielo were modern renditions of the tunic and the toga, with Volumnia's satin pants the most memorable anachronistic item up there. Dennis Marasigan's use of red lights heightened the drama of the key scenes. Brian Sy and Remus Villanueva were responsible for the dance-like fight choreography. You will dig that climactic final sword fight with apparently real metal blades!
The Curtain Call
Jonathan Tadioan, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Marco Viana and Brian Sy in the foreground
Antoniette Go, Doray Dayao, Aldo Vencilao, JV Ibesate in the background
The political implications of this tragic Shakespearean play to the Philippine situation will certainly not be lost on the audience. The whole Act 1 basically predicted the whole scenario of our EDSA Revolution, predating the dictator's caustic pride, snap election, popular uprising and ignominous exile by centuries. It is up to the audience's appreciation how the whole "sleeping with the enemy" scenario of Act 2 applies to our present situation. The political metaphors we pick up from this play can be chilling. This mentally-stimulating exercise is the best reason to go watch this play.
CORIOLANO runs at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. February 22-March 17, 2019, with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at ₱ 1,030 and ₱ 824.
POSTSCRIPT: On the afternoon I watched, the Little Theater of the CCP was fully occupied by high school students who were clearly quite restless throughout the play's length. They were amused by the few risque comic relief scenes (usually by the servants) and were thrilled by the kissing scenes between the Coriolano and his wife Virgilia, as well as Tulo Aufidio. The noise level in the theater during the intermission was so loud that one of their teachers actually stood up and called them to attention, which they thankfully heeded, for a while at least. I hope they learned something from this theater experience. Maybe a lecture about theater etiquette before the play would help.
UPDATE: March 10, 2019
Miss Sherry Lara as Volumnia
I watched "Coriolano" the second time today to see Miss Sherry Lara portray the role of Coriolano's mother Volumnia. Ms. Lara had an older, more grandmotherly mien that her Volumnia seemed to have delivered more emotional weight during her final confrontation with her son Cayo Marcio.
Watching this play for the second time, I already knew all the names so the flow of the story was much clearer. This second viewing made me appreciate the wordplay of Guelan Luarca's Filipino text more -- so much wit and double entendres (which Brian Sy clearly relished). There were no noisy high school students when I watched this time, so I also appreciated the musical score and lighting effects more. One thing though, Brian's sword did not stick its landing this time though during that last fight.