Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review of UP Dulaang Lab's ALEMBONG: Interclass Intercourse

May 19, 2019

It was the feast day of Sta. Clara in the town of Obando, and the whole town was out dancing.  Miss Julie went to the kitchen on her father's mansion to invite her father's driver Jun to go out and dance with her (with the unwilling consent of Jun's fiancee, the kitchen maid Crissing). Their conversations over beer after the dance led the two to get to know each other better, until some talk of naughty seduction ensued. One thing led to another, and before the night ended, what should not have happened happened.

The original "Miss Julie" was written in the Swedish language by playwright August Strindberg in 1888.  Since then, there had been translations in English as well as other languages. In 1967, Repertory Philippines' very first production was a Tagalog version adapted by Rolando Tinio. They famously performed it in front of only seven people in the audience. (Rep eventually only played English plays after that Filipino debut.)

The Filipino script used for this UP Dulaang Laboratoryo production was written by Eljay Castro Deldoc. It was not just a direct verbatim translation. He changed the title into "Alembong," a Filipino word that meant "flirt" or "coquette." He transposed the whole setting of the play from aristocratic Sweden to rural Obando, Bulacan. The Midsummer's Eve festival (feast of John the Baptist, June 24) in the original play was changed to the feast of Our Lady of Salambao (held every May 19 -- the exact date I watched this show). While Jean was a valet who knew French in the original, Jun was a driver who knew Spanish in this new local version. 

Jun kisses Miss Julie's shoe
Photo credit: Kuya So (from the FB page of Eljay Castro Deldoc)

The play was a sexually-charged social-commentary piece about clashing between the sexes and clashing between the social classes. With all the changes Deldoc made in the local adaptation, the time setting of the story could not readily be transported to the present digital age when sexual mores had changed more drastically, as pre-marital sex and conceiving out of wedlock are hardly considered scandalous anymore nowadays. However, an affair between a master and a servant could still raise quite a few eyebrows. 

Unlike the two other previous thesis productions I watched in the past month, this production of Miss Julie was thesis project of only one candidate, and that is Joshua Ade Valenzona for acting performance. His Jun was always dominant and in control from the start to end. He never really felt like he was ever beneath Miss Julie. Valenzona's sardonic attack on the role was quite different from the humble, apologetic way Colin Farrell portrayed the role in the first act of the 2014 Liv Ulmann movie version. Valenzona looked effortlessly charming most of the play, despite some flubbed lines and actions.

I had seen Chase Salazar two times before. First in 2014 in "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" (MY REVIEW) and then again in 2017 in "Sakuntala" (MY REVIEW), so this is the first time I had seen her not wearing tribal costumes. But in any case, she was really a very confident performer in the title role of Miss Julie, with her disturbed, damaged psyche in Act 1 and all those erratic idiosyncratic defenses breaking down in Act 2. Ajee Garcia as Crissing was usually seen just fussing around in her kitchen or off stage sleeping. But come Act 2, she was able to nail her showcase moment when she confronted Miss Julie and Jun and gave them a piece of her mind. Crissing's attitude of steadfast respect is one of those attributes rarely seen in employees these days. 

Ajee Salazar, Joshua Ade Valenzona and Chase Salazar
take their triumphant bow

This production was directed by Mara Marasigan. Ricardo Magno was the co-director and was also responsible for the sensual ritualistic choreography of Miss Julie and the girls wearing chemises (Nicole Andrea Villanueva, Marjeorie Peleno, Janna Gerald Cortes, Margarita Lugue, Jasmine Velasco). Hershee Tantiado designed costumes evoking the fashion of pre-war Philippines. Jun's costume had unusual green patches seen on his shirt and undershirt. I do not know what these meant exactly, but they were interesting details. 

Ohm David's innovative set design of the kitchen had those multiple individually-standing tall wooden newel posts (usually seen in bannisters of stairs in old stone houses) serving as the walls giving the stage a wider dimension of space. This illusion of space (and the mysterious dancing ensemble) was enhanced by the lighting design by Jethro Dibaten. The sound design was care of Jack Alvero

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