Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's ANTIGONE: The People Prosecutes

November 17, 2019

"Antigone" is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles written more than 500 years before Christ. It is about an act of civil disobedience by a girl who dared to willfully defy a law set by the ruling authority. As the second offering of Tanghalang Ateneo's 41st season themed "Sulat-Babae", playwright Sabrina Basilio used this basic premise of the original play to set up a totally different scenario and ensuing events. In Basilio's adaptation, the girl and the president were held captive by a multi-sectoral Chorus and then made to face off with each other in a people's court. 

Antigone buried the corpse of her deceased brother Polynices, However with this simple act, she broke a law promulgated by President Kreon that the dead body of a traitor against the government like him should just remain unburied on the fields of battle. In her favor, Antigone argued on the grounds of human decency and morality. They were made to reenact the circumstances around each of their crimes.

The persecuted Antigone

We also hear numerous ordinary citizens who testified for and against each of the accused. Those for Antigone were those who had suffered persecution at the hands of Creon and his policemen. Those against Antigone were those who had benefited from the policies of Creon. Throughout the play, these witnesses talked directly to the audience who was made to act like the jury. At the end of the play, everyone in the bleachers will be asked to decide on the case presented. Should Antigone remain incarcerated, or should she be set free?

If you have no idea what "Antigone" was about, it was not that easy to get into the play initially. What the Chorus members were doing did not sink in right away, but the play's style eventually became evident. One time they were asking people involved in the case to read off what looked like scripts. Then the next scene, any one of a number of ordinary folk (government employee, environmental advocate, prostitute, etc...) were relating their testimonies for or against Antigone. It can be confusing at first as the story proceeded in this manner, only to clear up a bit later. 

The intimidating President Kreon

You note the shifts of the language spoken by the various characters, from the Filipino of the masses to the American-accented by Antigone, Creon and the other characters of higher class, and eventually realize that this story was also about social class. Should someone from the higher classes involve himself (or herself, in Antigone's case) in public discussions about social issues like human rights? Being played in a university known of its privileged studentry -- the intent, message and challenge of the writer was loud and clear. The audience will be asked to submit their judgement in a vote towards the end, and the aftermath of their decision will be presented to conclude the play. Basilio revealed that there were three alternate endings depending on the outcome of the audience vote.

The Audience is requested to decide.

During the show I watched, Eliezha Nicole Duque with her big glaring eyes played the indignant Antigone. Her voice was soft and uncertain at first, gaining in conviction and confidence as the play went on. (Julia Imai alternates as Antigone.) With his heft and beard, Robbie Fernandez was impressive as an imposing Kreon. It was hard to believe that he was only a freshman Engineering student. Gevin Luarca played Creon's son and Antigone's betrothed Haemon. I felt his major conflict of being torn between loyalty to father and love to fiancee was not played up enough. (Joey Madarang alternates as Haemon.)

Jam Binay played a subdued subservient Ismene, Antigone's sister. (Bea Gaitana alternates as Ismene.) Kyle "Woody" Tan, Luigi Antonio Santos and the scene-stealing Lars Michaelsen Salamante played the three guards who kept watch over Antigone. (Deivid Allan Encarnacion and Ram Catan alternate as guards). Pauline Matabang played the Chorus Leader, while Bienne Dator, Arianna Lopez, Carmen Dolina, Kim Donato, Jaennina Gangat, Angela Lanuza, Maika Daupan, Iago Babao Guballa, Rye Cosca and Andre Enriquez play the Chorus, here transformed into the prosecuting People of the Philippines.

The Cast at the Curtain Call

Director Tarra Jamora Oppen elected to stage the court proceedings in a sort of post-apocalyptic society still reeling from a harrowing people's revolution, as reflected by the production design by Tata Tuviera, enhanced by the lights designed by Earvin EstiokoGraphic designs by Carmen Dolina and Franny Tan were flashed on white cloth hanging on opposite walls of the room where audience can see them well.The sound design by Krina Cayabyab set an eerie atmosphere to the proceedings. Microphone issues affected the show I watched, so the cast needed to project their voices louder to be heard well, but not always clearly. The movement of the Chorus was designed by Jomelle Era, assisted by CJ Lubangco


"ANTIGONE VS. THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES" runs from November 16 to 30, 2019 at the Old Comm Black Box Theater of the Ateneo de Manila University. Ticket prices at 350 Php for ADMU students, 320 Php for ADMU scholars and 400 Php for the general public. For ticket reservation inquiries, contact Ana Ruiz at 0917 813 3077.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review of DUP's FUENTE OVEJUNA: Rustic Revolution

November 10, 2019

For its second offering in its current 44th theater season, Dulaang UP chose to present Spanish playwright Lope de Vega's 1619 play "Fuente Ovejuna," in keeping with the theme of this season is "Daluhong" which means "assault." The play was based on an actual historical event -- the 1476 uprising of peasants in a Castillan village against their cruel commander. It was Comedia produced in the Golden Age of Spanish Drama. 

The Comendador of the Order of Calatrava, Fernan Gomez de Guzman was welcomed with gifts upon his arrival at Fuente Ovejuna from his victory at Ciudad Real. However, the Comendador was a cruel master to the peasants of the village -- torturing men and raping women. He particularly desired the fair maiden Laurencia and was about to molest her, but was stopped in time at crossbow's point by her suitor Frondoso. Shamed, the Comendador vowed to get his revenge. 

The Filipino translation which I watched was written by Nicolas Pichay. The language used was ornate and appropriate to its period. However, the language remained to be engaging, easy to follow and enjoyable to listen to. The words slipped off the actors' tongues with ease and we as audience felt ease that as well. There was a light-hearted and even amusing lilt to the tone of the whole play, despite all the violence of the proceedings. Even if the mood did take a more serious turn after the intermission, the chosen words of Pichay remained musical to the ears.

The fearsome Comendador Fernan Gomez de Guzman (Carlo Tarobal)
and his vile minions Flores (Brian Arda) and Orduno (Arvin Trinidad)

In the show I watched, the fearsome Comendador Fernan Gomez de Guzman (yes, they always read out his whole name when they referred to him) was played by Carlo Tarobal, whom I first knew as one of the award-winning team of writers of one of my favorite films last year "Tanabata's Wife." He is tall, of smart stature and had the strong stage presence that his role demanded. His dark eye make-up made sure we knew he was up to no good. (His alternate for this role is Leo Rialp, and by reputation we know how much intensity he can bring to this anti-hero role.) His vile henchmen, namely the vulgar Ortuno and the sneaky Flores, were played by Arvin Trinidad and Brian Arda. (Alternates are Aaron Comandante and George Magsayo.) 

The lovers, Frondoso (Ross Pesigan) and Laurencia (Hariette Damole)

Harriette Damole and Ross Pesigan were naturals at playing the romantic leads Laurencia and Frondoso. Even if they had all those long lines, everything seemed so effortless for these two attractive actors, and their chemistry together easily elicited a sense of thrill. (The alternates in these roles were Chloe Jenna and Tristan Bite, who were also onstage when I watched as their close friends Pascuala and Barrildo.) An easy scene-stealer and hilarious comic relief was the character of Mengo played by the inimitable Dolly Dolot. (His alternate is Ricci Chan, who promises to be a sure riot in this role as well.)

The comic Mengo (Dolly Dolot), 
with Barrildo (Tristan Bite) and Esteban (Jojo Cayabyab) looking on

The elders of Fuente Ovejuna were the mayor Esteban (who was Laurencia's father), his friend Alonso and Juan Rojo (who was Frondoso's father). They were played by Jojo Cayabyab (in yet another powerful performance as he gave in Marat/Sade last summer), Jacques Borlaza (a Best Actor nominee for last year's revival of "Ang Paglilitis kay Mang Serapio") and Allan Palileo (actor, writer and translator of several DUP plays), respectively. 

King Fernando and Queen Isabel were played by George de Jesus III and Adriana Agcaoili. Beyond their richly opulent emerald costumes, de Jesus and Agcaoili bring to their roles an elegant gentility and depth of wisdom expected from reigning monarchs. (Alternating as the King is Greg de Leon, who also played Don Manrique, the trusted general of the royals.)

The regal King Fernando (George de Jesus III) and Queen Isabella (Andrea Agcaoili)

Taking his final bow as director with this play is the beloved Prof. Emeritus Tony Mabesa, who passed away last October 4, 2019. However before being brought to the hospital, he had already been able to finish blocking all the scenes and discussed all the technical aspects of this play with his crew (Shax Siasoco for lights, Faust Peneyra for set, Jethro Joaquin for sound, Eric Pineda for costumes, Greg de Leon and Raymond Roldan for music, Steven Tansiongco for graphics and Stephen Vinas for choreography). 

Current DUP Artistic Director Banaue Miclat-Jannsen took over after his passing to piece all the elements together based on their collective experience of being under Mr. Mabesa's mentorship over the years. This production may be our final taste of Mr. Mabesa's skill and standards in bringing a script to life, but his students will make sure his legacy will continue to live through DUP shows of the future. 

The Cast at the Curtain Call


FUENTE OVEJUNA runs from November 8 to December 1, 2019 a the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman. Show times are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 pm, and matinees at 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at only P500 each.