REVIEW: Tanghalang Ateneo's Asian "Twelfth Night"

Love What You Will, How You Will 
By Walter Ang
August 23, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Watching a Shakespeare play is daunting enough. But done in Tagalog translation and dislocated from the familiar 16th century English setting, audiences may find it a tad overwhelming to comprehend. Fortunately, Tanghalang Ateneo has come up with a production of "Twelfth Night" that has made the Bard more accessible to audiences.

I caught the touring show at the Far Eastern University Auditorium last weekend (it moves to the Subic Arts Theater next). To help the audience appreciate what was to come, before the play began, director Ricardo Abad came out to explain the plot and some of the key staging devices that he used. He also gave the mostly student audience his reasons for transplanting the play to an Asian locale.

This is my first Tanghalang Ateneo production so I don't know if the introduction by the director is di rigeur in their shows, but I appreciate its objectives. Other theater companies, including non school-based ones, could take their cue from this practice and help bring in a larger audience for the classics. A little hint here and there helps move the action along. After all, not everyone reads the program notes.

Asian motif
Shakespeare has been transplanted countless times. Baz Lurhman put the walang kamatayang "Romeo and Juliet" in South America, while some local companies have set it in Verona, Cavite and even Japan with a japayuki Juliet. In the movies, Ethan Hawke will be portraying "Hamlet" in cosmopolitan Manhattan while "Taming of the Shrew" has been remade into the teen flick, "Ten Things I Hate About You."

TA's "Twelfth Night" utilized a Southeast Asian motif designed by Salvador Bernal. Sitting in the middle of the stage was a large hut with obviously Asian inspired workings. Later on, as the lights dimmed to start the play, its silhouette would become the ship on which our protagonist Viola and her twin brother Sebastian sailed on. Lighted in consultation with Naomi Matsumoto, it was an fantastic piece of set as it would be turned around by the actors to become various other settings in the play, from different houses to a prison cell.

Setting the play in a mythical Asian Ilyria seemed to be an inspired choice from Rolando Tinio's Tagalog translation. If the language is Asian, might as well make the rest of the elements Asian. The decision to stage Shakespeare in Tagalog works well for this version of "Twelfth Night". The audience lapped up the occasionally ribald language and enjoyed its earthy nature.

This tale of cross-dressing fraternal twins, mistaken identities, and mixed up loves was executed by an able cast led by Marie France Arcilla (Viola) and Steven Uy (Sebastian) -- the one actor accorded matinee idol status. Judging from the screams of the girls in the audience, this guy could've played the part of a rock and still get the same amount of giddy adulation.

It was amusing to note how Araflor Fernando (Maria) looked like Helena Bonham Carter, but the performance by Miren Alvarez (Olivia) was what floored me. For a while there, I thought I was watching her mother Nieves Campa onstage. I remember cutting class a couple of years ago just to catch Nieves Campa perform "Medea". I finally got a chance to see her daughter perform as well and it would seeem that acting for this family (Miren's father is Roy Alvarez) must really be in the genes.

Every once in a while, at certain angles, Miren looked exactly like her mom. It was eerie and amazing how both ladies also sounded almost alike, with the same tone and lilt. If these two ever do a production together, someone please let me know!

Apart from the effective cast, it is Abad's creative use of the language that brought out the nuances of what the characters' hidden motives and desires were. He also peppered the play with hilarious slapstick asides for the characters.

One of the interesting devices Abad injected into the play was his addition of Androgynous Person. Androgynous Person is shown at the beginning of the play with both male and female genitalia. At the end of it all, when mistaken identities are revealed and all is set straight, Androgynous Person once again appears, but this time without the male and female parts. The appendages have appeared in other characters, showing the different ways we love, what we love, who we love. Proving that when it comes to love, as the other title of this play states, "What You Will." Or more aptly in Tagalog, "Kung Ano'ng Ibigin."