REVIEW: Tanghalang Pilipino's staging of Pirandello's 'It is so! (If you think so)'

Rumors, facts and humor 
By Walter Ang
Jan. 24, 2005
Philippine Daily Inquirer

What Filipino's day is not peppered through and through with discussions on who's doing what and who's doing who and what have you? While it is part and parcel of the Filipino way of life, rumor mongering is not exactly something that should fall under the category of national pride. It is a little comforting, therefore, that Tanghalang Pilipino's latest production reminds us that gossiping is not necessarily an exclusive Filipino pastime.

It is something that cuts across countries and cultures, as evidenced by Luigi Pirandello's comedy "Cosi e (se vi pare!)" or "It is so! (If you think so)." This tale revolving around juicy gossip and malicious rumors has been translated by Jerry Respeto as "'Yun na nga! (Kung yun na nga)" for local audiences to relish.

Pirandello is a Nobel laureate whose 1921 play "Six Characters in Search of an Author," was recently proclaimed "the most original play of the 20th-century." Even if "It is so!" was written in Italy 1918, TP's adaptation provokingly shows how it could very be Manila 2005.

Their world
The TP Actors' Company deftly fills the roles of the Agazzi family and a whole plethora of characters who do nothing but dissect the goings on of the new neighbors in town: Signor Ponza, his wife and his mother-in-law Signora Frola. These gossips wonder why Signora Frola lives alone and is never seen with her daughter.

The Agazzi family and other townsfolk feign hospitality and concern when the Ponzas call on them. However, as soon as the Ponzas are barely out of the door, suspicion, doubt, skepticism, fabrication and fibbing become the order of the day. The only voice of reason amidst this buffet of lies is Signora Agazzi's brother Lamberto Laudisi, who watches and listens on the side. Laudisi is the Greek chorus with a conscience, more so after everyone is thrown into a doozy when Signor Ponza and Signora Frola independently accuse the other of being insane.

The look of the production builds on the characters' "plastikan" toward the Ponza family by bedecking everyone in plastic, literally. Costume designer John Abul ingeniously transforms linoleum tablecloth (the kind sold in Divisoria that comes in tacky, gaudy designs) into flamboyant, eye-candy couture.

Details come alive as he repeats motifs found in the tablecloth patterns as accent pieces, demonstrated by Signora Agazzi's butterfly ring and hairpin. Set consultant Riz Herbosa, on the other hand, complements the costumes with kitschy furniture still wrapped in plastic. She turns the same tacky linoleum tablecloths used for the costumes into wallpaper.

Our world
This is the synthetic, pathetic world where director Herbert Go and assistant director John Victor Villareal pokes fun at the Pinoy's penchant for tsismis and satirizes victims of the nouveau riche syndrome.

One of the most hilarious devices they use in this production is making the entire cast eat constantly throughout the play. Every single person who comes into the Agazzi household brings a customary pasalubong of merienda. Everyone who happens to be in the household gamely partakes of the food while saying their lines. The menu starts off with shingaling and goes on to include siopao, broas, suman, popcorn, even melon seeds. The smorgasbord of Pinoy delicacies ends with what may be a symbolic kamote-cue. Highlighting symbiotic partnership of food and gossip definitely packed a creative wallop.

The ensemble cast had great energy and constantly elicited howls of laughter. They obviously seemed to have fun with their roles, gamely hamming it up for the audience. We even caught Signora Agazzi using her water goblet as a finger bowl ? nonchalantly rinsing her fingers in her own drink and then, without batting an eyelash, proceeded to drink from the same goblet. Skyzx Shannah Labastilla, playing the Gobernor who later on appears in the play to mediate the confusion, does a spot-on impersonation of Miriam Defensor Santiago.

It's wonderful to see how this production does not simply present a translation of Pirandello's play, but a very tongue-in-cheek adaptation that comes alive with very Filipino quirks and references to modern Pinoy pop culture. The original butler in the original script is transformed into a scene-stealing, jaded katulong who, at one point in the play, brings out a folding chair into the family dining room and sits down to watch the telenovela-esque proceedings ? while eating watermelon seeds, of course. As the play nears its poignant end, a cross-dressing neighbor adds to the confusion of rumors with his version of the events in cryptic swardspeak. This prompted a lady behind me to comment in exasperation, "We need a translator!"

These two seemingly marginal characters provide an interesting foil to the spirit of Pirandello's farce. At the end of the day, when it comes to the truth and its many tangents and convolutions, are we really just a little lost, watching on the sidelines, trying to make sense of it all?

"'Yun na nga! (Kung 'yun na nga)" runs until Feb. 6. Call 832-3661 or 832-1125 loc. 1620/21.

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