Actors' Actors stages Yasmina Reza's 'Art' in Tagalog translation

Art: Once more, in Filipino 
By Walter Ang
Sept. 3, 2007
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Three men talking about a painting. It's easy to brush off the premise of this straight play, seeing as how it could easily be boring. Or weird. Or both.

Thankfully, Yasmina Reza's "Art" is none of the above. It is an engaging and hilarious time eavesdropping on three best buds as they traverse the fine line that defines their friendship.

Originally written in French and produced by Sean Connery in London, Art has won numerous awards, including the 1998 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1997 Olivier Award for Best Comedy, and has been translated into 20 languages including English, Mandarin, Japanese, German and Spanish.

The Philippine premiere of Art in 1998 featured Bart Guingona (who also directed), Audie Gemora, and Jaime del Mundo in the English translation. The show proved to be one of several productions that became trademarks of Actors' Actors, Inc., Guingona's theater company, enjoying repeat stagings throughout the years.

After Lito Albano saw one of these restagings, he approached Guingona and brought up the idea of translating the material to make it accessible to a wider audience. "I do poetry and copywriting, so I gave it a shot and translated the first ten pages for Bart's approval," said Albano. "I think he liked it because I got a text message instructing me to finish the entire play."

While the translation work continued, actors were rounded up to fill the roles. Michael de Mesa, who has become popular with the English theater crowd with his involvement in musicals, was chosen to play Serge (played by Audie Gemora in the English version) ? the character whose purchase of a painting, which happens to be completely white, sets off heated reactions from the other two characters.

Jett Pangan, front man of The Dawn and star of such musicals as Once on This Island, Beauty and the Beast, and Tick, Tick Boom!, was recruited to make his non-musical straight play debut. He would fill the role of Mar. "He is the quintessential leader-of-the-pack, head-of-the-gang alpha male," described Guingona, who played Marc in the English version. "He's the one who disagrees with Serge's foray into the art world.

Caught in between these two explosive personalities is Jun (Yvan in the original, played by Jaime del Mundo) , the milquetoast sidekick whose shoes were to be filled by Ricky Davao. Familiar to younger audiences as one of the villains in the television show "Lupin," Davao has graced the stage in Tanghalang Pilipino's "Insiang" and "Speaking in Tongues." He won an Aliw Award for Best Stage Actor for his work in the latter.

Everyone was excited to come on board. De Mesa revealed that he had been meaning to sink his teeth into a straight play as well as work with Guingona again. "You mean you wanted to work with me," joked Davao. The fraternal banter was present throughout the interview as both finished each other's sentences and joshed around. Both were also all praises for Pangan in his first foray into straight plays, citing his openness to learn new techniques and diligence in discovering dimensions to his acting.

The ease in the cast's working relationship helped them achieve a more dynamic tone when they worked with Albano to thresh out the translation. "We had to change some lines because there were jokes that had no direct translations. However, we remained faithful to the essence of the material," said de Mesa.

Long-time collaborating producer Hendri Go of Little Boy Productions bravely premiered this new version in his hometown of Cebu. "It was a real test, as you know how Cebuanos can be when it comes to Tagalog material," said Go. "But we feel that the material was adapted properly to Filipino sensibilities and humor."

It also helped that Guingona is intimately familiar with the play. "I know the material inside out already so I was able to guide them through the translation. I already know which parts where the audience will laugh, so if the Filipino wasn't working, we would test new ways of saying the lines," he said. "We would replace stilted dialogue with Taglish lines to make the repartee more realistic and fluid."

Despite the thorough preparation, a few butterflies lingered in the casts' stomachs. "I'm used to more intimate performance spaces where there would only be 400 seats. Our theater in Cebu had 1,100 seats, and there were only the three of us [actors]! We were nervous, we didn't know if people would come and watch," said Davao.

The nervousness promptly disappeared as two additional shows were added to the scheduled performances due to public demand. The successful Cebu run has emboldened the cast and crew to stage a special one-night-only Manila performance at the Music Museum on September 22, 2007 (Saturday) at 8:00 p.m. to allow potential show buyers to book the production for runs next year.

Tickets start from P300 and are available at National Bookstore Ticketworld. Call 891-9999 or visit

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