Mario O'Hara, creative powerhouse, back on stage

Mario O'Hara, creative powerhouse, back on stage 
By Walter Ang
January 21, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Some people know Mario O' Hara as a film maker. Noranians know him for "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" in the '70s and "Bulaklak ng City Jail" in the '80s. Younger audiences may know him more for the award-winning and critically acclaimed "Babae sa Breakwater."

Others know him as a scriptwriter. He penned Lino Brocka's "Insiang" and "Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang." He's also a playwright; he won first prize in the Sarsuwela category of the Centennial Literary Prize back in 1998 for "Palasyo ni Valentin." And he is an actor for film, television and stage.

In other words, he's a creative powerhouse who slips from one craft to another without much effort. In Tanghalang Pilipino's (TP) "Kudeta!," his latest foray into theater, he plays the president of a Caribbean nation who is held captive after a coup, but manages to turn things around by exploiting his enemies' weaknesses.

Constant presence
O' Hara was thick in the middle of writing a script in Balagtasan style in an effort to update the language for younger audiences when the production was greenlighted.

"I had to drop everything. When you do theater, it occupies you, there's not much else you can do. I wake up thinking about the play and go to sleep still thinking about it. I can't do anything else that's creative in nature," he says. "I can only do manual labor," he adds with a laugh.

However, due to his rich experiences in almost all of the performing-arts disciplines, it was an easy transition from one form to the other.

"I'm used to doing theater. I've done all kinds of productions with companies that had money, some that didn't, productions with large casts, others with small casts."

O'Hara is a constant presence in the theater world. His script for "Insiang" (which had started out as radio play before becoming a TV and movie script), was restaged last year by TP.

As an actor, he was last seen onstage in Peta's "Belong Puti" and TP's "Ang Pokpok ng Ohio" in which he shared the stage with only two other actors. In "Kudeta!" he performs with the entire Actor's Company, TP's group of resident actors.

"There's one upside: I get to rest more! When you're in a play with a large cast, you don't have to be onstage all the time," he says. "When you're on stage with only a few other actors, you have to sustain your energy the entire time, you have to be clear. You need super energy! It's all about voice, emotions, action."

Same tools
These are the same tools that he uses to build his character. In this case, he points out that "My character is a president [of Trinidad and Tobago, birthplace of playwright Mustapha Matura]. Although we all have an idea of what a president's public persona should be, I didn't have too difficult a time creating the personality of my character's private self."

Translated to Filipino by George de Jesus III, the play is about a group of young military officers who is sent by the president abroad for training, but who comes back to lead a coup against him.

"I had to ask myself, `How does a president who is used to power, who is used to being followed, react when people don't follow his orders anymore? How does he deal with people who are not part of his private life?'" he says.

To help bring these situations to life, Tuxqs Rutaquio provides the production design and Dennis Marasigan, TP's artistic director, the lighting design.

O'Hara further crafted his character under the direction of Floy Quintos, for whom he has only praise. "He's great to work with. His mind is very quick. When I get an idea for my character or a scene, I like using the idea right away, otherwise it disappears. Fortunately, Floy allows the cast to experiment during rehearsals," he says.

"But you have to be alert when you're working with Floy. He thinks fast and you have to catch everything. He won't repeat himself. You have to work on his directions until you get it."

Having started performing for radio at the age of 17, O'Hara exudes a calm that only true expertise can establish as he rehearses for the show. "My delivery in theater is strong because of my radio background. I love radio work, I was blessed to be part of that industry during its golden years. I learned discipline from the people I worked with, they had the highest standards."

"Kudeta!" runs until Feb. 3 at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the Cultural Center of the Philippines at 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; and 3 p.m. matinees, Saturday-Sunday. Call 8919999, 8323704, 8321125 loc. 1620/1621 and 8323661.

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