REVIEW: Wholesome and then some: Savyon Liebrecht's 'Apples from the Desert' and Frank Wedekind's 'Lulu'

Wholesome and then some
By Walter Ang
August 10, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Two productions opening in August approach women and notions of "love" and "family" in diametrically dissimilar ways, with one play written by a Jew and the other by a German.

Tanghalang Pilipino will stage "Apples from the Desert," a comedy written by Savyon Liebrecht, one of Israel's best-selling and acclaimed female writers. Actress, dancer and filmmaker Tess Jamias will direct. "The play is about a conservative family with an independent-minded teenage daughter who wants to find her way in the world as she discovers love and life beyond the confines of her highly-regimented life," she says. "The conflict erupts between the Jewish Orthodox father, who is controlling and unable to show affection, and the women surrounding him."

A former member of TP's Actors Company, Jamias has evolved from acting to directing. She's helmed plays that deal with relationships and women. "I directed Harold Pinter's `The Lover' last year. Early this year, I directed "Pamaypay, Kutsilyo at Yantok," a trilogy of one-act plays about the women of Noli Me Tangere." She was tasked by TP artistic director Josef "Tata" Nanding to direct "Apples."

"I like this play because even though it deals with a culture that is very different from our own, the relationships among the characters and the play's theme about individuals finding their own voice are things we can all relate to," she says. "Aside from reading the script several times, I researched the Jewish culture, their history, practices, dances, and music. I went to a synagogue, had a talk with the rabbi and the Israeli ambassador."

She taps her experiences in different fields for her direction. "Being a filmmaker helps me think in moving images, which, in turn, helps me visualize a scene. Being a dancer/choreographer helps me feel if a scene should be more adagio or allegro on the way to creating the whole symphony. Being an actress, I've been able to work with actors of all ages and I've experienced different directors' styles. I'm able to access a familiar language in dealing with my actors," she says.

Jamias joined the performing world via a workshop in her last year of high school. "I had the best time because my teachers were Betty Nae Piccio and Susan Ceniza, two great women actors," she says. Jamias now joins the ranks of a handful of women directors for the local theater scene such as the late Zeneida Amador, Baby Barredo, Ana Valdes-Lim, Ana Abad Santos-Bitong, and Jose Estrella. She feels it's sad that there are only a few women directors but feels "honored" to be counted among them. Jamias will be acting in TP's next production, a Filipino translation of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage."

"Apples from the Desert" will be performed in English and in a Filipino translation ("Mansanas ng Disyerto") by Liza Magtoto. It is part of TP's 23rd season focusing on "Women of Substance," the first of a three-year thematic arc that will highlight men for the 24th season, and children for the 25th season.

And then some
On the flip side, Dulaang UP offers Frank Wedekind's "Lulu," which centers on "a sexually-enticing young dancer who rises in society through her relationships with wealthy men, but later falls into poverty and prostitution" and the "the intricacies of transsexual seduction, passion, and wrath." The play is part of DUP's 34th season tribute to German playwrights. This production combines the originally separate "Lulu plays": Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die B├╝chse der Pandora (Pandora's Box).

Tuxqs Rutaquio plays Lulu as a male-to-female transsexual in the Filipino translation by Joel Saracho. He alternates with Che Ramos (who plays Lulu as a woman) in the English version. "When director and choreographer Dexter Santos approached me to do the set design, I asked if I could also act. Luckily, he was actually thinking of casting me for the lead role in his all-male Filipino version," says Rutaquio. He will design the set for another Wedekind-inspired show later this year: Atlantis Productions' staging of Tony Award-winning rock musical "Spring Awakening."

Rutaquio first encountered the material in his Master of Theater Arts classes under Prof. Antonio Mabesa in University of the Philippines-Diliman. "I fell in love with the character of Lulu. To prepare for the role, I did a lot of research about the psychology of sexuality and the dynamics between men. Lulu is a complicated character, a misunderstood being whose desires cannot be equaled by the men that he encounters, that's why he searches for more, using his power as a beautiful transsexual, his rational thinking and carnal body as weapons," he says.

He has played the roles of Dina Espinola (female role) in "Temptation Island," and Ada (gay male role) in "Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah." "A homosexual or gender-bending role is just like any other role. In theater, it's not about gender or sexual preference or feminine/masculine mannerisms," he says. "It is about personality, objective, motivation, and development. I get attracted to roles that I can sink my teeth into, characters that I can take apart and explore, and some of these roles just happened to be not heterosexual."

His insights on gender and sexuality are not only informed by his vast theater experience, but also by scholarly practice. Rutaquio is a faculty associate and advocate of Miriam College's Women and Gender Institute (WAGI). He directed and designed "Amihan" last year as part of the launch of Miriam College's Institute for the Arts. "The main objective of the institute is to recognize and develop highly talented young women so that they may achieve the highest artistic standards, become leaders in their profession, and take an active role shaping the future of the arts," he says.

Tanghalang Pilipino's "Apples from the Desert" runs from Aug. 7 to Sept. 13 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Call 832-3661. Dulaang UP's "Lulu" runs from Aug. 5 to 23 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, University of the Philippines-Diliman. Call 433-7840. 

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