REVIEW: 'Haring Tub-l' ('Ubu Roi')--Explosive play sends up elections, power politics

Explosive play sends up elections, power politics
By Walter Ang
May 2, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sipat Lawin Ensemble's "Haring TUbu-l" is an explosive production, figuratively and literally. The "ticket" is a paper bag (think airplanes) stamped with an ominous warning that you can use the bag, just don't give up on the production. Obviously, this isn't for mainstream theatergoers.

But for those who have a sense of humor and adventure, an appreciation for irony and a strong constitution, it's one of the most fun and funny productions you'll ever get to see. Audiences at the performance we saw were laughing throughout the very tight one hour run. Mind you, the laughter ranges from nervous to approving and frequently switches back and forth.

The title alone foretells of the scatological humor involved (a friend who knows Bisaya explained it to this ManileƱo). The show's own announcements state it is "set inside a toilet bowl" and "pukes excess filth, greed, avarice, gluttony, ambition, filth, greed ? [ad infinitum]."

Yes, it is toilet humor brought to an extreme but well-thought out and intelligent level. It is difficult to write about the production without giving away the elements that make it a fun experience, and while we will attempt to give as little away as possible, fair warning, spoilers follow.

Ridiculous and ugly
In this Tagalog translation of French playwright Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi" (King Ubu), the first thing audiences see are twisted orange plastic pipes hung on the walls wrapped with translucent cable binders: stiff, prickly strands of white hair on grotesque, ribbed skin in the shape of human genitalia.

The production designers amplify the cast's excessive cursing and coarse body language by using disfiguring make-up and disproportional bodies on the actors. They also employ gelatinous goo and slimy concoctions to stand in for body fluids and parts that are secreted, excreted, expelled and, sometimes, forcibly removed. Sound designer Teresa Barrozo adds the necessary layer that pushes the play along.

The group, composed of alumni (theater majors) of the Philippine High School for the Arts, makes the audience sit as close to their performance area as possible. As the actors play out the story of how Papa Ubu and Mama Ubu use malevolent means to rise to power (and how they wantonly abuse it later on), almost everything is thrown in the air and audiences alternately scream and cheer as they dodge the projectiles.

The production's execution is a prime example of "the medium is the message." Director JK Anicoche brilliantly pushes the text to its limits and creates all of these vulgar metaphors to expose how coveting and abusing power is a disgusting and ridiculous enterprise. Shown in all its offensive and ugly glory, the recognition and acknowledgement makes us laugh at it all.

Wonderful and unrelenting
While the upcoming elections flavor the play with criticizing government, it is not difficult to apply the production's representations to any kind of venture that involves power grabbing, whether it's between family or friends, institutions like the church, hospitals and the academe, and even at the workplace.

We all know evil power-hungry people who are insane and repulsive. And they are all brought to life by the wonderfully talented pair of Nar Cabico (Papa Ubu) and Sheenly Gener (Mama Ubu). Their cohorts and victims are deftly threshed out by Dorothea Marabut (Prinsipesa Bukake) and Acey Aguilar (Kapitan Tutan).

The four are a whirlind of intensity, emotion and physical dexterity. Blows come in quick succession and from all over the place, you won't be able to let your guard down. It's easy to miss how sincere and real they actually make their characters amidst the hilarity and chaos, but do watch out for touching and poignant moments they insert into the play's rumble.

Laughter and guilt
The production has been using Facebook as one of its primary publicity tools. It even launched an online video audition competition for one of the cameo parts in the show (winners get to watch for free).

Yet when you get there, the clean, detached and safe nature of using a computer screen to interact with the world is replaced with tangibility and immediacy.

SLE mandates a maximum of 30 people to be accommodated per show. The play's first run alternated between Mogwai Cinematheque in Cubao Shoe Expo and The Living Room in Malate. We caught the show in Mogwai and the small space soon became claustrophobic as it filled with the heat generated by the lights and human bodies.

Body parts mash into each other when audiences flinch and squirm in unison. The audience members are not allowed to remain as mere spectators. Part of the fun and excitement of watching this production is that we are forced to participate at various points. This play is not something to be watched than it is to be experienced.

These different staging elements show us how the production craftily indulges in its own power play. In all its deliberate shenanigans and gratuity, it blasts to smithereens boundaries and notions of what theater can possibly be. In the way it evokes nervous (or excited) anticipation, it assaults our perceptions and defense mechanisms. The word "mindf**k" is appropriate.

The insights, realizations and guilt (hopefully) come later on. It's all fun and laughs in the moment but after the show you realize how easy it is to fall into mob mentality, how stealthily evil machinations can sweep you away, how easy it is to abuse power that it given to you. You think back to when the audience is asked to kill one of the innocent characters. Why was it so easy to gleefully oblige?

Haring TUbu-L will have a re-run May 3 to 12, dubbed as "The Return of the Comeback of the New And Improved Newly Scented Haring TUbu-L," which will "serve as a countdown to the May 10 elections," in different venues. Call 0917-500-8753.

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