thoughts on de la salle college of st. benilde's "titus andronicus"
by walter ang
aug. 6, 2011
2011 is the year of the titus andronici and since i've already caught one staging this year, i figured i might as well catch the remaining two.
so, despite a super busy schedule, i made an effort to catch de la salle college of st. benilde's production of "titus andronicus," staged for the thesis work of its graduating classes in production design and technical theater. let's leave the grading of the costume design, set design and lighting design to their teachers.
translated and directed by george de jesus III, the show is a straightforward staging that's fun and funny. fun because the various murders, dismembering, and other acts of violence are done without hesitation and very matter-of-factly, as if the people in this ancient roman universe chop limbs off other people everyday for breakfast.
funny because, apparently, shakespeare has built in some really funny situations and de jesus stages them as such. there is no pretense at high-brow seriousness in de jesus' handling of the text.
most of the actors play the major roles with a consistent sense of nervous cackling energy, a kind of anxious paranoia that seems apt for the material.
joel saracho is in fine form as titus andronicus, but lacks a bit of gravitas as he's overwhelmed by the way the play is staged and by the other actors. titus is a sad, pitiable figure in the first act, victim to the machinations of his enemies. he finds his stride in the second act as he plots his revenge. initially, i felt saracho's voice was not deep enough to convey the stature of titus, but it grew on me as i realized it humanized titus instead.
gwyn guanzon as saturninus (who becomes emperor at titus's refusal of the position) and kalila aguilos as tamora, queen of the goths, are hilarious in their roles. guanzon plays saturninus as a neurotic, bratty, excitable, panicky, screamy, fagotty evil emperor. aguilos is a crazed, loud, focused and sexy tamora.
i've seen paolo o'hara in so many comedies (which he does so well) that it's impossible, i feel, for me to take him seriously in serious roles. so i giggled a lot even as he plowed through serious scenes as marcus, the brother of titus.
creepy evil funny vs bumbling evil funny
gab santos as chiron and paul jake paule as demetrius, the two sons of tamora who rape, dismember and glossectomize* titus's daughter lavinia, execute their characterizations leaning more towards the bumbling dolts school of villainy, and as a result, fails to evoke fear in the audience when they are about to do their deed to lavinia. de jesus, santos and paule have developed characterizations that seem to lack a level of sinister dread that would have been a nice additional layer to the characters.
(the notes i've read on titus usually point out that titus, being one of shakespeare's earliest plays, presents many of what are to become his stock characters in his later plays. the two brothers, i realized after watching this show, are precursors to hamlet's rosencratz and guildenstern--but i'm not a shakespeare scholar, so please don't quote me on this, kekeke. i saw red concepcion and felix rivera as rosencratz and guildenstern in repertory philippines' 2008 staging of hamlet; they were funny, but evil scary creepy funny.)
two heads are more than one
nar cabico as martius and ga fallarme as quintus, sons of titus, get their heads cut off. the production design majors had to showcase their model-making skills by making prosthetic disembodied heads, but i think it would have been more fun to have let the two actors climb underneath the set and stick their heads out for the head-presentation scene, kekeke!
in any case, they get to have fun as they get to play other roles: both ham it up when cabico doubles as tamora's (funny) nurse and fallarme doubles as the (funny) clown. later on, both also perform as goths.
joshua deocareza has got a great swagger as aaron, tamora's amoral lover and co-mastermind of the troubles for the adronici. he made his character come to life with a very pinoy-flavored machismo, kind of like an arrogant action movie hero, that worked.
but he has to be careful with his ad libs. he said "okay" during one of his scenes! and he has to go through a mime or props handling workshop, methinks, because he picked up his (doll) baby, at one point, just like a doll! these are glaring errors that mar an otherwise effective performance.
weight of words and babies
but deocarez is not the only actor in the cast who mishandled the way objects weigh and the way words are said.
several actors picked up and swung swords as if the swords were as light as the papier-mache they were really made of instead of metal. and one actor pulled out alarbus' innards with too much ease--i have never pulled out innards from a freshly killed human before, but i imagine that it would be a slimy and hot (37 degrees celsius at least) proceeding, not clean and fast at all.
also, lavinia and titus recover from the trauma of being dismembered far too easily. lavinia's freshly dehanded wrists land far too often to the ground, perhaps steadying herself on her elbows might have been more apt? not even a retching cough from titus after he has his hand chopped off, no lightheadedness or shortness of breath--he turns around and starts talking as if he'd only picked a scab off his arm.
there is also some inconsistency on the use of names ending in -us and being replaced with -o. for example, saying "saturnino" instead of "saturninus."
russell legaspi is a revelation as lucius. he carries the role well, cuts a striking figure, is able to exude vulnerability while imbuing gravitas to the role.
in this play where actors are pushed, shoved, pulled by the hair, stabbed, dragged around and suffer all sorts of indignities, an unstable world with unstable characters, legaspi's steady stance throughout the play provides bookend anchors for the audience. he stabilizes the unraveling, fraying edges with the final cuts and is left to clean up the terrible mess.
*okay, glossectomize is a medical term and, therefore, connotes surgical instruments and professional doctors. it's not the most appropriate word to replace "tongue cutting by dagger" but i just wanted a chance to use the term, kekeke!