thoughts on dup's "titus andronicus"
by walter ang
sept. 18, 2011
in its announcements, the show is described thus: "titus is now a hitman named carding and the play is set 'two weeks before the elections, where political chaos and religious frenzy intertwine in a world where politics, showbiz and a town feast drown the people in murky violence.'" its staging follows through, and then some.
with the production's layers upon layers of meaning, symbol, metaphor and sass, it's able to interweave quintessential pinoy ethos/pathos/bathos into shakespeare's text/plot in a way that works amazingly well. the production creates theater that is, with its staging choices, exciting and rousing, and, ultimately, theater that is, with its recontextualization of the source material and metaphors, astute, poignant and meaningful.
familiar and unfamiliar
bucoy's adaptation choices are clever and thoughtful. they show a keen eye and accurate finger on the pulse of current filipino society's many ills and a sharp understanding of the inner workings of pinoy humor.
her provocative use of politics and its related shenanigans (dynasties, deception, distraction, delusion, all around debauchery and devolution, etc.) as the milieu and satirical use of showbusiness and local community pageantry resonate forcefully.
feudalism, impunity, corruption, violence, death resulting from several possible iterations (assassinations, murders, executions, etc.): the production forces your brain to loop into itself as it recognizes all this violence that real life desensitizes--the violence is reframed as it unfolds onstage, becoming strikingly (re)familiar.
half of your brain is amazed at how well these "local" and "modern" themes/scenarios fit so well into such an old text/plot; the other half of your brain is appalled at how much of these "fictive" themes/scenarios hew so closely to real life and how, apparently, human nature hasn't/doesn't change at all.
(and when you realize that this play's original setting is set in ancient rome prior to its fall and how this modernized version fits so well into its plot, you wonder what it tells us about our own country.)
bucoy's imbibed the spirit of the play's numerous dismemberments and mercilessly cut shakepeare's text.
her large risks have paid off handsomely. her bold reshaping of the second act, reconfiguring the nurse's revelation of chua/aaron's affair/baby (semi-combining it with the whistleblowing/public shaming that titus does to saturninus), and finding a new way to get clarissa/lavinia's sons to carding/titus's home, is genius.
(though, i have to point out: her omission of the behanding of carding/titus asks interesting questions on why she chose to remove it. that incident would have cast colorful symbolic shadows on carding's occupation as a hitman and, of course, it denies the audience that iconic scene of him putting his severed hand in salve/lavinia's tongueless mouth.)
laughter and horror
rutaquio has tasked most of the characters to react to the violence around them with such deadpan casualness that it layers an eerie feeling to the proceedings. onlookers immediately text each other about a shooting, deaths are not met with grief but instant alibis to cover up the guilty parties--violence as part of everyday life, so common that it's a source of entertainment or nuisance, rather than something that should be causing grief and horror.
a consciously deliberate preemptive strike against its own awareness of how excessive violence can turn absurdly ridiculous, the production achieves a delicate balance between delivering violent scenes and evoking dark humor. before your defense mechanisms can kick in with nervous laughter at the horrors onstage, the production cuts you off with its manipulative punchlines.
in one of her adapator's conceits, bucoy expands/transforms shakespeare's clown into a clown of death (instead of an angel of death). this creepy clown who comes, with his funky dance moves, to collect the souls of the victims, innocent or not.
there are also tv variety shows/game shows music interludes as scenes change, transforming these otherwise harmless happy tunes into creepy ominous tones.
this curious mix, these humor devices that build on this gruesome carnival that bucoy and rutaquio have created, makes the scenes that much darker, that much more real, that much more disturbing.
rutaquio also designed the set with a sly visual metaphor: a row of lamps staring at the audience, evoking disembodied breasts (or mute cyclops eyes, or both), that soon transform into string lights that punctuate scenes, a reminder of the carnivalesque world we have been thrown into/are trapped in.
animal-print blouses for tamora/clarissa symbolize, of course, of the wild and brutal animalism running through her veins.
the effects team does effective work with blood spurting and spraying liberally throughout the show, with cooking pots smoking menacingly. john batalla's dark lighting adds dread, though, as is his usual style, is sometimes so dark we can hardly see the actors' faces.
not just decorative, the use of video shorts works well and ties in with the goings on: it's a shrewd way to let us into the absurdities in this microcosm: from the prologue close up shots of meat being butchered, the opening video of a news report of a massacre scene that introduces armando/saturninus in a clown costume, to a climactic clip that's used as a blackmailing tool, and the concluding cautionary speech.
(and placing the screen on top of the audience is an interesting choice that works, obliterating the usual problems with projections getting washed out in a battle with stage lights.)
leeroy new's realistic-looking butchered pigs (you can almost smell the rancid meat) add a wonderful heft and visceralness to a crucial scene. from a symbolic/metaphorical viewpoint, those pigs are, in many ways, the whole point of this staging: kababuyan ng bayan.
the violence is the thing. and staging violence is always tenuous, what with the risk of it devolving into melodrama or camp, or both. there is none of that here.
the killings are cold, unflinching and brutal. and there is a wonderfully gruesome death-by-remote-control scene in the second act (which i think is the best murder scene onstage i have ever seen, at par with another death scene also crafted by bucoy--how does she come up with these ideas? she's like the stephen king/clive barker of filipino playwrights).
bucoy and rutaquio have pulled off a staging coup in their crafting of the mutilation scene of salve/lavinia. the actors' intensity combined with timing, black-outs, and a loud, roaring prop provokes intense menacing suspense and a frightening, thrilling wallop that ends the first act.
the actors navigate this complicated script/plot/adaptation/staging with aplomb. they are not swallowed by the complexity; instead, they give it its nuanced life and hurtle it inexorably to its conclusion.
hilarious are paolo cabanero as potty-mouth villain armando/bassianus and paolo o'hara as an almost endearingly charming chua/aaron.
nicco manalo and cris pasturan bring their usual powerful cackling electricity to their roles. they alternate as clown and nomer/demetrius. in the performance i saw, manalo played the clown and pasturan played nomer/demetrius, both are funny, creepy and intense.
shamaine centenera-buencamino plays clarissa/lavinia with a seriousness that adds a realistic gravitas to the character; you believe that this person exists in real life. [if i get a chance to catch alternate mailes kanapi, i will add my thoughts here.]
pockets of humanity attempt to break out in this relentless parade of gore: watch out for a sincere declaration of love staged together, in sharp contrast, to a marriage of convenience.
another conceit that bucoy adds is a dialogue between carding/titus and his son ryan/lucius where father contemplates the finer points of revenge to his son, using the cooking of dinuguan as metaphor.
it's easy to see the thought behind the construction of this scene: it's a poetic marker and foreshadowing of action, it's a poignant (if amoral) turning point for carding/titus, it's the audience's chance to peek into the insides of carding's/titus' mind.
unfortunately in the show that i caught, bembol roco buckled in his lines and failed to provide the cold intensity needed to make this potentially powerful scene fly.
there are no attempts at lyricism in bucoy's translation (in relation to rhyming verses and iambic pentameters), because the poetry lies in her spot-on rhythms of the coarseness in her characters' vocabulary for its adapted setting.
so, i wonder, who decided to drop the originally proposed translated title of "tinarantadong asintado" when it fits so well for this staging and provides an apt introduction to the arching filipino flair that overflows from the work? (and in any case, isn't this the translator's prerogative?) bring it back.
another mystery is, why does one get so hungry after watching this show? when there is this much onstage display of pigs and talk of dinuguan, what else is there to do after the show but order lechon paksiw for dinner? enjoy digesting this show. kekeke.