By Walter Ang
March 9, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer
|Villonco (standing) as Viola/Cesar|
Rody Vera has adapted William Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedy "Twelfth Night" and reset it at the decline of the 1960s Philippine movie industry. Far off enough in the past to elicit nostalgia and provide a workable world in which to recontextualize the characters yet close enough to the present to give audiences, young or old, a more familiar lens to view the work with.
Twins Viola (Cris Villonco) and Sebastian (Chrome Cosio) are now a singing-sibling act from Boac, Marinduque before they are torn apart by the shipwreck at the beginning of the tale. Both end up in Manila where they interconnect with Duke Orsino (Lex Marcos with alternate Bodjie Pascua) and Countess Olivia (Shamaine Buencamino with alternate Gail Billones), now arch-film studio owners.
On top of the play's original gender-bending (with age-gap) love angles, Vera plays up the homosexual undertones between Bastian and Antonio (Carlon Matobato alternating with Riki Benedicto), now both transformed into stuntmen. Complete with a song number of their very own, the "hidden" homosexual desires of Antonio builds on the theme of illusory/delusory identities and camouflaged feelings while serving as a precursor to the adaptation's final twist love matches.
And fittingly in this world that Vera has created, the fool, Feste (Philip Lazaro with alternate Roi Calilong), and the character that's made a fool of, Malvolio (Lao Rodriguez with alternate Gino Ramirez), in the Bard's original text are now film directors-a lovely layered metaphor that alerts audiences to the clashes between the truths that these characters represent and speak of, and the notion that audiences can be "fooled" by directors' manipulations of truths.
Charm and gusto
The scenes where Viola is cross-dressed as Cesar and is chased after by Olivia, and later, by Orsino, are the fool-proof comic portions of "Twelfth Night," and it's no less different in this adaptation where the cast takes the audience firmly by the hand never lets go. The furtive glances, square gazes, fleeting touches, stolen hugs, near-kisses, and the actual full-blown lip-locks never fail to elicit swoons and giggling from the audience.
Villonco gives Cesar his funny awkward and bewildered moments while Cosio plays up Bastian's comic scenes that result from everyone's confusion when his character finally shows up again. His now leaner body works in his favor since he used to be upstaged by his own bulky muscles.
Villonco attacks her role with gusto, charm, and a good dose of earthy kookiness. If there was any doubt as to Villonco's range as an actress, seeing her do comedy in Tagalog should clear matters up right away. With this role at this point in her career, audiences who have been following her career path can now really say she's done it all: acting, singing, dancing, drama, comedy, English, Tagalog, female, and male!
And right up there on the same level of Villonco's performance, it must be noted that the talented ensemble is incredibly tight. Everyone in the cast is given moments to have fun with but no one milks the scenes, no one upstages anyone else, and they generously share their energies evenly with each other, creating a powerful rhythm that makes the show a joy to watch.
Notable also is Lazaro in his theater debut as Luciano, who seems surprisingly well at ease working with an ensemble (given this stand-up comedy background) and with a script (although he still did let loose a few "look-at-me, I'm funny" ad-libs).
Directed by Peta's artistic director Maribel Legarda, the play rolls along quickly and light-heartedly. No second is left hanging as even scene changes are merrily filled with comic commentary.
The actors make good use of the spaces created by set designer Lex Marcos: circular platforms that simulate toppled film reels. Though his TV screens that descend from the rafters from time to time feel highly contrary to the production's film milieu.
Both Carlon Matobato's choreography and Jeff Hernandez's music are organic and spot-on. Matobato's movements are earnest and sprightly yet thoughtful. He produces surprisingly intimate and eloquent little moments--achieving much with even humble strands of sampaguita.
Vera has created several songs set to music by Hernandez, who leads a quartet that accompanies the proceedings with bubbly tunes, including a smart wink to Elvis Presley in one of the play's many hilarious scenes where auditions for Elvis impersonators are being held.
The costume and lighting designs are subtle with calibrated pops of color, movement and shapes. John Abul and Carlo Pagunaling's silhouettes fully evoke the late 60s without being flashy or "costumey." Jonjon Villareal's lighting illuminates the show without calling attention to itself.
For information on Peta's 2013 summer acting workshops for children, teens and adults, contact 725-6244, 0916-309-0707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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