Shakespeare reaches out to the masses
- Lynette Lee Corporal () - September 22, 2003 - 12:00am
Mention Shakespeare and most Filipinos will give you a bored look. Admittedly, a lot of Pinoys would rather read komiks than any of the Bard’s opuses, or watch Chinese telenovelas rather than sit through Macbeth. The most intimate relationship an average Pinoy probably has with Shakespeare is in school where Shake-spearean comedies are required reading material.

High-fallutin’, elitist, intimidating, hard to dig: These are just some of the unflattering words Shakespeare has been labeled with. Now, Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ resident theater company, attempts once more to bridge the gap between Shakespeare and the masa with an adaptation into Filipino of The Merchant of Venice, translated as Ang Negosyante ng Venecia. By doing a Filipino translation, Tanghalang Pilipino is hoping that the oft-misunderstood Shakespeare will finally find a home in the madramang Pinoy’s hearts.

"Believe it or not, Shakespeare is really masa," notes TP assistant artistic director Herbie Go during a tête-à-tête recently.

Former TP artistic director Nonon Padilla couldn’t agree more. "That’s our despair about critics. Shakespeare is always hands-off, a turn-off, rather than something that’s encouraged. The misconception is if you do a serious play, you’d have to think and, for most Filipinos, it’s not worth paying to watch a tragic play which will give them a headache afterwards."

But, Nonon says, not too many people know that Shakespeare is vaudeville, which is very Filipino. "He first presents a humorous scene, then dives into deep stuff and presents it to you in very human terms. What’s good about a Shakespearean play is that a lot of times, actors have to talk to the audience. There’s no fourth wall with Shakespeare," he says.

Nonon is directing Ang Negosyante ng Venecia, the first time in 10 years that he is doing another Shakespearean play in Filipino, the last time being Julio Cesar also for TP.

Ang Negosyante ng Venecia
is one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays (and also one of the most commonly required by English teachers as reading material in high school). Translated to Filipino by the late National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio with design by National Artist for Theater Salvador Bernal, the play tells about a vengeful, greedy creditor named Shylock who tries to exact a pound of flesh from his debtor. It tells of Bassanio, a spendthrift, asking a friend, Antonio, for a loan to finance his courtship of an heiress, Portia. With Antonio’s money invested in merchant ships, he borrows money from Shylock, a moneylender. This begins everyone’s troubles as Shylock announces that he will require a pound of Antonio’s flesh, in place of the interest on the loan, if the money is not repaid by an agreed upon date.

With a powerhouse cast led by theater veterans Irma Adlawan-Marasigan (last year’s Aliw Awardee for Best Stage Actress), Mailes Kanapi, George de Jesus, Roy Rolloda and Lou Veloso, the play is being staged at the CCP Little Theater until Oct. 7.

What makes this TP production interesting is its fresh approach to the characterization. Explains Nonon: "I had the actors play different characters, which has never been done before [in a Shakespearean play]. So, you have Irma (alternating with Mailes) playing the roles of Portia, Antonio and Duktor ng Batas; George de Jesus III (alternating with Roy Rolloda) playing Shylock, Bassanio, Prinsipe ng Moroko and Prinsipe ng Aragon. I thought it would be interesting to tie up Basanio’s character with Shylock. And why not match Portia with Antonio because they are connected with Basanio and his needing money."

Nonon adds that another reason for the double casting is the comedy. "I hope it perks up the play. The confusion is deliberate and will clarify itself in the end. It’s all tied up like a rosary. It takes a while before everything falls into its proper place," he says.

The actors, too, have psyched themselves out for a very difficult task as it’s no joke playing a variety of characters in a theater production. Irma, for instance initially had a different way of approaching Portia’s character but followed Nonon’s instructions. "All I can say is you’ll not see a pretty Portia."

"Portia is a paralyzed character. She’s like the Philippines; everybody is after her wealth, but not her well-being," states Nonon.

George, who’s doing six characters, admits the difficulty of the task. "Nakaka-tense. We have to connect everything in the end and it could get confusing at times," he laughs.

While they have remained true to the setting and the medieval costumes, the audience need not feel alienated. "It’s very Pinoy. Costumes are costumes but the soul is Pinoy," says Nonon, who reveals that he never liked hearing Filipinos speaking Shakespearean English because "of the different accents that I get to listen to" which can be so distracting. He says he’d rather hear them speaking in the vernacular and yet arousing their deeper emotions in the process. Whether Tanghalang Pilipino would succeed in its goal to make Shakespeare penetrate the consciousness of the masses is probably one of its biggest challenge to date.
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For inquiries and tickets, call 832-3661.

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