On staging Shakespeare
MOONLIGHTER - Jess Q. Cruz () - October 6, 2003 - 12:00am
Before wrangling politicians, marauding CPP-NPA gangs and their urban red-flag waving sympathizers, Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists and estranged lovers locking horns in interminable courtroom battles cause our 7,000-odd islands to sink into the South China Sea, I mean to fly to a desert isle south of Pago Pago with the Holy Bible along with seven other greatest books of all time and cigarettes to last me till kingdom come. The cigarettes I can smoke freely to my heart’s content without those ubiquitous no- smoking signs making smokers instant outlaws every time they light a stick. On my island, only cell phones are prohibited because they encourage mindless chatter.

The books should include the epics of Homer and Virgil, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Charles M. Schulz’ complete edition of Peanuts (because I need Snoopy’s security blanket to drive away the willies on moonless nights), and the complete works of Shakespeare.

I have labored over the sonnets, the tragedies, the comedies and the histories of the Bard of Avon, written a term paper on supernaturalism in his plays, attended a Shakespeare festival in London, visited his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, and entered Ann Hathaway’s cottage such that I felt his presence to be quite palpable, but do I know my Shakespeare? There is an entire universe in his works that encompass human life, from the humblest huts of artisans to the pomp and pageantry of monarchs. Can one explore all these in one lifetime?

"Shakespeare has had neither equal nor second," said Macaulay. And Ben Jonson said: "He was not of an age, but for all time".

Two of his comedies were on stage — The Merchant of Venice at the CCP Little Theater and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, Podium 4, Tower II, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. The first, directed by Nonon Padilla, is a production of Tanghalang Pilipino. The second, directed by Zeneida Amador, is a production of Repertory Philippines, presented by Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Inc.

The first comedy is staged in the Pilipino version as translated by the late Rolando Tinio, National Artist for Theater and Literature, Ang Negosyante ng Venecia. Purists who hold Shakespeare sacred ground will howl with disgust at the very thought of translating the master’s text into Pilipino. It’s bowdlerization, they’ll say. Students today who cannot understand the Queen’s English, much less the Bard’s Elizabethan conceits, will have to make do with Tinio’s Shakespeare which is better than no Shakespeare at all.

Portia’s famous plea beginning with "The quality of mercy is not strain’d,/ it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…" now becomes "Ang pagdadalang awa’y di kailangang iatas…"

For me, the main attraction of TP’s production is director Padilla, a wonder-worker – a magus – whose touch turns anything he touches on the stage into gold. He states: "I, as director, have chosen actors to play double or multiple roles. Therefore, the actress who will play Portia will also play Antonio and Baltazar, the young lawyer… The actor playing Bassanio will also play the suitors, the Duke of Morocco and the Prince of Aragon. He will also transform into Shylock. Why so? From the text you will discern a similarity between Portia and Antonio, between Bassanio and Shylock – what you might call the two sides of the same coin. Or you might consider them as antithetical – opposites in a character or type."

Because of this view, Padilla makes formidable demands on his cast. Do his players, Roy Rolloda/ George De Jesus III, Irma Adlawan-Marasigan/ Mailes Kanapi, Lu Veloso and the others have to be quick-change artists to project their double/multiple roles? Not with Padilla at the helm to wield his wand and work his wonders.

If the stagecraft gets in the way somewhat of Ang Negosyante ng Venecia, it is because the viewer’s attention is focused on the director’s alchemy. Padilla has thrown into his cauldron the production design of Salvador Bernal, National Artist for Theater Design, the lighting effects of Ian Torqueza, the music of Mozart, Chopin, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Bartok, Elton John, popular favorites from Broadway musicals, played on a piano on stage, and the rhythms of rap, and musical arrangements by Jesse Lucas cast into the brew measure for measure. If the viewer can digest this brew, he can put to rest his simplistic vision in his high school days of a wonder-woman who disguises herself as a lawyer to help her man’s bosom buddy from paying a usurer with a pound of his own flesh – and all is well that ends well.

Lovers in romantic comedy need their trials to affirm their love – whether in the real world of The Merchant of Venice or in the fairyland of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To Rep grand doyenne Amador, Midsummer is " a fun show… a gambol in the forest, a fantasy concocted in the rich landscape of the mind, a mixture of fairies and real people whose follies remind us of ourselves when we were young, fickle and carefree."

The play depicts the unlikely collision of two worlds – that of the Athens of Duke Theseus (Miguel Zulueta) and Hippolyta , Queen of the Amazons (Christine Escudero), and the realm of the fairies ruled by King Oberon (Jeremy Domingo) and Queen Titania (Joy Virata).

Complications arise when Hermia (Liesl Batucan), because of the opposition of her father to her suitor, elopes with Lysander (Niccolo Manahan) into the forest. Demetrius (Arnel Carrion), also in love with Hermia, follows the lovers into the woods, and so does Helena (Ana Abad Santos-Bitong) who is in love with Demetrius.

Also in the forest is a troupe of actors, members of a workers’ guild – the weaver Nick Bottom (Jamie Wilson), the carpenter Peter Quince (RV Guevara), bellows-mender Francis Flute (Adrian Flor), joiner Snug (Raul Montesa), tinker Tom Snout (Mackee Serra) and tailor Robin Starverling (Juliene Mendoza) – rehearsing a play based on the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe to be presented at the palace during the wedding reception of the Duke of Athens and his bride.

When Oberon sends his attendant, Puck (Rem Zamora), to work his mischief on Titania and cause her to fall in love with the first being when she wakes up from slumber, she sets eyes on Nick Bottom transformed into an ass. He also interferes with the affairs of the two pairs of lovers with more comic complications. By the time the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta is held, everything comes to right and Nick Bottom and his troupe deliver an outrageous account of the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.

The use of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream helps to make this a dream production.

All in all, this is a splendid production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

When I think of the politicians, the CPP-NPA and Bin Laden’s terrorists, I can sigh with Shakespeare’s Puck, "What fools these mortals be!" And I wonder, do cowslip bells bloom south of Pago Pago?
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For comments, write to jessqcruz@hot mail.com.

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