In adapting Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Richard III, Anton Juan looks “at the premise of what enables this sociopath... and how this is found in the text and how this is found in our reality.”
Anton Juan meditates on how men become monsters
SUBLIMINAL - Carlomar Arcangel Daoana (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2018 - 12:00am

When RD3RD, based on Shakespeare’s Richard III, premiered early this year, it was seen as one of the earliest theatrical productions that confronted the reality of the times — an unflinching examination of how sociopathic rulers consolidate power and are abetted by those around them. Lines drawn between the play and the current dispensation were intentional and intersectional. There was no way to interpret the work’s self-reflexiveness but a radical position against the erosion of human rights and democratic freedoms.

Those who did not see RD3RD will now have a chance to do so as it is re-staged by Areté Production, Ateneo Fine Arts, Tanghalang Ateneo, and Kellogg Institute for International Studies, this time as part of the roster of performances in conjunction with the Asian Shakespeare Association Conference. Showing from May 23 to 25 (8 p.m.) and May 30 (5 p.m.) at the Fine Arts Blackbox Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, this production is once again helmed by Anton Juan and Ricardo Abad, two of the most respected names in theater, with the dramaturgy of the leading Shakespeare scholar, Judy Ick.

Juan, who is on a break from teaching at the Notre Dame University, Indiana, is in the country to oversee rehearsals and production. While the protagonist is indeed a powerful figure with an equally arresting narrative, “we look at the premise of what enables this sociopath,” the director states. “It’s not the story of Richard III, but what enables (someone like him), and how this is found in the text and how this is found in our reality. So that is diachronic. It evolves from that premise.”

Teroy Guzman reprises his role as Richard III in RD3RD

Much has transpired between the play’s initial theatrical release and its current iteration, and hence fresh issues are considered as possible “device” of the performance. “RD3RD takes from oral documents. It takes from the moment of encounter between the text and the actor. It takes from the moment of encounter between the actors and the people who are involved in the dramaturgy. We took a lot of time talking and discussing the text and plotting out the visual transfer, of how it would be translated in the production. And that was my job — the visualization of it.”

For Juan, “Richard III,” which is reprised by Teroy Guzman, “took it all, the abject of the medieval world inside him.” He represents sociopathic leaders not as a charismatic snake oil salesman but as a monster, a physica curosa, the “contrast against which the others can become.” What makes him all the more fearsome is when he becomes “the composite of all these unremembered monsters that we’ve had. He has raised all the monsters that came before him.”

The play doesn’t hide its engagement with contemporary issues, such as extrajudicial killings (EJKs) that have risen in the wake of the so-called war on drugs. The poster, which features a doll that has been taped over like an EJK victim, was Juan’s idea. “The very act…of taping the doll, of taking away its identity was horrific for me even if it was just a ritualistic re-enactment of what’s happening in history,” he says. “How could these killers take away the identity of (their young victims)?” It is in the unashamed visibility of these deaths when “meaning bifurcates that a human being is indispensable.”

Ricardo Abad, professor emeritus of Ateneo de Manila University, also acts in the play he co-directs with Anton Juan. Both have been long-time collaborators. Photos courtesy of Roxan Cuacoy

Another was when the directors introduced the names of the EJK victims into the space and the text of the theater. An example was when the chairs where the audience sat carried those names. In one scene, the names were flashed as the characters delivered their monologues. “I had a dilemma: ‘Will I have all the names go up?’ ‘How many thousands?’ That whole thing alone took so much time,” Juan says. “It became (an issue of) theater timing versus the reality of these names.”

It is because of the play’s insistence on the real that it physicalizes memory on stage — an antidote to historical amnesia. “Our young have no memory because we don’t put it down as a legacy,” Juan says. “We just erase memory one after the other.” But when “memory moves to history,” it expands “concentrically, like a ripple,” and the surface — and depth — of collective consciousness becomes ineradicably altered.

Juan, whose works have always revolved around social justice, shows no sign of slowing down. “I’ve asked this when I was 17, ever since I was doing theater in the streets, before Martial Law…Behn (Cervantes) was doing things with students. I was doing things with workers…We all had hope in our mind and yet, what has happened?

“This has been my personal thing. As a writer, as director, as a teacher, this has always been me. That’s why I come home every year to do something, to at least affirm, to see an object grow into a belief, grow into an ideologem, grow into a relationship to the citizen’s view of the nation and its relationship to the world.” RD3RD is that courageous object of witness that can’t be silenced.

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To reserve your tickets, contact 0908-888 4247 or email

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