Monday, April 10, 2017

The 2nd IWP Workshop ended by force majeure

 Post-earthquake with first couple Mookie and Sarge.

My old self, I suppose, would begin with an apology, an attempt to explain--yet again--my prolonged absence hereabouts, which in recent years I have come to equate not with laziness but, simply, with my presence elsewhere (in other words, the non-virtual world), and therefore something wholly excusable, if not better, entirely acceptable.

So no apology, because yes, I was indeed "out there": in a writing workshop this weekend, in the bastion of Dutertard-ism the weekend before, and the Macoy heartlands the week before that. And the preceding months, a "healthy," should I say, mix of studying for that darned exam, watching as much theater as I could given the prospect of that darned exam, and stretches of time spent trying to tame my mind and keep it from panicking and manifesting that panic externally.

That workshop was the 2nd International Writing Program (by the University of Iowa) Alumni Writers Workshop at La Salle, an excellent place to be when an earthquake strikes. Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, workshop director, must have initially thought no one was paying attention to her closing remarks; minutes later, we were all hurrying down 13 flights of escalators (thank goodness this was such an embarrassingly rich school), hoping there would be no aftershocks. "Of course the workshop had to end by force majeure," posted Mookie on Facebook that afternoon.

But the workshop itself: No deep insight from me, given I'm new to all this. You can even say I applied on a whim--a day before the deadline, with a hurriedly, mindlessly composed synopsis that would eventually derail everybody's reading of my short story. (This was between the first and second weekends of the board exams, so you can imagine the pretty tight schedule I was contending with.) Now did I have fun, did I learn something? I can't believe I even bothered typing those clichés.

Short of fanboy-ing, that panel though. I can listen to Mookie talk all day, and there was also her husband Sarge, one of the fictionists I look up to. There was Susan Lara, whom I first encountered in high school ten years ago; Eros Atalia, who wrote "Ligo Na U, Lapit Na Me"; Carlomar Daoana, behind "Crown for Maria" and "The Elegant Ghost."

My one sadness coming out of this workshop, I confided to them, is the realization that I will most likely be reduced to one meticulously written story a year when I enter residency training. That's on top of my theater viewing and reviewing, and for now I would like to just stop thinking about all this. (On that note, however, Repertory Philippines' "In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)" is one of the year's best so far and will have one more weekend of performances, up to the 23rd, after Holy Week.)

I suppose it would be better to post about that Davao weekend and that week in Ilocos separately. Let me leave this here: We will always have history, and it will always be up to the individual to accept or reject history. And you would have to be a goddamned fool, so thick and full of yourself, to have the balls to reject the offensive, the unarguably evil, in the name of pride of origin.

Family and friends gawking at koi at the Davao Crocodile Park.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

PDI Review: 'Makbet' by St. Benilde Arts and Culture Cluster/TAXI Theater

My review of the Nonon Padilla-directed "Macbeth" is in today's Inquirer--here. The production has two remaining performances today.

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A mesmerizing yet confounding 'Makbet'

George de Jesus III and Irma Adlawan are an enthralling pair as the manipulative, murderous titular couple in the Filipino translation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" at the St. Benilde Blackbox Theater.

Their performances alone, their effortless command of language and the unwavering dramatic heft they summon throughout this nearly three-hour production, are enough to keep viewers awake and glued to their seats.

Here are two actors who visibly listen to each other and grasp the full extent of their onstage relationship. To see them play out this twisted husband-and-wife dynamic is, in effect, to understand the origins of greed, despair and hunger for power pervading this Shakespearean tragedy.

Vivid translation

The same cannot be said of the rest of the cast, who mostly don't seem to understand their lines or have a difficult time internalizing their characters--a lamentable disservice to the script. The story of the Scottish general who, upon the prodding and scheming of his wife, goes on a killing spree to fulfill a prophecy promising him the throne is here rendered in vivid, lyrical Filipino by the late Rolando Tinio.

Tinio's translation, like his work on the other classics that recently saw life in Manila ("Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" for "Death of a Salesman," "Tiyo Vanya" for "Uncle Vanya"), retains the play's setting, the foreign names and places unchanged.

It's a technicality that should affect director Nonon Padilla's "Asian-ification" of the material, but actually doesn't. Reuniting with designer Gino Gonzales, with whom he previously collaborated with on "Haring Lear" (Shakespeare's "King Lear" as translated by Bienvenido Lumbera), Padilla's "Makbet," on occasion, even calls to mind Akira Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood."

Figurative approach

The characters are dressed in flowing black robes, their faces splattered mask-like in red and white, even as they talk of England and Scotland, thanes and kings. During the pivotal feast scene, everybody sits cross-legged on the floor drinking from traditional teacups. In battle, some of the warriors wield katana.

While Kurosawa's film was a complete transposition of Shakespeare into a feudal Japanese milieu, Padilla's "Makbet" is a more placeless, figurative approach--a "reenactment of the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden," as he writes in his program notes.

And this so-called reenactment has no shortage of ravishing moments. Especially in a couple of crucial scenes when Gonzales' scaffolding set, dominated by lines of paper, looms toward the audience, "Makbet" can be a feast for the senses.

Visceral sheen

Too often, though, Padilla's method is blurred by his excesses, and the effect is a production that is curiously so many things at the same time.

A video camera manually handled by an ensemble member is used to project certain scenes onto several monitors. When this theatrical device succeeds, the viewing experience acquires a more visceral punch, like being privy to a crime being committed. Such moments are hard to come by, though.

An extended epilogue attempting to establish a Catholic connection with the play simply falls flat and comes across as dispensable, if not overindulgent.

Then, there's the use of the entire theater as set: Sometimes it elevates the immersive viewing experience; other times it becomes a literal application of the phrase "all over the place."

As a thesis production in technical theater, "Makbet" should earn top marks for those involved; in the larger scheme of things, however, even the Asian influence starts feeling unnecessary, as if just another (exquisitely rendered) piece in this gimmicky puzzle. The connection to Eden, meanwhile, is all but forgotten.

In those moments, one can't help returning to De Jesus and Adlawan's performances--twin examples of focus and truthfulness in the face of all that artistic razzmatazz.