Shakespeare for the millennials and otherwise

Actor Teroy de Guzman. Powerful and majestic as Teseo. (Photo of by Kurt Copon)

SHAKESPEARE is a lofty subject in theater and literature but it is also one of the hardest to digest and to impart. When you mount an entire Shakespeare play, you run the risk of a box office deficit but you get the respect of the theater circle.

As it is, the language of Shakespeare is complex enough as it is not the kind of King’s English we hear from British films and British plays. They were written centuries ago and how to make them real and palatable to present-day audiences is always a challenge for both actors and directors.

But how about Shakespeare in Pilipino? Will it be less of a bitter theater pill to swallow?

The director: Carlitos Siguion-Reyna

Director Carlitos Siguion Reyna probably has this Shakespeare dilemma in mind when he decided to direct “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” translated as “Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-Araw” as translated by actor-playwright (and now National Artist for Theater) Rolando Tinio.

But then again, translating Shakespeare in Pilipino will require a brilliant imagination and more than just sheer facility for the language. A literal translation can turn off actors, not to mention the audience.

Moreover, in the hands of Tinio, Shakespeare in Pilipino, has evolved into a theater gem with the kind of language that captures the Bard’s genius, not to mention, his magic.

One was not exactly optimistic how the millennials would take to Shakespeare in Pilipino. But this reservation quickly vanished into thin air when one watched Tanghalang Pilipino’s production on a weekend and found the predominantly young audiences feasting on the Bard.

This is the first time one would see theater veterans Audie Gemora, Liesl Batucan and Richard Cunanan figure in a Shakespeare play in Pilipino thus one expected the signature Rep twang all over the place.

But lo and alas, they sounded like natural speakers in Pilipino and just as gallantly eloquent in the English part of the play.

As it was, one was completely bowled over by the staging of “Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-Araw” and found enough merit to declare that Rolando Tinio’s Filipino translation was indeed both poetic and timeless.

Indeed, Shakespeare is complicated enough as it is for today’s millennial audiences but director Siguion Reyna dissected the piece, turned it inside and out and made it fun and enjoyable for today’s audiences without losing the play’s essence.

It was as much a good occasion as any to re-experience Shakespeare. Midway into the play, the more you discover that Tinio is the consummate genius for allowing us to enjoy it thoroughly in our native tongue.

Next to deft direction and brilliant translation, the actors deliver the main drawing power as they figure in ensemble acting at its best.

After performance, cast led by Audie Gemora, who plays Oberon, greet the enamoured audience.

Audie Gemora as Oberon parlays a certain detachment to the part but finds a way to make the character engaging without hysteria. Liesl Batucan (as Titanya) exudes magic in Pilipino translation while Skyzx Labastilla (as Hipolita) draws power from within her lines. Teroy Guzman (as Teseo) and Richard Cunanan (as Egeo) reveal the kind of actors they are – subtle in delivery yet thoroughly able to pull off a powerful impact.

One must admit it was the play within the play (“Pyramus and Tisbe”) that brought the theater treat to an unforgettable finale.

The Tisbe of Rafa Siguion Reyna was a riot, the Piramo of Jonathan Tadioan was both spontaneous and outrageously hilarious.

On the whole, it was an excellent cast that includes Marcos Viana (Lisandro), Toni Go (Hermia) and Aldo Vencilao (Puck), among others.

What Siguion Reyna did with the Tinio translation looks pretty much how acclaimed actor Ian McKellen approach Shakespeare.

The actor once pointed out: “I don’t want to spend my time recreating what Shakespeare was like in the past. I always want to think that my duty, if I am going to serve him at all, is to bring Shakespeare into the present. I think that we should only look at the past to see how it can enlighten the present. And when an actor steps onto a stage to speak Shakespeare, it’s not to take the audience back in time but to bring Shakespeare forward.”

As it was, Tanghalang Filipino’s latest production did not end up a museum piece.

What one saw on a matinee was a fine performance that pretty much belonged to the present and heartily enjoyed by both millennials and non-millennials alike.

It should be a strong candidate for Play of the Year.

Jonathan Tadioan in a scene from the play within the play. Spontaneous and outrageously funny.

(Photo by Trixie Dauz.)

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