Sunday, September 7, 2008

Casting Othello, Othello, Otelo and Otelo

Watching different productions of the same play compels you to compare. I admit this is one of my reasons in watching the Tanghalang Ateneo staging, aside from the chance to listen to the Filipino translation and to gauge how local actors fare against those in London. I saw Othello at Shakespeare's Globe and at the Donmar Warehouse last year and then twice at the Rizal Mini Theater this year--more Othello than one needs to see in a lifetime, but fair enough since I didn't finish the 1995 film version and O, the updated movie version. But instead of rating the performances of the actors playing the same role and each aspect of every production, I'd rather follow the threads of Gibbs Cadiz and Exie Abola. Let's talk about casting alone, based on physical appearance alone. Bagay ba?

Of course, looks do not the whole package make, but I can go on and on if I don't set parameters.

Although casting is always crucial, actors are often cast against type, to mixed results. In a play where race plays an important part, how do you deal with an all-Filipino cast? In London, the Othellos were black and the Biancas clearly of mixed ancestry; the rest of the cast were white, but Desdemona was particularly fair. Here, the distinction is not pronounced. The title character is in blackface, but not markedly darker than the other cast members. Was more makeup (or glutathione for Desdemona) needed? In general, you can look the part regardless of skin color, except when color is integral to the role.

Physically Eamonn Walker (Globe, above) is the quintessential Othello with his imposing frame. However, his booming voice was not used to the fullest. Perhaps he was accustomed to film and TV, not to the stage. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Donmar), though smaller, had better command of speech and modulation, plus curly hair that made him look North African. Nonie Buencamino and Teroy Guzman are made to look older, which works to their benefit.

Zoe Tapper and Eamonn Walker (above left), Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kelly Reilly (above right), Nonie Buencamino and Irma Adlawan-Marasigan (below left), Buencamino fully made up with Missy Maramara (below right)

Teroy Guzman

Missy Maramara (whom I saw twice) and Irma Adlawan-Marasigan are fantastic actresses, but they are not the typical blithe Desdemonas. The perfect Desdemona would glow onstage and possesses an angelic voice--a cross between Kelly Reilly's looks and Zoe Tapper's talent for Shakespeare. Pardon the colonial mentality, but it would have been perfect to have a light-skinned young actress because the kape't gatas May-December Christian-Moor pairing would have all the marks of a romance a father would oppose.

McGregor and McInnerney

Rody and Ron

TA's Iagos, Rody Vera and Ron Capinding, defied their soft features. The balding Tim McInnerney (Globe) had a winning villain smile. But Ewan McGregor (Donmar) appeared incapable of evil despite the beard and mustasche. Or maybe I was just too distracted...

Biancas and Cassios at the Globe, at the Donmar and at the RMT

Neil Ryan Sese (2nd row, left) is somewhere in between the Nick Barber's (top left) and Randy Villarama's (2nd row, right) looks and Tom Hiddleston's (top right) acting chops.

The TA performances, I was pleased to tell director Ricky Abad, are world-class. (I don't completely agree with Gibbs Cadiz and Walter Ang, but do take a look at their reviews.) The local production may not have the budgets or the star wattage of the London productions here (though this cast is dominated by respected professional actors, with students in smaller roles), but it is a good production. With that reassuring thought, I was satisfied.

Globe and Donmar photos by Johan Persson, TA photos by Reamur David


  1. I agree, look is an important part of the casting decisions in this play.

    Thanks for the photos! It's great to be able to compare the TA cast with those in the productions you saw. I agree, the kape't-gatas look is what you're going for, yet TA makes some curious choices. Yes, an all-Filipino cast poses special problems, and I'm not sure these were dealt with well. I'm still wrapping my brain around the production, having finally watched Teroy and Ron just yesterday.

    Will eventually put my thoughts down on paper.

    Whatcha watching next?

  2. you're welcome, exie! thanks for leaving a note.

    i would have wanted to see irma, but for ron alone, coming to RMT again was worth it.

    i've no idea what to see next since i missed the golden child and won't watch west side story unless it's free. reading the discussions in multiply makes me want to compare notes, so i think i'll read your and gibbs' recos :)

  3. I think I prefer Rody Vera's interpretation. I found Ron's a little overheated.

    Sayang, Golden Child was terrific, especially the English version. Terrific writing, stage design, and acting. In the Filipino version a few of the performers have a little trouble with the language, which allows Irma Adlawan to dominate.

    I'll be watching West Side this coming weekend; Dulaang UP's Isang Panaginip na Fili too. PETA's Lola Basyang / Batang Rizal opens soon. Maraming pagpipilian! :-)

  4. Oh, and I thought there was another curious casting choice: Rachelle Quong as Emilia. She's taller than everyone and just as fair and pretty as Desdemona. Can we imagine Iago getting such a woman to marry him? Hmm.

  5. i need to find kaladkarin barkada to take with me to the theater. and perhaps a bigger entertainment budget!

    re emilia/iago, i had that same problem at the donmar where emilia looked much older. but because michelle fairley was exceedingly brilliant in that small role, i forgave that casting choice. although it's not as easy to let this slide in the TA production, i'll give sir ricky the benefit of the doubt. maybe it seemed harder to pull off with an undergrad emilia?

  6. thank you po for the mention. yan ang gusto ko sa theater, no one has the same opinion at masayang pag usapan.

  7. you're welcome. looking forward to your next review :)

  8. Hi Abby!

    Have you seen 'Master Class'? You don't have to be an opera or Maria Callas fan to enjoy it. Plus Cherie Gil is fabulous in it. Medyo mahal lang nga; P1,000 for orchestra center. Last shows are this weekend, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.

    Were you able to watch PETA's 'Batang Rizal'? There's one more show, on Sunday afternoon, to cap the children's theater fest.

  9. hi exie! great to hear from you :)

    i saw Master Class years ago in a POC/Rep production, if i remember correctly. could've been jay glorioso as callas, but i'm not sure anymore.

    i know i should see Batang Rizal, especially because Christine Bellen was my teacher (i do have my loyalties), but sundays are so sacred, i'd hate to shake up my family's routine. i think this play will be in the PETA canon for a while, so i won't panic.

    you're right: i should go out and watch something, preferably something critic-proof. but since i skipped Cinderella and West Side Story, i'm skipping Hairspray (saw it in London), though the cast announcements are tempting me.