Sunday, January 29, 2012

The fall of heroes

The past week has provided me with my fill of the Bard. First, I saw Ralph Fiennes' film directorial debut, Coriolanus, an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays. I was unfamiliar with the text, so I came with few expectations, though I had heard it had good reviews.

The film, set in modern-day Rome, uses the media (mainly TV) as an important driver of narrative. The rise and fall of Martius Coriolanus, played by Fiennes, is charted through his encounters in battle (exemplified by an action-packed sequence early in the film) and his public and political appearances.

Certain lines uttered by the bald Fiennes occasionally reminded me of his Lord Voldemort role in the Harry Potter series, but I think his acting and directing put him at par with Kenneth Branagh--no small feat in my book.

Brian Cox (not the physicist--I would have loved that but he wouldn't have been as good) as Menenius, Paul Jesson as Brutus, James Nesbitt as Sicinius and Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia are noteworthy. The different accents (including Gerard Butler's Scottish) add diversity to the characters.

Despite the liberties in adaptation, John Logan's screenplay is faithful to the text (swords are mentioned, not guns). Doubtless some people in the audience did not expect to hear verse (the local poster had no mention of Shakespeare), but that they stayed on shows that a classic done well will touch mainstream viewers, though it might not fill the cinema. I hope Fiennes takes on other plays for the silver screen.

King Lear is perhaps the first of Shakespeare's work that I ever came across. The comic book version I had in grade school was still quite heavy for children, but I retained enough interest to see the 2007 RSC production in London. PETA's new production of Haring Lear, the first Filipino adaptation of the play as translated by Bienvenido Lumbera and directed by Nonon Padilla, has layers of hurdles to overcome.

It was my first time to see an all-male cast as it was done in Elizabethan times, which I found quite interesting.

Call it the bald kabuki, with a Punch and Judy puppet thrown in. The largely monochromatic staging by Gino Gonzales appears to be an homage to the late Salvador Bernal, who I believe was supposed to design the production. The color blocking in the makeup indicates the genders, but often masks expression. Fortunately, some of the actors have wonderfully rich voices. For its fluorescent tubes, Jojo Villareal's lighting gave me a flashback of Shoko Matsumoto's design for Atlantis Productions' Next to Normal last year. There are some lovely atmospheric moments that you wish you could take a photo of.

Some surprising directorial and design choices, however, tend to distract and call for further suspensions of disbelief. The use of English for certain lines, understandable with the apparently post-colonial reading, becomes grating after hearing mainly Filipino. Collapsing the parts of Cordelia and the fool may sound like a good idea in the beginning, but it becomes confusing in the end, when Cordelia reappears.

Teroy Guzman as the monarch is not stark raving mad but a character you would want to sympathize with. Although this might not be Guzman's best performance, props to him for what he has to go through for 30 shows. Getting drenched for prolonged periods in an airconditioned theater poses a grave health risk and I am concerned about what his body has to go through. It makes you want to scream "Why?!? Is this The Tempest?" I hope the cast has stocked up on vitamins. I saw a Saturday afternoon matinee, the second show for the day and the third for the entire run. I forgave the incredibly low energy of the first few scenes and was relieved that it picked up eventually.

George de Jesus as Oswaldo steals the scenes with his one-liners and facial expressions, and literally stops the show. The story of Edgardo (Myke Salomon) and Edmundo (Jay Gonzaga) overshadows that of the three sisters, possibly a function of the actors playing females not wanting to go cross the line between feminine and flamboyant gay. I appreciate the restraint. I don't remember them getting that much attention before, but the brothers have presence (and that is in addition to the biceps).

PETA has had a very strong season starting with William, then Care Divas (which I wish I hadn't missed--it is generally said to have done very well) before Haring Lear. I hope they continue to do work that consistently makes you want to rush to the theater all throughout the season. And I hope that regardless of what I have written, you will go see Lear and discuss it with me.


  1. I did hear that Haring Lear's pretty good. I'm dying to watch it. Hopefully my weekend show schedule with TP will permit me. =)

  2. I want to watch Eyeball but I'm not free this weekend :s