This is not the first time our country’s president is likened to a Shakespearean tyrant (nor will it be the last), but the Anton Juan and Ricardo Abad-directed “RD3RD” is certainly the most overt, coming off as a dissertation of sorts, a reading of Rodrigo Duterte as Richard III.
In Shakespeare, Richard III rises through the ranks of power using murder and terror, aided by powerful enablers and the many apathetic people of his time. Judy Ick and Abad’s script focuses on the uncanny parallelism, with a narrator (played by Abad himself) that explains how our current state is no different from what has happened before.
The staging is full of these contextualizations. Richard III’s bloody campaign, is Duterte’s war on drugs. Actual footage of EJK victims are shown, their names projected. Characters are dressed in 17th century garb made of garbage bags (Marta Lovina is Production Designer) to illustrate that these atrocities largely happen to the poor. Colloquialisms are added (a duo of kariton pushers rap in Tagalog in the first act) into Shakespeare’s words. Even the title, “RD3RD” is a both a play on Richard III and Rodrigo Duterte’s initials.
All these theatrical devices are in attempt to evoke the powerful emotion of horror at the current state of the country. None of these fabricated elements quite land, as Shakespeare’s arcane language gets in the way. Not even the cast’s understanding of the material made Shakespeare’s words any more accessible, unfortunate as the staging’s intent is clearly to confront the audiences with the barbarity happening around us, and the part we have played that enabled them to happen.
There was too much stylized imagery, too many symbolisms, too much esoteric dialogue that only muddled the visceral and vulgar violence of our current reality. By the second act the parallelism feels forced, the colloquialism has petered down to Teroy Guzman (Richard III) just interjecting “Putang ina!” in the middle of his monologues, and relying on theatrics such as a breaking of the 4th wall where the narrator instructs the audience that they will now play the part of ‘fence sitters’ sitting idly by as this maniacal tyrant is coaxed to power. The narrator even explains the impact, meaning, and what the audience ought to feel about the whole thing.
For all its auteur trappings, the show did feature strong performers, especially Guzman, whose ease and fluent delivery of Shakespeare made for a mesmerizing Richard III.
The staging ultimately doesn’t give the audience the benefit of Richard III’s comeuppance, ending on his coronation and chants of “Now is the winter of our discontent,” perhaps as a battle cry to goad people to action or simply a resignation over how things are.