UNI REVIEW: DULAANG UP’s “Sidhi’t Silakbo”
This uni production’s true stars are the new IBG-KAL Theater, with its exciting technical possibilities, as well as the showcase of the rock solid technique of its cast.
Since time immemorial, the performing venue has dictated the training and technique of its artists. Actors adapted to the lack or availability of microphones, and modified movement to suit the size of the hall. And so it was doubly exciting to watch with the additional joy of seeing the new Ignacio B. Gimenez Theater, inside UP Diliman. Comparing the old Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero theater (built in 1976) and this modern one is a reminder of how artistic taste today has changed, compared to half a century ago. Theater audiences today grew up with the intimacy of television (with its zoom in on actors’ faces) and look for this, and its accompanying emotional and psychological truth, in live drama as well.
With this production’s thrust stage (audience on three sides of it), the sought-after intimacy was achieved. However, with audiences seeing actors’ faces up close, one could tell that the fine graduates delivering monologues from Classical Greek texts were relying more on their finely honed technique, rather than expressing inner truths. Despite impassioned, raised voices and violent acts (actual slapping and spitting), this reviewer was left unmoved.
An experimental collage
The show was a devised one, with the artists collaborating on how to interlace different stories from Greek tragedies together, but done in a Filipinized (and therefore, relatable) manner. Stories ranged from the marginalized sisters of farmers red-tagged as NPA rebels, to the aging alta de ciudad matron whose privilege cannot shield her from lost time and lost opportunities.
Unapologetically feminist, even male roles are portrayed by an all female cast, led by Artistic Director Issa Manalo Lopez and assisted by Tess Jamias. Both women. With lines like “The man is a biological accident… isang babeng hindi buo,” the strident tone is set.
Playwright Maynard Manansala wrote the beginning and end scenes that bookended the collage of Greek scenes, then rewrote the Classic Greek scenes in Filipino. Five actresses (Shamaine Buencamino, Adrienne Vergara, Chic De Guzman, Wenah Nagales, and Uzziel Delamide) in black strode onstage, trying on different costumes strewn across it, to underscore the different roles women play in a patriarchal society. “May kilala akong babae…” they say, while singing and dancing to Paruparong Bukid.
These ornaments of grace and beauty fade away with the first black out. Text projected on the wall helpfully provide necessary context to the audience members. The first scene was from Sophocles’ Antigone, a dialogue between Oediupus’ two daughters discussing how to bury their dead brother’s corpse, against the will of the authorities. Uzziel Delamide’s youthful idealism was poignant as she countered her older sister’s cautious advice: “May sapat na panahon para mag-unawa. Sa pagtanda ko. Kung tatanda ako.” Clever use of projectors set the scene: trees in the dead of night in a province. The trees’ transformation into uniformed soldiers was a technical bit of horror in a real life scenario of women wanting to properly mourn their slain family members, yet afraid to be taken in by the law.
The next scene from Euripides’ Medea showed Chic De Guzman as a happy housewife, merrily doing a Facebook Live talk-while-cooking session while clever and realistic comments were projected beside her. De Guzman’s strength is in physical comedy, as she doles out advice to the Ladies Who W(h)ine on how to tell if their husband is cheating on them (the proof is when his phone automatically connects to the wifi of the neighbor’s). Levity is replaced with horror as she realizes that her husband, Jason, is actually betraying her.
We cut scene and are shown Medea again (now portrayed by Adrienne Vergara), as one of many OFW’s awaiting their Pinay Airlines flight. With all actresses wearing matching denim jackets for that note of authenticity, Medea contemplates staying or leaving. And is driven to the mad choice to stay and kill her sons. To drive home the point that this happens close to home, actual news of infanticide and filicide are uttered, with one of them happening right in Krus ng Ligas, a mere stone’s throw away.
Antigone versus Creon
Creon and Antigone are next, with Wenah Nagales as a power-corrupted general unable to handle his niece’s refusal to bow to the authority of her elder. The most violent of the scenes, I gasped at the succession of slaps, spitting, and finally, shooting. Better a dead subject than a rebellious one. However, the build-up to these extremes of violence seemed lacking.
The finale was Shamaine Buencamino’s take on Euripides’ Andromache, the former princess turned sex slave. The technical highlight was the Oppenheimer-like explosion with a thunderous roar that reverberated in the hall, delighting audiences with the expressive future possibilities in next productions.
With impending death by nuclear war, Buencamino looks back on a life timidly lived, and wishes she had been more sexually adventurous. While DUP has never shied away from nudity, this scene shocked this audience member with its frank and detailed description of woman-to-woman erotic adventures, with Vergara climaxing onstage and Buencamino touching herself. While it was technically well done, this audience member couldn’t help but feel that this last scene’s focus on the erotic was done in a manner focusing more on sensationalism and shock value, than truth telling.
The last scene started with another series of “May kilala akong babae,” but these were focused more on universal light desires for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep and creamy coffee, bringing this heavy 90 minute show to a close.
An outburst of intense experimentation
Experimental theater is the most ideal kind there is, with artists challenging prevailing tastes to push the frontiers of drama forward. However, in this particular production, the execution somewhat fell flat in its delivery of the overall message and intention. This was largely due to most of the actresses’ seeming lack of commitment and conviction to the overwhelming emotional states demanded by the text. Madness and fury that drives one to it can only be done with full heart and soul, and if actors rely on technique instead of fully giving themselves over to this admittedly achingly difficult process, then audiences see only the form that madness takes, and do not witness its true horror. It becomes, therefore, a bravura showcase of technique that one has come to expect from a fine company like DUP. No more.
But perhaps birth pangs are to be expected with virgin productions in new performing venues. Audiences can’t wait to see what DUP does next with all the exciting technical promise this new theater brings.