Monday, February 1, 2010

A Review of a Chamber Theatre Production of "The Yellow Shawl" and "May Day Eve"

By Mar Anthony Simon dela Cruz

The theatre production of the late National Artist for Literature Francisco Arcellana’s “The Yellow Shawl” and the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s “May Day Eve,” presented by the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts (DSCTA) of the University of the Philippines at Diliman, uses the theatre chamber approach to staging a play.

Dr. Belen Calinciogan, the director and also the DSCTA Chairperson, explains, “Chamber Theatre uses the prose (short story and novel) as it is written to show us and to tell us: It uses the narrative form while it borrows from the dramatic form…In a chamber theatre production, these “lines” would be spoken as direct address by the persons acting out the roles. Dramatic elements in the form of inner monologues are spoken by the character as reflective thoughts.”

Tragedy is the theme of the two classic short stories, arguably the best of their times. In “The Yellow Shawl,” the protagonists are haunted by the past and fragmented by the present. It is a three-part story. In the first part, the man (Nico Paolo Arguelles) describes the apartment and his anxiety while waiting for the girl (Danica Paola Romero): a bare vestibule, a tall wall mirror, the deafening silence, and the sound of approaching cars that makes him sit up from the bed every time he hears it. This is a man frustrated in love.

The girl arrives and picks up the narrative in the second part. Here the scene begins to show the gravity of the situation as the man pleads, “I can't get you out of my heart any more: I can't unlove you,” and the girl keeps seeing “the reflection of the shawl spread like a wing above him.” The third part, the story of the yellow shawl, takes back the audience to the girl’s painful past.

Arguelles’ performance was decent at best. While he gave a good portrayal of the male character, he lacked the man’s frustrations and agony in the first part and the intensity and desperation in the second part. Some narration and dialogues were also inaudible. Romero clearly outshone her partner. From the awkward smile when she entered the stage to the pain in her voice to the moment when she broke down, she was portraying a broken woman.

The narrative-dialogue transition was almost seamless, as if spectators were reading Arcellana’s original text. The play succeeded in representing the illusion of actuality, a major objective of the chamber theatre. Particularly impressive is the narrative-movement interaction in the scene where the woman “sees him place the bag on top of a wall table beside the doorway and then raise his arms and very carefully drape the shawl so it wouldn't rumple…”

The stage design was minimalistic and appropriate to the tone and atmosphere of the story. The design team used a framed crumpled opaque material in place of a real mirror. This worked in highlighting a crumbling relationship. The director also used the film by Mirana Medina to present the third part of the story, a clever stylistic device to show the woman’s past.

”May Day Eve” follows the folkloric tradition of Joaquin’s work. It centers on the superstition that one may see his or her future spouse by reciting an incantation infront of a mirror in a dark room while holding a candle. Agueda (Therese de Silva) tries it and sees Badoy (Gary Torres), her future husband. Years later, she tells her daughter she saw the devil that night. And years later, old Badoy tells his grandson he saw the witch that night. This implies a marriage gone wrong. Again, the tragedy is the frustration in love. Agueda and Badoy’s marriage is doomed from the beginning, and calling each other a devil and a witch only shows how they detest each other.

De Silva successfully channeled a bold and liberated girl ahead of her time, while Torres delivered a strong and empathic performance as Badoy. Professor Emeritus Leticia Tison stole the scene as the old Anastacia. Lance Jericho Reblando and Althea Dulcinea Flores both gave a charming performance as the little boy and the little girl, respectively.

A reading Joaquin’s short story may lose a reader somewhat; since its plot is somewhat difficult to follow, but Calingacion made it easier for the audience to grasp the story by making a smooth transition from one scene to another (borrowing the fade in-fade out film technique). The costumes provided an authentic late 1800s atmosphere and every props had a life of its own (the mirror, the candle, the poster-bed, the chair).

On the downside, some of the narrators were not able to deliver a stirring narration. They lacked the snap to complement the energy of the scene. Some were hesitant, looking at each other, as if afraid they would not deliver the lines perfectly in chorus. As one spectator commented to the Diliman Diary, “Parang high school.” The opening scene was also rather weak. The team could have used lively music to go with the dancing. After all, the young women in the story are enjoying the company of men who are “simply bursting with wild spirits, merriment, arrogance and audacity…”

Despite the flaws, the chamber theatre adaptations of “The Yellow Shawl” and “May Day Eve” is a commendable initiative, adding a whole new dimension and experience in reading great stories by Filipino writers.

“The Yellow Shawl” and “May Day Eve” were staged by Speech 124 (Introduction to Chamber Theater) students on January 28 and 29, 6 p.m., and January 30, 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan, Bulwagang Rizal, UP Diliman. It was in celebration of DSCTA’s 50th anniversary.

(Mar Anthony Simon de la Cruz is a freelance writer who writes for the Diliman Diary. He is currently based in Diliman, Quezon City).

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