BWW Reviews: ADARNA by Dulaang UP; Show Closes Today, 8/11
Manila, Philippines, August 11, 2013--Once again, expect the unexpected from one of the country's avant-garde directors, Professor Jose Estrella ("Umaaraw, Umuulan, Kinakasal ang Tikbalang"), in Dulaang UP's "Adarna," the theater company's 38th season opener.
The production boasts an economical and unique storytelling of "Adarna's" legendary story of love, betrayal, brotherhood, adventure, leadership and power. Needless to say, this "Adarna" is anything but the traditional, over-embellished production we usually see onstage. What is great about the play is that the people behind it understand the material and keep the essence of the corrido by adding parts of the original story that have been often untouched.Retold by generations of Filipinos, "Adarna" is based on the "Corrido at Buhay nang Pinagdaanan nang Tatlong Principeng Anak nang Haring Fernando at nang Reina Valeriana sa Cahariang Berbania." This corrido, a narrative song or poetry form, tells about the quest to find the mythical bird Adarna by three prince brothers: Don Pedro, Don Diego and Don Juan. The bird is believed to cure the three brothers' ailing father, Don Fernando. But unlike most versions, this production successfully includes once neglected scenes such as Don Juan's exploits in Armenya and Reyno de los Cristales, where the valiant prince battles monsters, e.g. seven-headed serpents and giants.
Dulaang UP's "Adarna" is so far the most pragmatic, unique and simplified take on this corrido. Professor Estrella employs shadow play/puppetry similar to Indonesia's Wayang kulit, a storytelling device using flat and well-decorated figures projected on a scrim. Together with Lex Marcos' set and lighting design, the play uses craft paper--and bamboos--as life-sized scrims to project the various mythical creatures and multiple settings.
Another innovation in "Adarna" is Professor Estrella's interpretation of the mythical bird. She uses seven beautiful actresses/singers to represent the seven-colored Adarna. She also uses multiple actors simultaneously playing certain roles onstage to move the story forward--in a more fluid fashion.
At the onset, theatergoers who are used to seeing colorful and extravagant set pieces and costumes might find the play visually unappealing, boring. But the play is anything but mundane. Cast member Vlad Gonzales' anachronistic comic quips blend well with the original text, which increase the audience members' emotional involvement and understanding of the material. Gonzales should also be commended for providing three-dimensional characterizations of varied roles.
Other notable performances come from Roeder Camanag (Don Fernando), Jennifer Belen (Ermitanyo/Tagapagsalaysay) and the three Don Diegos: Rence Aviles, Paul Cedrick Juan and Stephen Vinas. The three Donya Maria Blancas: Marynor Mademesila, Charlene Magalit and Miriam Reyes, and JC Santos, who exudes a charming, heroic but flawed, vulnerable Don Juan, also deliver strong performances.
Although the play succeeds in many aspects, we believe there are certain performances and elements of the production that the team still needs to work on: Majority of the actors does a splendid job; however, the other two Don Juans need to modify their performances a bit more. Fitz Bitana (Don Juan 2) may have a good stage presence; but he still reminds us of his previous role as Jepoy in "Umaaraw, Umuulan, Kinakasal ang Tikbalang," Likewise, Lance Reblando (Don Juan 3) needs to be more organic with his performance because he is somewhat uncomfortable with his acting. Technically, the play needs to fix its sound system because the cast members' beautiful lines or songs end up either muffled or can hardly be heard.
"Adarna" is the country's most popular corrido. We believe this production gives justice to the said genre. Apart from being a narrative story in poetry form, a corrido is also a story dealing with socio-political issues. By adding often neglected scenes and chapters from the original story, the play successfully shows the negative sides of monarchy, as personified by Don Fernando, the king of Berbanya, and Don Salermo, the king of Reyno de los Cristales. Via the flawed but wise, humble Don Juan, young nobility becomes the ultimate foil of these monarchs.
Despite the lack of overly-colorful and antiquarian costumes, Dulaang UP's "Adarna" is a competent presentation of this corrido. This age-old tale revamp is not only refreshing and entertaining to watch, but it also allows the new generation of theatergoers to appreciate the corrido, the art form.