Floy Quintos Reflects on ANG NAWALANG KAPATID; Show Runs Till 2/23
Manila, Philippines, February 12, 2014--Dulaang UP (DUP), University of the Philippines-based student theater organization, officially closes its 38th theater season by retooling a three-year-old children's play into a more complex theater piece. ANG NAWALANG KAPATID, a Filipinized musical adaptation of ancient India's most revered epic, The Mahabharata, runs until Sunday, February 23 at Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater (2nd floor Palma Hall), featuring the Dulaang UP Ensemble led by Teetin Villanueva, Vince Pajara, John Abella, and Ross Pesigan.
This new work tells the stories of the Kaurava and Pandava families, who are engaged in war against one another, and the young prince Karna (Pesigan), who is unaware that he is fighting his half-sibling Yudhisthira (Abella).
The creative trio of book writer-lyricist Floy Quintos ("Collection"), composer Ceejay Javier ("Isang Panaginip na Fili"), and director-choreographer Dexter Santos ("Collection") are behind the production, which is aimed at bringing the timeless tale of The Mahabharata to a predominantly Filipino audience by probing the influence of Indian culture to the Filipinos' strong family ties.
Quintos shares his production notes with BroadwayWorld.com:
ANG NAWALANG KAPATID was written in 2010 for the Ateneo Children's Theater (ACT), and was produced the following year as the annual play of the Ateneo Grade School. As a musical for a young audience, it was an ambitious and very challenging project. The biggest challenge, then as now, was to tell the story of the epic in the clearest, simplest way possible. The ACT production featured the original score of Ceejay Javier, and was directed by JJ Ignacio. The fabulous set --inspired by the Ajanta Cave paintings--was designed by Joe Tecson with costumes by Eric Pineda. The current Dulaang UP production owes much to ACT and to Ateneo Grade School for allowing the use of the material, which has of course, been rewritten to allow for more of the complexities and key scenes of the epic.
Now, why The Mahabharata? There is a saying,"What is not found in The Mahabharata is not to be found anywhere else in the world." Truly. At its simplest, the epic is about the great war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, which began with a simple game of dice. But enriching the basic plot, like so many flourishes in an Indian bas-relief, are stories of Gods and men, seductions and betrayals, mysterious transformations, mythic animals, divine weapons, and political machinations. Remember that the lengthy treatise on kingship and the nobility of one's personhood, The Bhagavad Gita, is only a part of the whole Mahabharata.
I first became aware of the epic through Bhagahad Gita, then through the film by Peter Brooke (and the subsequent book documenting the production). Alas, I was too young to see the legendary production on which the film was based, which took two whole nights to perform and was set in stone quarry in Southern France.
So, what are the source materials for this adaptation? The definitive condensed translation of the epic is by the late William Buck. But research also led me to read more versions,from the historic roots of the epic to the simpler, but far more magical folk and tribal versions. I also looked at more contemporary versions like the novel "The Palace of Illusions" by Chitra Divakuruni, a contemporary work that re-interprets the epic from a feminist point of view. I must say I understood the basic plot a lot more when I read the children's versions as well as the comic book versions. All are radically different; all have their charm, their high points. Even the names of the characters change from version to version! The great Southeast Asian epics--our own Hudhud and Labaw Donggon, included--are like that. They live again with each re-telling, with each embellishment. These varied re-tellings made me understand--if not the whole story---the greatness of the epic. I have always believed that a great work of literature inspires other storytellers to create their own versions. Like fragments of a broken mirror, each piece reflects its own realities, however limited. But what insights each fragment reveals.
Besides (and I am just being realistic here), how futile it would be to try and truthfully re-write the epic and all the complexities and characters and backstories for the stage. How can you produce a manageable, marketable production?
When I started working on the text (book) and lyrics in 2010, I kept reminding myself, "ADAPTATION! ADAPTATION! This is for children!" OK, so I had originally wanted an Anti-War piece, a piece that communicated the futility of violence and the madness of greed and power lust. But I had to have a "hook," one that would appeal to the Filipino audience emotionally. I found it in the character of Karna.
In all the versions that I have read, Karna is the greatest warrior on earth, but he is not the hero of the epic. That role traditionally goes to Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandava brothers. Karna is half-brother to the Pandavas, but only their mother, Queen Kunti knows it. In his quest to fulfill his Dharma (a much more complex concept than just Destiny), Karna stakes his loyalties with the Kaurava prince, Duryodhana, a cousin of the Pandavas. When Yudhisthira loses his rights to the kingdom in a game of dice, the great war begins. And Karna, unaware of his true blood ties, is forced to fight his own brothers.
That was it! That was the emotional and so very Pinoy "hook" that I was searching for. ANG NAWALANG KAPATID was the title that instantly came to mind. And it would a piece about loyalties tested and blood ties spurned by power lust and violence.
With this in mind, I began simplifying the epic. More important, I began to choose elements from the various versions I had read. My basis in choosing was simply,"Which detail would make for better theater? Which detail is more challenging for a director or a choreographer, or a composer, thus making the entire story more engaging for the audience?"
Thus in this adaptation, the entire Mahabaharata is re-worked into this simple but hopefully, emotionally engaging storyline:
Queen Kunti, through the magic of the goddess Kali, delivers the child Karna, and has him thrown away. Adopted by the monkey king, Hanuman, Karna grows up unaware of his roots. One day, he travels to a distant kingdom where the Kaurava prince, Duryodhana, proclaims him his equal and brother in a contest of archery that pits Duryodhana against his cousins, the Pandava princes Yudhisthira, Bhima, and Arjuna (Kunti's own sons, and unknown to Karna, his half-brothers). The prize is the Princess Draupadi's hand in marriage. Though the two sides are equal in strength, Draupadi chooses Yudhisthira.
The Minister Shakuni entices the embittered Duryodhana to challenge the Pandavas in a game of dice. Duryodhana defeats the Pandavas, and banishes them from the kingdom. Enraged, Yudhisthira and his brothers fulfill the terms of their banishment and then declare war on Duryodhana. Both sides are powerful and favored by different gods, so weapons of superior power are needed. Krishna, who sides with the Pandavas, produces the sword Pasupata. Hanuman produces the lance Sinta for Karna, who delivers it to the power-hungry Duryodhana. Kunti, who has recognized Karna, reveals to him that she is his mother and that his blood brothers are, in truth, more deserving of Karna's loyalty. Karna swears to end the battle. But the weapons of mass destruction have already been employed by the opposing sides. There are no victors or losers when all are dead. In Paradise, the warring princes become children again and wonder what the mad war was all about.
Now, scholars of The Mahabharata will immediately spot the digressions from the original text. Let me explain some of my choices, once and for all.
1) In the William Buck translation, Karna's mysterious birth is brought about willingly when Kunti allows herself to be impregnated by the Sun God. In other versions, Kali, Goddess of Death, War, and Violence, is so enraged by Kunti's vanity that she deceives the princess into accepting the birth of a child fathered by the Sun God before Kunti is to be married . Obviously, Kali had to be a part of this adaptation. The divine spectre of Death and Violence just had to be in the show, especially in the great war scenes of Act 2.
2) The same can be said for the role of Hanuman. In all versions of the epic, Karna is raised by the great archer. Adhiratha, who instructs the boy in the masculine arts. But in one folk version, the monkey god Hanuman finds the boy and then delivers him to the archer. How much more charming to enlarge the part of Hanuman and his troop of monkeys. In the ACT production, the monkeys were played by the youngest boys, who were always showstoppers. In the DUP version, the monkeys gave Dexter and the choreographers an opportunity to create some breathtaking choreography on Ohm David's set.
3) In the original, Duryodhana had not just Karna on his side, but one hundred Kaurava brothers, delivered by the blind queen, Ghandari, from a ball of flesh that she nurtured for a hundred days. Ahm...how to show that?
4) In the original, Draupadi is wife, not just to Yudhisthira, but to all the Pandava brothers. I could already imagine the audience sniggering every time she came onstage with the brothers if I had chosen to be true to the epic. Here, Draupadi is wife only to Yudhisthira. Oh, and the original Pandava brothers were five in all. In this adaptation, there are only three.
5) In the Great War between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the gods sent all sorts of magical weapons to aid those whose sides they were one. Pasupata and Sinta are incarnations of all these weapons.
6) Karna and Duryodhana are killed and defeated at the end of the great war. The realization of the futility of their violent efforts comes much later when the aged Yudhisthira reflects on his mortality. My ending owes much to the Peter Brooke version, where the characters meet in a barren wasteland that is Paradise. My ending was also inspired by the words from the closing chapter of the "The Palace of Illusions," where the character of Draupadi reflects on what her family has been through;
"How shall I spend the last moments of my life? Should I remember my mistakes and practice contrition? No. What use to berate myself now? Besides, I have made so many errors...Should I forgive those who have harmed me? Should I ask forgiveness of those I've harmed? A worthy enterprise, particulary since they are all dead now...Perhaps I should recall the people I have loved and send them a prayer, for prayer is one of the few things that can travel from this realm to that next amorphous one."
It is reflections like these that convince me of the immortal and universal power of The Mahabharata, and the richness of the epic and its characters.
For tickets to DUP's ANG NAWALANG KAPATID, call Samanta Hannah Clarin or Camille Guevara (632) 9261349, 4337840, 9818500 loc 2449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.