Eversince “A Midsummer Nights Dream” last December, I have been very interested on the upcoming stage plays of The Xavier Stage. Mounting a series of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, the next in line is “Titus Andronicus” a gruesome tragedy of a revenge. I have heard of many performances of Titus across the Philippines, and even in schools in Cagayan de Oro, yet I haven’t seen one which adapts the entire story to the Philippines’ carnivalesque society.
This version, adapted by playwright Layeta Bucoy of UP Los Banos (Tinarantadong Asintado, UP Diliman) (where Kagay-anon Johnny Macanas, Jr. played Ryan Muñoz, see photo below), mirrors the horrifying truths in Philippine Society, where people are desensitized by the frequent killings often linked to politics.
It’s a Rated 16, bloody mixed media roller coaster ride. And I won’t hesitate to see it all again.
A Visual and Aural Delight
The entire set is clad with white drapes, white tables, white posts, white bed, and just about everything is white. It’s a stark contrast to the violence and the dark story that the play tells, which proves to be an excellent backdrop when the gunfires and blood splatters come splashing around. Consequently with everything white, the shift of lights from white to yellow to red and blue is much more dramatic and much more imposing. Additionally, the use of grunge music and stereotypical campaign jingles acts as a perfect connector to different scenes, always reminding the audience of the infamous blabber and songs that contaminate our TV sessions during campaign period.
I have seen a couple of plays that attempt to use mixed media to tell a better story. Titus uses video to connect each scene through equally meaningful, equally horrifying parts that either enforce the or introduce the next scene. As I mentioned earlier, blood splatters and appropriate audio filled in to tell the story better. Additionally, (SPOILER ALERT, skip this part) the breaking of the fourth wall when the clown shoots everyone with a rifle, then afterwards spraying everyone with disinfectant was a brilliant, insightful addition. According to Mr. Hobart Savior, TXS Artistic Director, it is interpreted as everyone belonging to one dirty society that needs to die and be cleaned to start a new beginning. Again, brilliant, and insightful.
Overall, the application of mixed media is well implemented, but of course, it can still be improved on the next iterations.
While we might at least know of Titus Andronicus from our high school reading assignments or reviews, Layeta Bucoy’s adaptation makes us appreciate the story even more by bringing it closer to our homes, to the grunge dark Philippine streets riddled with corruption and unexplained deaths and disappearances.
Bucoy has introduced Ricardo “Carding” Muñoz, the Pinoy counterpart of Titus, a retired chief of police. Carding has massacred the incumbent mayor’s campaign leaders and their families two weeks before the elections, by order of Vice Mayor Armando Torres, who is also running for mayor. (if it sounds familiar, it does remind us of Maguindanao which by the way, still hasn’t been resolved)
The incumbent mayor then asks the help of the Castillio clan, headed by Clarissa, to assassinate Carding. The plan failed, but Carding’s eldest son was killed.
To avenge his son, Carding had Clarissa’s eldest son kidnapped and killed during the wake of his son. When Armando thought of marrying Clarissa to improve his chances of winning, Clarissa readily accepted his proposal to plot her revenge. With her secret lover Chua, Clarissa had Carding’s only daughter Salve raped and mutilated, and framed his sons Richie and Rocky for the murder of Armando’s brother, Antonio.
Carding then exacts his revenge by butchering her sons and feeding them to her, then finally meeting the Clown of Life and Death. (excerpts from Dulaang UP’s Titus Andronicus)
It’s a complex plot of revenge on revenge, a gruesome tale of blood and politics. Which, surprisingly, isn’t foreign to our ears.
There is no question that the play perfectly mirrors the Philippine carnivalesque society, where we watch showbiz, then killings, then sex, then violence, then melodrama unfold before our eyes. Certain parts of the story make you laugh and cringe, because it’s so real you’ll laugh and despise yourself for doing so. It also brings out the prevailing fact that we are so exposed to news on everyday killings that we are so desensitized to them. In fact, almost everyone dies in the play yet no regret or remorse is felt. Which is unnerving if you come to think of it. It is also timely, as killings are more present in the country and even here in the city. The play also never shies in using violence, curses and sex to drive the story home. It’s R16 after all, it’s filled with live kissing scene and, at least, censored and suggestive scenes. It also tells the universal lesson that encounter everyday, that revenge after revenge, will definitely lead to bad relationships, and, ultimately, tragic demise.
Overall, TXS’s Titus is an eye opening wonder that wakes you up to the horrifying truths of the Filipino society. The cast acting is surprisingly superb as always. Consisting of experienced cast and students alike, the entire play was smooth and everything felt so professionally done thanks to them.
The Xavier Stage’s Titus Andronicus is a play you must watch tonight at the Xavier University Little Theater. Tickets are priced 75.00, but book them now! When I watched, it was full house but thank God I reserved a seat.
Once again, kudos to Sir Hobart Savior, and the entire TXS crew for putting up a wonderful play. I’m looking forward to their next plays this year, and these are quite interesting: The Passion of the Christ on the holy week, and Hamlet on June.