I have never been a fan of classics, but Shakespeare has proved his worth time and again. As Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) takes to the stage a rendition of one of Shakespeare's more wayward and "avant-garde" tragedies, "King Lear", I was blinded by both excitement and curiosity. With the help of National Artist for Literature, Bienvenido Lumbera, this masterpiece was skillfully translated into our native tongue, yet a few passages and lines were kept intact. Nonon Padilla directed.
As with most theatrical performances, the first thing that's going to welcome you is the set. I read somewhere that this particular play borrowed from the Theatre of the Absurd movement, and with that, I was welcomed with a post-apocalyptic setting and feel. The set was elaborate. Wood, dead trees and branches, paper, plastic, paint - all tattered and fragmented, broken and demented. It was an interesting sight. For a period play like King Lear, a take like this really takes the audience down the rabbit hole, into a world unknown yet still familiar with themes of betrayal, revenge, redemption, and an endless supply of tragedy.
I heed a warning: the all-male cast made the play all the more marvelous. Theater veteran Teroy Guzman takes on the role of the sorrow-bound Haring Lear. With his old age, he decides to share the burden of ruling the kingdom with his children, Goneril (played by Nor Domingo), Regan (played by Gary Lim), and Cordelia (played by Abner Delina). The youngest, Cordelia , was shunned and sent to France to marry the king as a result of her truthful plead. While the two elder siblings earned their place in the kingdom, their scorning and aging father was slowly driven to the curb. Both sisters displayed cruelty and wickedness. They were entangled in drugs, thirst for power, and rivalry in love in the person of Edmundo (played by Jay Gonzaga), a bastard of the king's trusted councilor, Gloster (played by Jack Yabut). Edmundo plotted to send his brother, Edgardo (played by Myke Salomon) away from their father's good graces and forced him to become a hermit, forever in hiding, in fear of execution. Eventually, one tragic act after another, the king was forced out of his wits. With his kingdom in shackles, he is driven to insanity until he stumbled upon his old chum and until his daughter-in-exile came to look for his ailing father. Edgardo takes on another persona, Tom, who has grown closer to the king and ended up being his father's eyes after they were taken out by brute force as instructed by Regan and her husband, forcing him to go blind. Cordelia was able to claim his father. King Lear apologized for his wrongdoings. Cordelia wept in joy and with no bitterness, welcomed his father back into his land as France waged war. It was all too late, Cordelia and King Lear was sent to jail by Edmundo and the two evil sisters. Shortly thereafter, she passed and King Lear was left with no family, no kingdom, and no more reason to live. Regan and Goneril also died eventually and it was all up to the Duke ng Albanya, Goneril's compassionate husband, to restore the king's power and rights. In a time where power and status was something everyone vied for and would readily kill anyone who gets in the way for, King Lear was a victim of circumstance. His tragedy followed him to his old age, as he loses everything in the end.
I've never read the original text but Bienvenido Lumbera's translation was simply magical. It was like poetry wrapped in the actors' tongues and as they unraveled, they consumed every cell in my body. The direction was superb, of course, and the actors' performances were brilliant. As with the all-male cast, one of the hardest things to do as an actor is to play the opposite sex. Despite a few stumbles in characterization and execution of a couple of cast members, the entire two-and-a-half performance was packed with wit, melancholy, and excitement. I was bombarded with themes on family, unconditional love, the struggle between the rich and the less-fortunate, tragedy, and so much more. I feel like one sitting is not enough to digest this immense performance. It's overwhelming, but in the best sense of the word. I like to be enveloped in a sea of meanings, forcing my own subconscious to dig for relevance and unearthing them so I can later on relate to my own existence. The true art of the theater is making the audience feel and realize something deeper than the text seems to convey. It's the audience's responsibility to carry out this understanding into the "real world" and make something out of it, hopefully to become part of the solution to various social issues and themes from the play to actual reality. Perhaps theater is a way of identifying social anomalies and presenting it to the people. It's a call of action. It's an invitation for a movement larger than we can ever imagine.
Haring Lear really opened not only my eyes (as in the case of Gloster's blindness), but my entire sensitivity to the world. They say to see is to believe but a blind man can also sense injustice and cruelty. We have other means to be part of the big picture. Aside from merely seeing and looking, we can hear, feel, taste, and smell life. Let's not take that for granted and use that ability to do good. Our nation nurtured us to become well-meaning citizens. Like King Lear, as he entrusted his kingdom to his daughters, we are given the responsibility of caring and of leading our land towards greater heights, not towards demise. Let us veer away from the tempting evil of self-satiation, instead, let us strive to make our motherland proud.