The real and reel Macbeth

The real and reel Macbeth
By Walter Ang
February 28, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The real and the reel will be used in Anton Juan Jr.'s staging of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth."

Months ago, Judy Ick casually mentioned to Juan a concept that she had for the Bard's tragedy of a Scottish soldier who gains power through murder: "I wanted the supernatural world [of Macbeth] projected onscreen as I felt that that would be the closest analogue to the supernatural in the present day."

"Think about it, all our fantasies, desires and projections are embodied on screens that hold special power over our imagination -- cinema, television, the internet. They really govern the way we imagine ourselves," she adds.

Internationally renowned for his unorthodox stagings of various works, Juan liked the idea and developed it. "Screens show and conceal. Screens in movie theatres, television, computers, mobile phones and digital gadgets mirror only one or two dimensions of ourselves," he says. "However, there are the other dimensions not captured by these screens. These are our deepest desires and fantasies, which we do not show but conceal."

Retitled "Screen: Macbeth," the production is presented by the Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines as part of its centennial celebration.

"I can't lay claim to anything but the germ of it because what audiences will see staged comes from Anton's imagination," she says. "And no one has an imagination like Anton!"

Nonetheless, Ick has an involved hand in tending and growing the idea. Not only is she acting as Lady Macbeth, she is also the production's dramaturg.

"Dramaturgy can be best explained as responsibility over the performance text," she says. "Not only its creation?that is, producing a text that best embodies the director's vision of the play?but also ensuring that all the actors have a deep understanding of the text they are working with."

From teaching the correct pronunciation of certain words to explaining "the Jacobean ethos that envelops a play like Macbeth and why and how it differs from other Shakespearean plays," Ick is more than qualified to provide guidance.

She teaches Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the graduate and undergraduate levels at the department and she's authored papers on Shakespeare (in relation to Southeast Asia) that have been published in international journals and presented at international conferences. The same lines that Lady Macbeth invokes are the title of a book Ick has written: "Unsex me here: Female Power in Shakespearean Tragedy."

"Dramaturgs should also ideally be able to provide performance options by talking about how differing productions have chosen to interpret certain scenes, characters, etc."

More than merely cutting lines to fit a specified running time, Ick notes a dramaturg must also be able to "edit a text meaningfully, to best bring out the director's vision of the play and his readings/interpretations of the characters."

"A dramaturg must be steeped in many things -- literary, historical, cultural, intellectual, philosophical, critical backgrounds and contexts, performance histories, a keen sense of what is possible, plausible, or plain unacceptable," she says. "It really demands a knowledge of the play and its sources beyond what is commonly supplied by Google."

Ick believes that the Manila theatre scene "needs to arrive at more relevant engagement with Shakespeare in order to make the work less distant."

"Our stagings, thanks to our colonial mentality, tend to be very static attempts at reproducing the Shakespearean texts? as if we were little tropical Elizabethans" she says.

She commends director Ricky Abad's ability to weave Philippine performance traditions (komedya, sarswela, bodabil, etc.) and Philippine history into his productions (such as an America vs. Philippines twist to "Taming of the Shrew"). "Aside, of course, from the keen sociological sense of audience that underpins his Shakespeare," she says.

Ick also notes "R'meo luvs Dew'lhiett," director Herbie Go's jologs-speak rendering of Rolando Tinio's translation of "Romeo and Juliet" as "terrific because it localized Shakespeare meaningfully."

In this particular production where Juan "will beef up the videos with all kinds of local allusions to present-day realities," Ick feels that the use of projected imagery "brings Shakespeare closer to today's more visually-oriented audiences. Unlike the more language/oral/aural-oriented audiences of Shakespeare's day."

"The play is about greed, power, ambition, moral ruin -- surely themes that resonate in these days of 'forgetful' generals," she says.

Surprise guests
"I welcome any and all attempts to do something with Shakespeare that work to make him mean to us in ways that require far less effort," she says. "That way, Shakespeare's plays can reach wider audiences which, to me, can only be a good thing because I firmly believe that Shakespeare has much to say."

Partnering with Ick as Macbeth is Teroy Guzman, joined by actors such as Romnick Sarmenta, Earl Ignacio, Jamie Wilson, and Chiqui Burgos, among others.

Box office and television comedy queen Eugene Domingo will have a special appearance along with other surprise guest actors, all former actors and students of Juan who have become established names in theater, television and film.

The production has video design by Winter David and assistant direction for video by Katte Sabate. Assistant direction for stage is by Pat Valera, sound design by Jethro Joaquin, set design by Ohm David, technical direction and lighting design by Meliton Roxas, costume design by Lhenvil Paneda and weapons design by Paul Gaerlan.

"Screen: Macbeth" runs Feb. 28 to March 6 at the Media Center of the College of Mass Communications, UP Diliman. Call 0927-749-1842, 0915-452-6372 or 926-3496. 

"Unsex me here: Female Power in Shakespearean Tragedy" by Judy Ick is available at UP's Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development. Call 927-2567 or 927-2309 or order through

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Hitchcock's '39 Steps' reaches stage

Hitchcock's '39 Steps' reaches stage
By Walter Ang
February 7, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Marking her return to the Philippine theatre scene after living in London for the past 10 years is Liza Infante-Robinson.

She will play three different characters in Repertory Philippines' "The 39 Steps." "It's challenging but really a lot of fun! I get to do three different accents and change my look and character. Creating characters was one of the things I loved most in the theater and here I get to do it three times over!" she says.

A comedy written by Patrick Barlow adapted from the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock, the production calls for a total of four actors to play over 140 characters in 100 minutes with fast quick changes and occasionally playing multiple characters all at once.

"The 39 Steps" follows the adventures of Richard Hannay as he becomes embroiled in "dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents, and devastatingly beautiful women."

"You don't even have to be familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's classic film to enjoy it. `The 39 Steps' will keep you guessing and laughing," she says.

Joining Rep
Robinson joined Rep in the early 90s when she turned twenty. "The day after my birthday, I auditioned for "Sleeping Beauty," the first Childrens Theater production of Rep. I was supposed to be in the chorus but ended up doing Pheobe the Fairy since some of the actors backed out of the production."

She went on to perform in many Rep productions. "Playing Guenevere in `Camelot' is something I will never forget because it was my first big lead role and I got to alternate with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (Rep's current associate artistic director) who was so supportive and inspiring," she says.

"Playing Nellie Forbush in `South Pacific' was also very fun for me. One of my favorite numbers was `Honey Bun' with Rem Zamora. And I remember all the Shakespeare that I got to perform with Ana Abad Santos and Michael Williams, two people I learned so much from."

This production is a reunion of sorts for Robinson since Ana Abad Santos is directing, Michael Williams is playing Richard Hannay while Rem Zamora and Juliene Mendoza will be handling the other hundred-plus characters.

Robinson left in 2000 to take up her masters in business administration at the London Business School. "I wanted to go back into the corporate world and felt I needed an MBA to get my foot back into the door," she says. "I did not do any theater at all. The closest I did to theater was singing for the LBS Band in my second and final year at the school.

Robinson went on to work for a global investment bank for six years. "During that period, I also got married and had two kids. My girls are now five and three," she says. She and her family have returned to Manila because her husband got posted here for work. "Lucky for me!" she says with a laugh.

Robinson has actually been in Manila for two years now. She has been teaching Basic Finance at Enderun Colleges and she also owns and manages a children's furniture and accessories business called Two Tots.

One of the reasons she has not been performing regularly is because she'd been diagnosed with "a herniated disc in my lower lumbar area. Some people call it a `slipped disc.' So my back is always a bit fragile."

"I am really lucky to have a great scene partner in Michael who is very conscious about my limitations and he `supports my back' in all the different stunts we do," she says. "We leave nothing to chance so every move is very clearly mapped out with the help of our choreographer Dexter Santos to avoid injury."

"Since I've been back, I have been very impressed with the way theater has developed. I can see how [Rep founders] Tita Bibot [Amador] and Tita Baby [Barredo]'s vision of an industry that gives actors jobs has been fulfilled," she says.

"There are a lot of good theater companies out there. Actors are now mixing with each other. Before, you only stuck to your own company but now the theater companies are collaborating and it's wonderful!"

"What I miss though are the straight plays. There are less straight plays being staged now compared to before. We really need to bring back more of the Rep season-type plays. That's why I am so thrilled to be in 'The 39 Steps.'"

"I am a bit nervous because it's a come-back and I don't want to disappoint. But it is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful to be working with Ana, Michael and Rem again and also meeting and working with Juliene. You don't see them on stage but the crew is also really amazing and supportive so it's a nice feeling," Robinson says. "Kind of like being back home again."

John Batalla is lighting designer, Denis Lagdameo is set designer, Jethro Joaquin is sound designer), Raven Ong is costume designer and Denis Lagdameo and Gianina Ocampo provide puppet animation.

"The 39 Steps" runs at Onstage Theater, 2nd floor, Greenbelt 1, Makati City from March 4 to 20. For tickets and inquiries, 571-6926 and 571-4941 or email Tickets are also available at Ticketworld at 891-9999 or Visit, subscribe to, and add "Rep Phils" in Facebook.

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Peta's 'Care Divas'--caregivers by day, showgirls by night

Peta's 'Care Divas'--caregivers by day, showgirls by night 
By Walter Ang
February 4, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta)'s newest musical comedy-drama "Care Divas" is about a group of Filipino caregivers working in Tel Aviv, Israel during the second Intifada (Palestine-Israel conflict). Come night fall, they moonlight as glamorous drag queens in a club.

Playwright Liza Magtoto delved into online articles and films on Israeli life, Orthodox Jews and Jewish culture for background material.

"It wasn't enough that we had to show the life of caregivers alone," she says. "We had to ground it to their lives in Israel, the culture there, and the political context, including Intifada. It could be set in Japan or some other place, but there was inherent dissonance when you juxtapose being gay, Jewish culture, Hebrew language, being in Israel, being illegal or legal migrant workers, and the effect of the Intifada on the exodus of Pinoys to Israel."

Multi-Palanca Award winner Magtoto has written other works for Peta, including "Agnoia," "Libby Manaoag Files: Ang Paghahanap sa Puwertas Prinsesas," "ASL Please," and "Rated PG." She has translated Israeli playwright Savyon Liebrecht' "Apples from the Desert," another work grounded on Jewish customs.

Magtoto had also personally interviewed caregivers who came from or who are still in Israel. "Their experiences helped me shape some scenes," she says.

The decision to make this story into a musical was borne out the fact that the characters' "performances" involved singing. However, Peta couldn't afford the royalty fees for songs that are usually sung by female impersonators. "The problem was that if the characters couldn't lipsynch the popular songs, then what would they sing?" she says. "So we composed our own!"

"Care Divas" revolves around Chelsea (Melvin Lee), whose employer teaches her Hebrew; and Shai (Vince De Jesus), haunted by her mother's rejection; both of whom are friends with Kayla (Jerald Napoles alternating with Ricci Chan), Thalia (Dudz TeraƱa alternating with Jason Barcial) and Jonee (Phil Noble alternating with Buddy Caramat).

The characters, despite the glitter and show involved in their drag queen personas and performances, struggle with cultural differences, alienation and loneliness. "They are always alert, constantly fearing deportation and war," Magtoto says.

It was clear to the Peta collaborators, which include Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda as the musical's director and Vince De Jesus as the lyricist, composer and musical director, that they didn't want to portray stereotypes.

"At first, we even considered not having a love story angle, but then, we have to acknowledge that that is just human!" says Magtoto.

"Truth is, there's as much, if not more, drama in the musical as there is comedy. But the Pinoys' resiliency shines through in any form! We tackle our problems with laughter. That's not to say we want to escape from it, though. It's in this spirit that we celebrate the Pinoy `care divas' abroad."

Magtoto hopes that audiences will appreciate the musical's layers of themes that include migration, homelessness, tolerance, and identity, among others.

"Hopefully, audiences see how 'Care Divas' portrays the strength of the human spirit, the way we adapt and rise above difficult circumstances and actualize our full being. Hopefully, it expands our perspectives and questions long-held prejudices -- how we 'look' at gays, migrants, women, being Palestinian or being Jewish.

"I'm not saying this musical will end wars, but perhaps it could help open minds. I'm hoping, it could make one proud of one's identity while respecting others and being tolerant as well.

"But I'm not comfortable about giving away what I want to say about the musical because I want to encourage varied interpretations and discussions among the audiences as to how they may `read' the material."

Cast includes Cecilia Garrucho, Paul Holmes, Myke Salomon, Angeli Bayani, Eric Dela Cruz, Miguel Hidalgo and Dom Miclat-Janssen. Collaborators include costume designer John Abul, lighting designer Jon Jon Villareal, set designer Leo Abaya and choreographer Carlon Matobato.

"Care Divas" runs from Feb. 4 to March 13 at Peta Theater Center every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.. Call 725-6244, 410-0821 or 0917-564-2433 or email

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