The trick is to keep seeing
MANILA, Philippines - The problem with the horror genre is that it often hinges on surprise.
After the plot twist has been revealed, the cat is out of the bag and the story no longer shocks you.
But when the art is in the telling of the tale, then talent — a trick that never grows old and a spell that never fails to beguile — becomes the draw of the performance.
The most recent theater production of “The Woman in Black” will keep you coming back for more.
But don't get me wrong; besides being a showcase of breathtaking acting prowess, Dulaang Kalay and Word of Mouth Theater Philippines' “The Woman in Black” proves itself a sit-on-the-edge-of-your seats thriller.
I witnessed some theater audience members — a grown man among them — literally yelp in fright and even jump out of their seats.
Men found their dates clinging to to their arm tightly, peeking behind their shoulder for protection, glancing about and watching their backs, fearful when a spectral actor might appear out of the dark next. I myself came out of the theater with my shirt's sleeve nearly wrung off by my wife's anxious hands.
There is no better testament to effective direction, set and production design, lighting, music and acting than this. If every genre has its primary criterium, then fright is what we judge horror by.
“The Woman in Black,” adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987 from the 1983 book authored by Susan Hill of the same name, is known to theater aficionados for its distinction as the second longest-running non-musical play at London's West End.
It is still running after 23 years.
But most people will recognize this story for its most recent cinematic adaptation, the 2012 thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame.
Featuring highly-acclaimed veteran actors Jeremy Domingo and Reb Atadero, Dulaang Kalay and Word of Mouth Theater Philippines' “The Woman in Black” is directed by William Manzano, with original music by Janine Santos, lighting by Mel Roxas, production design by Geo Respall, sound design by Alden Acosta, set design by Nissi Gatan and deputy technical direction by Cha Quebral.
This talented ensemble, given the confines of of the Teatrino [in Greenhills], does two notable things:
- They best a big budget Hollywood production that possesses superstars and cutting edge special effects
- They manage to scare the socks off people, even those who already know the story
This stage play offers more than just plot twists, surprises, chills and thrills. A play within a play, it has its actors essaying multiple roles.
Witnessing Jeremy Domingo's awe-inspiring brilliance as he effortlessly switches between 7 different personas makes me want to watch it again. By just doffing a cap, clutching a cane, arching his back and slurring his voice, Domingo assumes a different identity without breaking the theater's spell upon the audience.
It is nothing less than a command performance of utter virtuosity.
Talents such as Domingo and Atadero shine not because they have at their disposal all the digital special effects and the camera trickery of mainstream western cinema.
Quite the opposite, the limitations of live theater highlight their enormous talent. After all, virtuosity is not born of freedom but of limitation.
Artists such as Rembrandt achieved such realism in portrait painting because photography had yet to be invented in the 17th century. Medieval choirs and classical orchestras mastered performing in perfect unison because there were no microphones yet to amplify the sound of one musician.
So what could be more fertile ground for artistry than the confines of an intimate theater with two actors tasked to play a dozen roles between them?
A macabre tale that was perfect for the Halloween season, “The Woman in Black” has a specter literally popping up behind you and breathing down your neck.
You can't get that from cinema. Things really do go bump in the dark.
More than just a generous heaping of fright, Dulaang Kalay and Word of Mouth Theater Philippines' “The Woman in Black” served up potent talent and virtuosity distilled.
It will make you come back for more. - Rappler.com
Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of AsianTraveler magazine.