Love among the ruins: 'The Tempest Reimagined'
Storms will aways be a force of nature that follow the laws of physics without care for the concerns of men. And yet through the ages, humans have conveniently interpreted their devastation as a punishment for the wicked or a test for the righteous, as prophesy validating their faith or as evil sorcery of an enemy that necessitates their persecution.
Always calamities have brought the very best and very worst in men – from selfishness, opportunism, exploitation, false promises, self righteousness and division; to selflessness, compassion, forgiveness, and unity. People find meaning, redemption, and even love after the storm. And often times, they also find the most precious stories among the ruins.
The Tempest Reimagined, presented by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) in partnership with The British Council and Japan Foundation,brings together a roster of talent from across the globe for world class theater production that brings together William Shakespeare's original comedy with stories based on real life testimonies from survivors of super typhoon Haiyan – stories of survivor's guilt, of donor's empty promises, and finding a new life and new love.
Nona Shepphard, artistic director of the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art, directs. Shepphard co-writes with Liza Magtoto, playwright of PETA's highly acclaimed, multi-awarded and long running Rak of Aegis, additional material to Shakespeare's own. Set and costume design are by Hong Kong based British stage designer Marsha Roddy and lighting design is by Tsuguo Izumi, Japanese pioneer of media server-driven projection.
The cast is diverse as well: PETA president Cecilia Garrucho plays Prospero, Red Turnip Theater co-founders Topper Fabregas and Jenny Jamora as Trinculo and Alonsa, respectively, Renante Bustamante as Antonio, Yeyin Dela Cruz as Miranda, Meann Espinosa as Sebastiana/Edith, John Moran as Caliban, Bodjie Pascua and Gabe Mercado as Gonzalo/Papa Boms, Norbs Portales as Jaime, Brian Sy as Ferdinand, Jack Yabut as Stephano, and Ian Segarra, Noemi Gonzales, and Gio Gahol, and Gab Pangilinan as Ariel.
Tempests have also long been the inspiration for playwrights.
So it was in Elizabethan England when in July of 1609, the English sailing ship Sea Venture destined for Jamestown, Virginia encountered a storm, began sinking, and was forced to run aground among the rocks in an isle feared by sailors as the Isle of Devils – that they would then discover to be a balmy paradise and would later be known as Bermuda, inspiring the most famous playwright of the age – William Shakespeare – to pen The Tempest.
So it was too in 21st century Philippines when in November of 2013, super typhoon Haiyan, history's most powerful, devastated Leyte as the typhoon's storm surge left 6,190 dead, 1,785 missing and 28,626 injured, prompting PETA to initiate the Lingap Sining (Nurturing Hearts through the Arts) program that not only educated residents on disaster preparedness but also compiled anecdotes and interviews – the real life stories that inspired The Tempest Reimagined.
Stories woven seamlessly
In Shakespeare's tale, Prospero, sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan, is overthrown by his treacherous brothers Antonio and Sebastian and King Alonso of Naples. Prospero and his daughter Miranda escape with the help of courtier Gonzalo and are marooned on an island.
Here, Prospero frees the elemental spirit Ariel trapped by the unseen witch Sycorax and enslaves her deformed son Caliban. Prospero then uses his spells to conjure a tempest to shipwreck on the island a galleon bearing Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, and Ferdinand, Alonso's son, as well as Gonzalo, the jester Trinculo, and the drunken butler Stephano.
Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano conspire to overthrow Prospero and fail miserably. Antonio and Sebastian conspire to murder Alonso and Gonzalo so that Sebastian can take the throne of Naples but are thwarted by Ariel. Prospero himself orchestrates the romance of his daughter Miranda to Ferdinand, the prince of Naples, and succeeds. Inspired by the humanity and pity shown by the spirit Ariel, Prospero forgives Antonio, Sebastian, Alonso, Trinculo, and Stephano, frees Ariel and Caliban from servitude, and tells Ariel to blow gentle winds that will take the noblemen back to Naples where Miranda to Ferdinand can marry.
The Tempest Reimagined intersperses these with this the stories of Haiyan survivors Papa Boms, Edith, Alina, Diego, and narrator Jaime, as well as towering masked “gods” representing the local government, the national government, and foreign donors.
Women also play more parts with The Tempest Reimagined. Prospero, still a male character, is played by Cecilia Garrucho. Transformed into women are the characters Queen Alonsa of Naples (Jenny Jamora), the treacherous sister Sebastiana (Meann Espinosa). The elemental sprite Ariel is portrayed simultaneously by women and men.
Whereas Shakespeare's original breaks down the fourth wall at the end of the play when Prospero enjoins audiences to free him from the island with the magic of their applause, The Tempest Reimagined breaks the fourth wall from the get go with narrator Jaime addressing audiences.
Curiously, there is no effort to translate dialogue in Filipino for the benefit of foreign audiences. This international effort has been expressly crafted for local audiences with no compromises.
As expected of PETA, a theater company with a social transformation mission, the plays offers a stinging indictment of local and national governments for mismanaging the crisis with corruption and partisan politics, foreign aid institutions for empty promises, and even the locals themselves for ignoring call for evacuation.
The Tempest Reimagined seamlessly weaves the stories of Elizabethan England and 21st Century Philippines, interspersing them and at times colliding them as their characters interact in a mashup that spans space and time as well as fantasy and reality.
A set evocative of sun bleached driftwood, wave strewn crates, windblown gossamer fishnets, and the splintered ruins of what was once pier towers over audiences and actors alike, taking full advantage of the theater's high ceiling. Castaway cast members take the disaster's debris and transform it into a shelter for a loving couple – an altar for newfound romance, no less.
Lighting instantly transforms the stage from the oppressive glare of the beachside to the stabbing fright of a nighttime thunderstorm. With the switch from Elizabethan English spoken in iambic pentameter to colloquial Filipino and donning of cloaks, actors transport audiences from Shakespeare's Britain to 21st century Philippines and back.
This synergy of geniuses from across the globe is nothing short of sorcery. – Rappler.com
The Tempest Reimagined runs at the PETA Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City until December 4, Wednesday to Sundays with 10am, 3pm, and 8pm shows. For tickets and reservations, visit ticketworld.com.ph or call +632-8919999.
Tickets are available at Ticketworld (https://www.ticketworld.com.phor +632-8919999). Ticket prices start at P1,567.50.
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, RomeJorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, and mass demonstrations as well as reproductive health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.