Theaterbatoring UP DECL's Screen: Macbeth

A week or two ago (before this blog was born), I was able to interview Judy Ick for the Philippine Daily Inquirer for her involvement in the University of the Philippines' Department of English and Comparative Literature's staging of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," retitled as "Screen: Macbeth." You can read it here or here.

As a precursor (perhaps) to this blog, I posted my thoughts on the show in my Facebook account.  Here it is:

thoughts after "screen: macbeth"
by Walter Ang on Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 1:17pm

as a rule, i don't usually review productions that i have written an "advancer" for, but what the hey! = )

many people obviously enjoyed "screen: macbeth," evidenced by the enthusiastic clapping and cheering after the show i caught. in fact, the show will be extended this weekend due to “insistent popular demand.”

a hodge-podge, eclectic, mix-match staging makes the show fun at certain times but is also the reason why it doesn’t quite come together.

director anton juan has the soldiers announcing their arrivals with a war cry-cum-greeting that provides gravitas to their military connection and to the earthy, gravelly, wild world he has created for this staging of macbeth.  all that grunting and shouting inervates the audience: we are not just politely sitting here, we are also spectators to some martial pageant.

teroy guzman (macbeth) and judy ick (lady macbeth) are wonderful. their enunciation is crystal clear, their emotions register the whole range of their characters' turmoils.  this is their show. we see them start off as bumbling virgin murderers then they transform into crazed guilt-wracked repentant (lady macbeth) and crazed smug villain (macbeth). they lock hands with the audience and take us with them on their inevitable tragic journeys.

jaime wilson (macduff) has a strong presence and ron capinding (banquo) does well as he does not fall into his usual trap of the-leo-martinez-school-of-acting. ricky abad (duncan, gatekeeper and doctor*) is hilarious as the gatekeeper.

earl ignacio (malcolm) delivers his lines haltingly, which makes it look like he is hard at work memorizing his lines.  his detached approach to his character doesn’t work. is that how someone whose father has been killed (and is burdened with not knowing if he will be able to succeed as the nation's king) behaves?

white sheets are draped along the perimeter of the room, creating a twin sense of claustrophobia and ephemerality.  things are as close as we see, but they also extend to and emanate from places farther than we think/know/feel--apt for the convoluted world of macbeth and his ghosts.

videos are shown througout the play, cross projected onto all four sides of the room. and that is where all the disconnection with the title lies.

big problem: we can hardly see the videos. (i don't know why the theater industry has not yet caught on with the use of double projectors just like in the events industry.) any reason of budgetary constraints/lack of equipment won't cut it, especially since the entire concept is based on "screens" and "projections," or so at least the title ("screen: macbeth.") leads us to expect.

but okay, let's assume that the low-intensity, washed-out projection style is deliberate, that these images are meant to be ghostlike wisps of fleeting, confused, guilty thoughts.  but that doesn’t solve questions on the seeming lack of consistency in the images, the way they are used and, ultimately, the point of it all.

medieval european images bookend the beginning and end but seem to have no bearing on the staging except as a visual marker that the play is set in europe (but why generic and not something scotland-specific?).  but wait, what about the mad max-inspired costume and weapons design? is this nowhereland, everyland, philippineland or europeland?

the three weird sisters use different dialects instead of english. why is it their act 1 lines have no english translation on the videos but their act 2 lines do?

the king’s muder is not shown onscreen (to heighten suspense?), but why are the murders of other characters shown? the  projections are used mostly for castle interiors (that look like something out of a video game), for forest exteriors, for graphic novel panels, for silhouettes of dancing figures, for distorted faces … as a tool for backdrop and mood enhancing  imagery than anything else. they rarely moved the story along, since dialogue and stage business more than amply takes care of that.

this is what the “screen” in “screen: macbeth” is all about? it hardly seems worth inserting itself in the title for.

the set design has white-rope-as-spider-webs that flank the corners of certain seating areas ... yes, they add to the sense of constriction created by the web-of-lies of the characters, but are more decorative than visually-integral to the staging. yes, lady macbeth has spider brooches on her high-heeled shoes, but other than that, nothing else in the staging seemed to build on the venomous spider/web-of-lies theme.**

juan employs some theatrical scenes that are exciting and thought-provoking. water (as a cleansing/diluting/forgiving element) pouring down on lady macbeth in her “out damned spot” monologue makes sense. shoes dropping out of the sky on to the stage earlier during her “unsex me here” monologue is exciting and a theatrical spectacle, but thought-provoking only in that it makes us ask, “what do shoes have to do with this monologue?” allusions to imelda marcos, perhaps. but again, not a theme that is developed further as the play progresses.

and then all of a sudden, we have malcolm and macduff riding metal-sculpted horse-heads as they discuss plans to conquer macbeth. the horse heads are pretty, yes. but necessary? not really. if anything, distracting.  these large, shiny tangible objects provide a very sharp contrast to the intangibility of the projections, but to what end?

if visually helping the audience along was the objective, perhaps it would have been better to show the soldiers camouflaging themselves with branches for the “burnham woods are moving” scene rather than providing visual spectacle via the horse-heads?

i don’t know where my head got to after watching this show. kekeke.

*conceptually, i think it's interesting to have the same actor play the character (duncan) that macbeth kills and the character (doctor) that tells macbeth that lady macbeth has died and that the woods are coming to get him.

**say perhaps, for example, having the three weird sisters be portrayed as the fates from greek mythology, weaving and cutting threads/webs of destinies. besides, there are more lines in "othello" that visually evoke spiderwebs than in "macbeth."

What do you think of this production? Share your comments.

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