Bembol Roco is Filipino Titus Andronicus

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Yay! My article on Bembol Roco playing the lead in DUP's staging of "Titus Andronicus" was published by Philippine Daily Inquirer for its Sept. 5, 2011 issue.

Due to space limitations, the editors lopped off several lines. But worry not, for I present to you all, the fully restored original version! (Restored lines in green.)
Bembol Roco is Filipino Titus Andronicus
By Walter Ang

While his sons Felix and Dominic have been in the limelight lately due to their various appearances in film and TV, Bembol Roco is still recognized by audiences.

He's been building a theater audience, too.  He's been in Tanghalang Pilipino's "American Hwangap," Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Ang Post Office," and Virgin Labfest's "Balun-balunan."

This month, he's set to play the titular role in Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' staging of "Titus Andronicus," the third offering for its 36th season (2011-2012).

Considered William Shakespeare's bloodiest and goriest play, this tale of ancient Roman general Titus Andronicus, his capture of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and their ensuing episodes of revenge against each other has been translated into Tagalog and adapted to a Filipino milieu by playwright Layeta Bucoy and director Tuxqs Rutaquio.

Filipino counterpart
"We were really trying to look for a perfect equivalent set here in the Philippines," says Rutaquio.  The pair have been working and developing their ideas since early this year.  There was an initial idea of setting the play against the violent Muslim rido (clan wars) as a backdrop.

"We concluded that Muslim rido simply couldn't be equated for some of the crucial scenes from the original text of Shakespeare.  We wanted to trace the source of the violence in the play.  The play is set in ancient Rome where that kind of violence was commonplace and even allowed by law.  Sacrificing children to the gods was also part of their culture."

Setting the play in a pre-Spanish colonial Philippines was also considered, but concerns about it being too far removed from modern-day reality and distilling the immediacy of the violence steered both Rutaquio and Bucoy to end up with "a contemporary version set in a fictitious province."

Titus is now a hitman named Carding and the play is set "two weeks before the elections, where political chaos and religious frenzy intertwine in a world where politics, showbiz and a town feast drown the people in murky violence."

Roco says he forayed into theater acting "almost at the same time" he started his film and TV career.  "The last play I did, I think, was in 1984," he says, referring to Dulaang UP's staging of "Lihis," (Tagalog translation of Martin Sherman's "Bent") where he co-starred with Ricky Davao.

He says that the discipline of doing stage work has stayed with him and spurred his decision to return.  "I just wanted to see if I could do it and enjoy the same way I did it in the first time," he says.

He was initially apprehensive in taking the role, this being his first Shakespearean play.  "I'm not very familiar with Shakespeare. But when I found out it would be translated into Tagalog, it made a difference.  Now I'm happy that I was chosen to do this play. I'm glad and excited."

"The play is very violent and full of anger and revenge which are all very familiar to Filipinos," he says.  "It's good that it's been adapted to a Filipino setting because it will be easier for Filipinos to relate and understand what the play wants to say."

Father figure
Being a father, he finds the killing of progeny in the play "totally unacceptable, but as an actor, I need to go out there and do my role."

"I've seen part of the film starring Anthony Hopkins as Titus, so more or less, I have an idea of what kind of person Titus is. But I'm trying to create my own character of Titus."

"Stage acting is totally different from film or TV.  I love theater because of the things an actor can express only in theater. I really consider theater as an actor's medium simply because it gives you the chance to be creative enough to create your own character and style," he says.  "Among the three mediums, I consider stage acting the hardest."

Roco is happy to be working with younger thespians.  "I can share with them my personal experiences. I know that the students will learn a bit from me. Being a veteran actor, I can share with them the passion, the craft and many other things I have learned. But I'm also learning a lot from them.  Their ideas come from different places. Some have ideas that I haven't thought of. It's nice to see them come up with their own thoughts."

Mailes Kanapi  and Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino alternate as Tamora (Clarissa).  Olive Nieto and Buencamino's daughter, Delphine, alternate as Lavinia (Salve).

Rolando Inocencio plays Titus' brother Marcus (Berting) and Paolo O'Hara plays Tamora's lover, Aaron (Chua).  Paolo CabaƱero plays son of the late emperor, Saturninus (Armando).

GMA-7 actor Mike Tan and Zaf Masahud alternate as Saturninus' brother Bassianus (Antonio).  The Dulaang UP Ensemble, Dulaang UP's pool of actors composed of students enrolled in the university's degree and certificate theater programs, are also part of the cast.

Video direction is by Jobin Ballesteros; costume design by Santi Obcena; lighting design by John Neil Ilao Batalla and sound design by Jethro Joaquin.

"Titus Andronicus" runs Sept 14-Oct 2, 2011. Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, 2nd floor, Palma Hall Bldg., University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Contact 0917-750-0107, 981-8500 loc. 2449, 926-1349, and 433-7840.

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