Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining
To be or not to be? I ended up watching “Hamlet” at DITO Bahay ng Sining in Marikina last February 28, 2015. It was an event that I was exhilarated to witness even months ago. I mentioned to Kuya Manzano (as a joke) that playing Hamlet would be a walk-in-the-park for him, knowing how crazy he already is. I meant that as a compliment.
Fast forward to Saturday where I got to witness it for myself “Hamlet” at DITO Bahay ng Sining. I suddenly got that nervous feeling at what I am about to see. It was a relatively intimate crowd at DITO in Marikina meaning some performances will be in-your-face. The hall between the audience members sitting on the elevated chairs and the sawali mats on either side served well to make the theater experience more intimate. I chose to sit close to the stage on the sawali mat itself and see the performance of Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining up close.
The outfits seemed color-coded. Each color scheme represented the mindset assumed by each character. Only Claudius wore a gray military-like suit in contrast to the white clothes that everyone else wore. Hamlet wore a black ensemble which says a lot. The other characters only get to wear black once they are dead except at the end of course. There is not enough time to change into black clothes by then. The minimalist approach worked. They would make you think about the morality play that each character assumed at the moment.
Also, the approach taken in presenting the darkness in the plot of Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining went literal. The kind of lighting used in between takes expressed that. There were scenes where the only light coming from the stage is from the flashlights carried by the characters like Claudius while he is on the pursuit of Hamlet. It immediately expressed the difficulty of finding Hamlet.
Watching Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining, I was looking at Claudius and Gertrude. It got me thinking about how the director wanted to present the couple as characters – gray and white in a backdrop of black curtains.
With different mindsets and characterizations, it makes you think further and deeper into this version. Both Claudius and Gertrude were visibly distraught at the production that Hamlet staged in his attempt to catch the couple in a compromising position. And compromised they did. They may have had some difficulty expressing that awkward feeling to think that it featured puppets in this version. Why so upset? While both of them look distraught, they ended up with different manners of expressing the same emotion. In Claudius, it looked diluted in anger. In Gertrude, it looked diluted in guilt. Still it achieved Hamlet’s purpose of disturbing his target audience.
The physicality with which Hamlet chose to express his anger towards his mother, Gertrude, served as an effort to speak in daggers without holding them. No daggers, just a sword to get his point across. By forcing Gertrude to look at her own reflection on that piece of metal, the gesture made her feel guilty about jumping into a marriage without waiting for the mourning period for King Hamlet to get done. And Gertrude is not good at defending herself, answering Hamlet with words like “No more!” and other replies that only worsened Hamlet’s psychiatric condition. It’s the kind of emotional turmoil that Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining succeeded in presenting.
Well, the physicality eventually brings us to the aspects that worked in this version. This is theater and going subtle is not exactly the way to go. The physicality served as a nice buffer to going all-out without having to go all-out. You know what I’m saying? Acting big without going the scenery-chewing side effects of participating in a play like Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining, all performers did not hold anything back when it comes to murder and insanity. Each memorable performance here at Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining involved expressing credibly their emotions that may not have gone insane yet but were already on the edge of it.
Crazy has become a term synonymous with Hamlet meaning if he’s going on the verge of snapping for real, might as well drag the rest of the characters into the madness. It seemed here at Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining that it was only Claudius and Gertrude that he intended to drag into madness. But it was Ophelia that went full-blown coo-coo as she sank to insanity, killing herself offstage.
Danielle de Leon’s approach in presnting Ophelia’s downward spiral to insanity is understated. It brings in the creepy factor. It served as a contrast to the eye-popping level of insanity that Hamlet exuded. And it makes you understand why her insanity turned out to be creepier here at Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining. As a character, she’s so uptight. Even if Hamlet is trying to warm up to her again, she interprets the subsequent events prior to that confrontation in the palace as mind games. No one is exempted to Hamlet’s mind games. But the way she handled it pushed her away from acting the part of a lady and closer to the part of a loon.
Sky Abundo is intense as Laertes, yes, even that part involving puppetry. It makes you understand why Hamlet hired him for the play. As an actor disappearing into his role, he made the transition – from a happy puppeteer to an enraged son looking for his father – seamless. He presented the reality of getting angry first and thinking about it later. It was something that served as a warning for people with anger management issues everywhere (read: me) to keep their temper in check. Laertes failed to do that and his anger ended up killing the wrong person. It served as an analogy to how Hamlet’s anger pushed the wrong person to insanity first and pushing the wrong person later to death.
Andre Alcantara as Polonius brought in the humor. And that can be easily interpreted as a ploy to keep his family and the royal family in harmony. It makes you think that he meant to assume this happy stance to remain on the good side of Claudius and Gertrude. He did this since Gertrude has warmed up to Ophelia as her future daughter-in-law as manifested at Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining. He was funny down to the scene that says “I’m slain”.
Natalia Go as Gertrude is moving. I saw her dignified way of shedding a tear without breaking down. It reminded me that as much as she is a mother moved, she’s still a queen with the royal breeding that exudes even in moments where you expect her to be emotional. The rest of the performances get you thinking though if this is a facade or she’s really the nurturing person that most versions present. It also makes me forget that she was quick to marry her brother-in-law the moment her husband dropped dead. There is already an heir in line in case she’s worried about succession issues. After the show, I made sure that I told her how much I liked her performance. Theater performers get motivated better when they receive the compliments in person.
And of course, Hamlet himself, Kuya Manzano. It’s the kind of performance where he did not hold back from laying the smackdown on Gertrude (I know, right) to slamming that metal box just so he could find an outlet for all that rage. He is angry at his mother for disrespecting the mourning period, at his uncle for the perceived poisoning and at Ophelia for suspecting her of infidelity simply because of how the way he viewed his mother changed the way he views all women. It was an acting approach that gets you thinking that the insanity displayed is not fake. It was very in-your-face and downright unpredictable. There are moments of lucid interval like whenever he’s giving instructions to Horatio or asking for Laertes’ favor about the puppetry. It was also shown where he’s having a duel with Laertes and too preoccupied to even drink. For a character viewed as batshit insane here at Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining, he still has some sense working for him.
He carried the show well enough to generate more ticket sales since, as the title character, much is expected of him. High expectations as they may be, he passed the with flying colors and then some. It makes you view Hamlet altogether as a man that has foreseen his downward spiral into madness. If there is one beautifully tragic way to witness a monarch lose his head over family matters, it is by watching Hamlet through the performance of Kuya Manzano.
Tickets are still up for grabs for the next playdates of Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining – March 6, 7 and 8, 2015. Go grab them while supplies still last by clicking on the official Facebook account of DITO Bahay ng Sining. And it will also have its run on iChill Theater Cafe. You’d definitely have a blast upon watching this version that director Jay Crisostomo IV has come up for contemporary audiences. And while you’re at it, knowing that you’d be looking forward to more insights and discussions regarding theater, might as well like our official Facebook page, MusicalsOnline.com, and follow us on Twitter @musicalsnews. Thanks for reading.