For the first offering of their 42nd season with the theme of "Pagbabanyuhay: Mga Bagong Anyo ng Buhay," Tanghalang Ateneo chose to stage a modernized version of a classic Greek tragedy -- "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles. This digital version, with the stylized title of "password: 03d1pu5_r3x," was adapted and directed for an online presentation by Ron Capinding, using the Filipino translation by National Artist Rolando Tinio.
Several years ago, an old legislator named Laio had been murdered during a pilgrimage, and his murderer is still at large. The Highest Council of the nation has determined that this murder mystery has to be resolved in order for the country to survive an ongoing plague (pandemic?) that was causing an alarming death toll all over the country. The current president Edipo (Yan Yuzon) promised the nation that he would get to the bottom of this cold case, to finally bring the perpetrator to justice, and restore prosperity to the country.
His Vice President Kreon (Marian Rivera-Dantes) advised Edipo to consult with the correspondent Maria Tiresias (Katski Flores) for further enlightenment. However, the reluctant Tiresias publicly accused Edipo himself of being the curse that befell the country. She further added fuel to the president's anger by saying that Edipo had long unknowingly been living in depravity with his wife Yokasta (Miren Alvarez-Fabregas). His pride and reputation hurt, this led Edipo on an obsessive quest to discover his own origin.
Yan Yuzon possessed the powerful charisma of Edipo, as he underwent an intense development from benevolent leader to disturbed tyrant to tragic figure. Miren Alvarez-Fabregas as the Yokasta was cool and confident, but as terrible secrets were being revealed, her assured facade soon broke down. Movie star Marian Rivera-Dantes had an auspicious debut as theater actress as the staunchly-principled Kreon, with her calm demeanor and dignified indignance. In her one riveting scene, Katski Flores as the blind journalist Maria Tiresias (sly name pun obvious) built up the tension which carried through the rest of the play.
In smaller but critical roles, Gabe Mercado (as Lysanias) and Marlon Rivera (as Egeo) held the keys to the central mysteries. Director Ron Capinding, who played Oedipus himself in a previous staging, played the Presidential Spokesman, whose got to relate the grisly events that happened off-camera. The Chorus was composed of student actors (Dani Capinding, Nicole Chua, Miguel Datu, Trixie dela Cruz, Kath Dizon, Shaun Ocrisma, Lars Salamante) who played various side characters like the citizenry, the cabinet ministers and press corps. Their scenes of choral elocution carried a lingering haunting effect.
When Capinding updated the classic tale to the current times, he was not at all subtle. President Edipo was a mayor from the South before he became president of the country. He continued to enjoy immense popularity and support from his fellow Southerners despite the ongoing problems. His Vice President Kreon was a woman from Nabua (Camarines Sur), whom he later accused of wanting to grab his power. To add a further knowing jab, Edipo's press conferences always started late.
In online presentations like this, theater elements like dramaturgy (Peter George Mayshle), production design (by Marlon Rivera), lighting design (by D Cortezano), sound design (by John Ago Yam) and original score (by Zak Capinding) now had to work hand in hand with film elements like editing (by Bianca Baltazar), special visual effects (Miggy Arnonobal), color (Clara Lazaro), and sound mixing (also by John Ago Yam). Pure theater actors had to learn to act in front of a camera (giving Marian Rivera a distinct advantage). Since this particular performance is rendered permanent by this digitally-recorded version, the essential aspect of constant newness in every theater performance had essentially been neutered.
Capinding's modern adaptation made the whole play very clear, engaging and currently relevant. The rich, deep Filipino vocabulary used may sound eloquently poetic to the ears, yet the discontent, defiance and distress they conveyed remained remarkably urgent. The English subtitles by Jopie Sanchez will be very helpful for the occasional archaic words.
The online Zoom-type platform had its limitations, for sure. But this production proved that, with innovative ideas and passionate actors, a story originally conceived in 429 BC can be made to feel as if it was primetime news today. The suspenseful execution of the final reveal still packed a heavy wallop, whether you knew the twisted story or not.
The showdates for "password: 03d1pu5_r3x" are on February 22, 25 and 27, 2021. Tickets will be P150 for general viewing and P250 for general viewing plus a souvenir program (prices inclusive of transaction fee). Tickets can be purchased from Tanghalang Ateneo's ticketing partner Ticket2Me.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."