From "Stop Kiss" to "Stage Kiss" is how multi-platform actor and wrestling enthusiast Tarek El Tayech would describe his journey in theater from this year to 2020.
In July this year, he played George in the local restaging of Diana Son's "Stop Kiss," this time directed by Ed Lacson Jr.
In February to March next year, he is part of Repertory Philippines' staging of Sarah Ruhl's "Stage Kiss," to be directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna.
But first he gets to kiss Lady Macbeth as he plays the titular role in Theatre Titas' new interpretation of "Macbeth" starting November 9, Saturday. It runs all weekends up to November 23 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati City.
We say multi-platform because he's done films like "Buybust" and top-rating telenovelas like ABS-CBN's recently concluded "The General's Daughter."
El Tayech's tall physique and "tisoy" look coupled with his long, wavy hair and hermit-like beard made him perfect for challenging roles that could create misery and chaos to other people's lives.
But it was in theater where he honed his acting skills. He started in college, acting for Tanghalang Ateneo and later for Dulaang UP, directed and trained by the great ones, respectively, by Ricky Abad and the late Tony Mabesa.
Now for Theater Tita's "Macbeth," he is directed by educator Carlos S. Cariño. The modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's classic play about an ambitious general who wants to be king of Scotland is described "Macbeth in motion."
In a statement, Theatre Titas said because they aim for the younger audience, the play stays true to Shakespeare's original rhyme and meter but with music composed by Andy Gruet and movement pieces choreographed by former Philippine Ballet Theatre artist Joanna Foz Castro.
"This production of 'Macbeth' promises to be kinetic, fast paced, riveting, and palatable to today’s audience," the group said.
Cariño explained it's not strictly dance theater either.
"[It's] physical theater and movement, which I love for what it adds to the theater experience of an audience," Cariño told ABS CBN News in an online interview.
"I used a lot of movement in the 'Romeo and Juliet' I did in 2016-2017 and I wanted to work with more physical theater in 'Macbeth'. The play lends itself to great explorations in movement: it has witches, warriors, murders, a banquet, a culminating one-on-one dog fight. Fun stuff to add to the already great language."
During the conceptualization process, he recalled: "The physical theater and movement aspects of this production were there from the start. It was an essential part of the vision. This would be a Macbeth in motion. It was critical that it sound great and move well."
Cariño sees the relevance of "Macbeth" not only in the present socio-political-economic milieu but also in any situation.
"Macbeth's dilemma is every man’s day-to-day dilemma. How do I do the right thing at the right time? How do I resist temptation How do I go back to the good after committing evil?" he said.
"[With regards the present milieu] I’ll leave it to the audience to determine that. But I don’t know: a wayward strongman, a society of suspicion, friendship violated and killed, families ambushed and killed, death galore, the good denied. Yep, that could be relevant. Evil exists, that’s relevant. It exists like evil does in reality, in every scene. That’s relevant, Does man fall? You bet. All of the above. But can he choose rightly? Can he be good? Yes, indeed," Cariño added.
"Macbeth" is Theatre Titas' third production after 2017's twinbill titled "What's In The Dark?" and the 50th anniversary staging of Paul Dumol’s "Ang Paglilitis Kay Mang Serapio" in 2018, in cooperation with Duende Theatre.
On having El Tayech playing Macbeth, Cariño said: "Tarek was one of the first actors we thought about when we started, and we were in touch as early as February 2018. But he didn’t read for us till April of this year. He got the role almost immediately and really, what this actor will be doing in the next three weeks, for this run, is incredibly courageous."
"He is an intelligent actor with a fine touch for this character. He gives Macbeth brains and sensitivity and then painfully destroys both through the course of each performance. He seems to almost break in front of the audience.
"A few days ago, answering questions from some students who observed rehearsal, he told them that his key was to get behind the intention of each line, each action. That’s right, that’s true. You can’t do a play of this caliber by just 'emotioning' or feeling your way through. You have to think yourself through. And Tarek does this very naturally," Cariño added.
Issa Litton and Anne Gauthier Das Neves will alternate for the role of Lady MacBeth.
The last time we saw Litton was in Dulaang UP's "Father and Sons," playing Sofia in the original English version written by Nick Joaquin. It was directed by the late legendary Tony Mabesa.
On getting Litton to play Lady MacBeth, Cariño said: "Issa is as responsible for this production as anyone else. It was while watching her in 'Romeo and Juliet,' the first time we worked together, that I first arrived at the idea of doing 'Macbeth.' And it was because I saw in Issa a Lady Macbeth."
"I love working with Issa: always prepared, sounds great which is very important to me, understands her lines, open yet very decisive in execution, and has wonderful stage-bearing. Plus now – this is our third play together -- she has a very instinctive sense of what I look for, what I shoot for. We have a wonderful collaboration."
For most theater lovers, it would be the first time they're going to see Das Neves. On playing Lady Macbeth alternating with Litton, Cariño said: "She will be this production’s greatest revelation, and I am proud to be witness to it."
"She grew so much through the rehearsal process. She’s sturdy, sensitive, asks the right questions, sounds great with a wide vocal range, is open and brave as an actor, and is gifted with wonderful stage eyes that mirror her acting potentials: alluring, sweet, lovely, intense, and purposeful. [I think] her life will change after this run. Like Issa, audiences need to see Anne act more. She’s only at the start of her possibilities as an actor," he added.
On having their own interpretations of the role, Cariño pointed out: "Issa’s Lady Macbeth is a tough queen. Anne’s Lady Macbeth is a sparkplug of intensity. Both play Lady as smart and feisty."
"I thought of 'Macbeth' in February 2017, but kept it close to vest. I secured Issa a year later in February 2018, then Anne in maybe September 2018. In October or November of 2018, I pitched it to the Titas. We came to an agreeance and here we are," he said.
Other members of the cast are Natalia Abad, Jamie Alabin, Stephen Arroyo, Denise Castillo, Javier Coromina, Aylli Cortez, Rayne Cortez, Tory Cortez, Txavi Evangelista, Jonas Gruet, Issa Iyog, Jeremy Mendoza, Tonchi Mercado, Amiel Narciso, Joel Parcon, Luis Sumera, Miguel Vasquez, and Fermin Villegas.
But of course, the man of the hour is El Tayech. Many are curious who he is and where he came from. Some even asked if he's Filipino or an expat.
How does wrestling come into the picture? No holds barred, we threw him a few questions prior to opening day and here's the excerpt of our online interview.
Q: Kindly refresh our memory, sir. After playing Angelo in DUP's "Measure for Measure," is this the second time you're going to play a major Shakespearean character? If not, what are the others and what year, which theater group?
"I was lucky enough to work with Sir Tony Mabesa on a few occasions... and one of those occasions was when I played the Duke of Albany in Dulaang UP’s production of 'King Lear.' The opportunity to play Macbeth isn't one that comes along for every actor so I’m both honored and privileged to do so and I hope my interpretation gives justice to the role."
Q: What was your reaction when you got the role?
"I was intrigued by what could be, the possibilities of it all. I am looking forward to seeing how the audiences will respond to it."
Q: Objectively, what can you say about Macbeth the character?
"Objectivity is a difficult thing as an actor. As an actor we are required to explore different sides of a character; this person we are trying to bring to life. Macbeth, depending on your perspective, or the way the character is portrayed, can be so many different things. For me, Macbeth is a combination of so many different facets, parts of which are parts of me. I hope the audience gets to see Macbeth as I saw him, and I will let the performance, hopefully, speak for itself."
Q: Kindly describe working with Issa Litton and Anne Gauthier.
"They are both tremendous. So generous and giving. They take good care of me, and I am honored and thankful to be sharing the stage with them. Please watch and see their amazing work for yourselves. They've both taken this difficult character, and each made it their own."
Q: How about being directed by Carlos Cariño?
"He allows for a very collaborative experience. He gives his actors the freedom to explore. He is patient with us, throughout the entire process, and I believe his work as an educator lends itself to that. He is always open to hearing what his actors have to think about everything that is happening on and off the stage. I hope the audiences get to see that translated to the final work."
Q: If it's okay, a bit of background info on you. Where did you graduate in college and what course did you take up? How did you start in theater?
"I took up theater in Ateneo (started with Tanghalang Ateneo) learning from all the great minds there, from Ricky Abad, Ron Capinding, Yan Yuzon (who was my first director). I graduated in Trinity University Of Asia (Broadcast Journalism). I wasn't really active in theater for a four-year period after graduating, and fortuitously found my way back when Ron Capinding asked me to be part of TA's "King Of The Birds." It was a godsend as I had just lost 50 pounds or so. Cause I had gotten fatter than usual."
Q: Many are curious also, if it's okay, could you tell us about your name?
"I'm half-Palestinian (care of my late father, Ismail). If I'm not mistaken, my first name means 'evening star', and my last name means either 'insane' or 'leader.'"
Q: We've seen you in "Stop Kiss" and then now, "Macbeth." Then next year, you'd be acting for "Stage Kiss" (opposite Missy Maramara again), it seems you're more active now in doing theater?
"From 'Stop Kiss' to 'Stage Kiss.' I'm so very thankful for the opportunity I got in 'Stop Kiss,' which led to having the chance to work with Missy again, and this time for Rep! I look forward to jumping into that, working with direk Carlos, and all the wonderful folks over at Rep. For now, the universe has blessed me with these two opportunities, and I will do my best for both. #REPvirgin here, so I hope to do the REP legacy proud."
Q: You're also known for the Manila Wrestling Federation? Would it be okay to ask your involvement in it? And how would you compare the "highs" between wrestling and theater?
"I'm the senior analyst, which basically means I do hosting and commentary, which is super fun. The MWF's creative director is William Elvin Manzano, who is also known in the theater community. Pro-wrestling is basically sports theater. What we do with MWF is we take pro-wrestling and place it in a Pinoy context, with Pinoy characters, storylines, and teleserye-like twists. We try our best to show our audiences a little taste of what life in the Philippines, or at least, in the Metro, is like."
(Note: El Tayech is also president of the company behind MWF but he doesn't like to "flex" it.)
Q: Going back to our topic, how would you convince the regular theater-going audience to watch this new interpretation of Macbeth?
"The two most well known Shakespeare plays for me are 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Macbeth.' These two works resonate so much with so many different people (plus those two have like, the most number of TV, film adaptations, etc.) If you are a regular theater-goer, you would want to see this as it has been a while since a local company in the Metro has tackled this challenging work."
Q: Anything you may want to add?
"I'm very proud of this production, and the hard work that was put into it by all the folks involved, especially those for who this is their first ever production. I invite all the theater patrons to watch, and see this powerful tale unfold."
Tickets to "Macbeth" are available at www.ticket2me.net or via the Ticket2Me app from the Apple Store or Google Play.