Numerous attempts have been adapted to stage William Shakespeare’s 1597 classic play—‘Romeo and Juliet’ and through Dulaang UP’s 40th Theater Season, an original play that is adapted by Guelan Varela-Luarca and gave it a more relevant take, which includes its title—‘#R</3J’ with two of the premiere university-based theater company’s up-and-coming stars—Roco Sanchez and Francesca Go as R Montes and J Capule (the localized version of Romeo and Juliet), respectively.
Frankly, the said production need not worry of its response because it already has a cult following on Shakespeare alone and everyone would just simply go and check on what this first directorial stint of the newest artistic director of DUP—Dexter M. Santos has envisioned on this popular literary piece. Anyone who hasn’t seen Santos’s works may find this stage presentation either amusing or confusing, but personally—I love the choreography in this adaptation especially of course the love scene between R and J.
Even if the choreography was a collaboration of sorts by Santos along with Japhet Mari Cabling, Al Bernard Garcia, Jeff Rm Garcia, Isagani Tayag and Stephen Viñas; the entire run of the play, those who are familiar with Santos’s works—would really say that his imprints are all over it. But this time, more tamed, and more endearing. The ensemble succeeded in providing certain episodes or emotions and all that will help set the mood of a particular scene in dance and creative movements.
Three veteran stage actors Leo Rialp as Shakespeare, Ricky Ibe as Congressman Montes, and Mitoy Sta. Ana as Mayor Capule were all brilliant in their respective characters. Ibe who may have tried channeling the looks of Toby Tiangco or Miro Quimbo in his mind, but none of them is an orator; still he managed to be great in his acting. He was a bit distracted in the scene (briefly) where he and Sta. Ana had to deliver a speech simultaneously with different texts. However, his interpretations of the interviewer were more appealing since any member from the audience could insinuate that he’s mimicking Boy Abunda. His Boy Abunda interpretation was truthful, and didn’t impress me as mere or cheap impersonation at all; it has a slight distinction. Nothing to worry that he would suffer in comparison to Jason Gainza’s interpretation of the King of Talk. Mitoy on the other hand, as Mayor Capule also did great as he tried to amalgamate all those matinee idols-turned-politicians like Senator Bong Revilla, Isko Moreno, Jinggoy Estrada and more. He was such a riot, too.
Among the ensemble, it was Stephen Viñas who stood out since he effectively breathed into the role of Tybaldo or Tybalt Capule Jr. with his swagger moves. While Jon Abella as Markky fell short as the buddy-secret gay lover of R; he lacked the needed emotions of being an ignored friend after he expressed his feelings toward his friend (at least during his own moments), but I know the actor has more chances of redeeming himself in the next runs of the show; he’s a brilliant and a promising talent still.
Two of the scenes that I somehow violently reacted was when the psychiatrist was pseudo-lecturing about the three stages of love, which I find it a bit unnecessary. Yes, the movements were beautifully executed by the ensemble where they shifted from one emotion to the other just to paint a certain scenario where J could have gotten through in the process. Then the video scene of R’s suicide was totally different from what was acted on stage. Was that intended to be stylized? If so, I still think it was inconsistent as a piece of evidence to the character’s death.
But, two of the most moving and probably quotable quotes in the play are the lines that R uttered: “We were impossible but we made it happened” and “Love is a Drug, but never say NO to it.”
As a whole, this adaptation is resplendently unique in many ways, the Varela-Luarca adaptation has that ‘charm’ to attract viewers and theater lovers to flock to Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater and witness this spectacular stage performance that will run till September 13. It is one piece that is a not-to-be-missed since it retold the story of the star-crossed lovers and transformed the setting of Verona into a concrete jungle at the heart of Metro Manila set in 2015, which is teeming with corruption, revolt, advertisements, sex, social media, and condominium units. It truly captured the essence of the most enduring tragedy juxtaposing the young lovers’ romance with the present society’s many forms of ‘commodified’ and ‘convoluted’ kind of love.