“#R </3 J, A Multimedial Hallucination on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” is the premiere offering of Dulaang UP’s (DUP) 40th theatre season. This captivating amalgamation of artistic disciplines perfectly encapsulates this season’s theme: 20/20 Vision: Clarity. Originality. Perspective. Its cornucopia runneth over with imagination, but at the heart of this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, #R </3 J (hashtag R heartbroken J) is DUP’s own love letter to the millennials.
The tragic fates of Romeo and Juliet are familiar to most. We read their love story in high school, memorized their immortal lines and uttered them to our imaginary Romeo or Juliet (Yes, I saw you roll your eyes). DUP’s #R </3 J is not THAT Romeo and Juliet. It actually came in like a wrecking ball and destroyed almost everything I hold dear about this classic. It was almost sacrilegious, but fear not because the people behind the production know the story of the star-crossed lovers like the palm of their hands, and as such they were conscientious in the thought process.
The thoughtful destruction of the classic gave way to a modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, something that mirrors reality and the mindset of the new generation Romeos and Juliets. Yes, they changed the setting from 16th century Verona, Italy to present time Verona, Bonifacio Global City, Philippines. The lovers’ surnames did not escape the welcome mutation, from Montague to Montes and from Capulet to Capule. Their names became more hip, from Romeo to just R and from Juliet to just J. R was an emo (emotional) photographer with mediocre parkour abilities (who was a tad too emotional for my taste) and J was a popstar princess. Even their fathers’ occupation changed to become the Philippines’ most profitable profession-politics (no, not that other P). Of course, Philippine politics is not complete without electoral fraud, long and winding privilege speeches (which are actually based on recorded speeches by two senators), private security, attractive young sidepieces and the ever-present corruption.
After the overhaul, what remained is the very essence of Romeo and Juliet, L-O-V-E or lovelovelove as Kris Aquino would say. #R </3 J asks if the youth of today have the same fervor as Romeo and Juliet when it comes to love. In the midst of an infinitely many distractions, which include, but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, recreational drugs, barhopping and temptation of the opposite sex, do millennials believe in “the one”? If they believe in “the one”, will they die for their love for “the one”?
Ricardo Enrico “Roco” Sanchez as R was okay, but Francesca Go as J was, to borrow R’s word, “resplendent” whom the audience could “fall in love with from afar”. Go switched from a bitchy popstar to a lovelorn teenager in a nanosecond with so much ease. They had undeniable chemistry that was more pronounced in their actions rather than in their conversations. Their dances, which ranged from ballet to hip-hop, were wildly wondrous but each sway of Go’s hips or each lift by Sanchez was pregnant with meaning. Their lovemaking dance routines were some of the most emotionally charged and risqué scenes I have seen onstage. It was more noteworthy because in one of them they were just in their black underwear, with Go moving up and down the wall and both of them doing risky stunts. It was an accident waiting to happen but thankfully, they pulled it off seamlessly. Bravo!
Ricky Ibe as Congresman Montes and Mitoy Sta. Maria as actor-turned-Mayor Capule looked the part as rotten politicians who deny culpability in negative issues. The scene where they were speaking simultaneously would have been messy if the actors talked over each other like what most real politicians would do, but they did not so I understood most of what was said. Ibe also played the part of so-full-of-himself TV host of Diretsahan (Straight to the Point) who was also the ninong (godparent) of J. He was hilarious as the self-centered host who answered his own questions and periodically interrupted his guest mid-sentence. Marynor Madamesila essayed three roles, as Mrs. Capule, Mrs. Montes and the psychiatrist, with aplomb. Her costume change in Act 1 Scene 1 was a thing of beauty that was done under one second, which she pulled off with no strand astray. Leo Rialp portrayed Shakespeare and appeared on the projector sporadically.
The all-student supporting cast and ensemble moved with great and tireless energy. They danced like their lives depended on that night’s performance. The opening scene where R and J were “floating” in space, the nightclub scene where R and J met, Tybalt’s funeral and the last dance scene were the height of fabulousness because of the talent and youthful vibe of the ensemble. They moved as one, fornicated as one, mourned as one and celebrated life as one through social media and beyond.
#R </3 J is a multimedial hallucination so its last and most intriguing character is the projector in the center of the stage. It showed a seemingly endless parade of images that not only assaulted the senses but also the mind and the heart. It projected scenes from music videos, movie posters, DVD covers, PNoy’s most recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), riot photos, J’s interviews, R’s last act (which disturbingly did not coincide with the one that occurred onstage), and a scientific lecture about love complete with structural formulae of hormones. The stage was virtually bare with immoveable props, which all the more highlighted the presence and importance of the projector.
Aside from the projector, a bed, two red chairs, a computer table, and a couple of shelves, which alternated in calling the stage their temporary home, the rest of the props were human beings. Human beings in black clothes and masks transformed into two cars (complete with seatbelts and steering wheels), trees in a park, play area in an arcade, and curtains to hide scene changes, among other things. It was not only the creativity of using human beings as props that was commendable, but more importantly, it was the velocity at which things changed from one form of matter to another.
#R </3 J did not have the same ending as Romeo and Juliet, but the alternative ending is as satisfying as the original, if not more so. What was more controversial than the ending was the lack of curtain call. The audience sat inside the theater minutes after the final scene, looking at the projector with real-time images of ourselves! We waited for the cast and staff to come out but nobody did. We just sat there in uncomfortable state of semi-silence until some people in front started to pile out of the theater. We followed suit after three minutes.
#R </3 J lived up to high expectations as a “postmodern tragedy … through a pastiche of movement, music, intertext, video, and design”. It made me blink when the lights and videos came on in Act 1 Scene 1, then the events onstage made me think for the rest of the show. The play was a virtual bombardment of images, sounds, dance movements and haunting words that normally enter the psyche of teenagers on a daily basis. I am beyond that age bracket, so I found the first few seconds of the run of the projector a little off putting — too much, too soon. As I adjusted to the cacophony of sounds and stream of images, I started to enjoy the show. Aside from love, #R </3 J fearlessly tackled controversial topics like politics and the corruption and entitlement that come with power, homosexuality and the stigma that is associated with it, family dynamics in the context of 21st century Philippines, and depression and suicide. It was a heady combination of vital issues that face not only the millennials, but everyone.
#R </3 J is directed by DUP’s Artistic Director Dexter M. Santos and adapted by Guelan Varela-Luarca. Other collaborators included Krina Cayabyab (Music Design), John Batalla (Lighting Design), Ohm David (Set Design), Winter David (Video Design), Darwin Desoacido (Costume Design) and a team of choreographers and set collaborators.
#R </3 J was staged from August 26 to September 14, 2015 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Second Floor, Palma Hall, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.