Relevance of Shakespeare to the state of the nation

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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S work is timeless in its themes and universal in its approach — such that one of his earliest and greatest works appears as if written especially for Filipinos.

Richard III (believed to have been written in 1592), is one of The Bard’s most famous tragic works, depicting the rise to power of Richard, duke of Gloucester, a ruthless man haunted by his hunched back and ugliness.

Shakespeare depicts Richard as a cunning, entitled, misogynist bully — a monster determined to steal the crown of England by hiring assassins to murder his brother, King Edward IV.

But Richard’s Machiavellian triumph did not happen overnight nor was it due to his effortless alone — he had the help of many enablers. In a modern setting, it can be likened to an election (a particularly bloody one).

“Shakespeare’s Richard III asks: what enables a tyrant to stay in power? We ask the same question in the context of contemporary Philippine politics, drawing from characters and scenes in Shakespeare’s play,” Ricardo Abad, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), told BusinessWorld in a text message.

Mr. Abad, together with playwright Anton Juan, brings Richard III from page to the stage in a production entitled RD3RD (an obvious allusion to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s moniker, Du30). Presented by ADMU’s Arete Production, in cooperation with Tanghalang Ateneo and Ateneo Fine Arts, the play will have performances starting Jan. 11 at the Fine Arts Black Box Theater at the ADMU campus in Quezon City.

Mr. Abad is also the artistic director of the university’s Arete Creativity and Innovation Hub.

The play, which encourages Filipino viewers not to remain collective silent watchers of sociopolitical events in the country, is a timely piece that also parallels the current political climate in the US.

In 2016, The New York Times ran an opinion piece, “Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election” by Stephen Greenblatt who warned his readers not to stay silent or waste their votes and watch a personification of Richard III claim power. The story was published in October, which was a little too late because a month later, Donald Trump won the US presidency.

Judy Ick, the adaptation’s dramaturg, said in a Facebook post that RD3RD was the result of a collaboration between the two directors and her, and was created from the Shakespearean text and the aforementioned New York Times op-ed which she “revised and revised again and again.”

“I felt that this story had to be told, that this Shakespearean play had to be re-angled to reveal our contemporary truths. The time is ripe for an English history play in our own history because now is the winter of our discontent,” she explained.

Mr. Abad said: “the play comments on the present administration and focuses, particularly, on the war on drugs and the EJK issue. Some scenes also refer to Filipinos who voted for him, but it’s not the central issue of the play.”

He explained that the focus lies on the five “enablers who support, wittingly or unwittingly, a ruler’s rise to power” or the naïve, the forgetful, the terrorized, the opportunistic and a fifth that the audience will learn from watching the play.

“There may be other types [of enablers] but we limit ourselves to those revealed by Shakespeare’s text,” Mr. Abad, who also acts as the play’s narrator, said.

Mr. Abad is no stranger to adapting Shakespeare — his Sintang Dalisay, a Filipino adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, has won several awards here and abroad and is the most-staged and internationally toured Shakespearean play in our history.

“Much of my work in sociology and Shakespeare over the past 25 years or so has revolved around the theme of social inequality. RD3RD falls under the same umbrella. What makes RD3RD unique is the immediacy of its message, the common political conviction of cast and crew,” he said on the play’s Facebook page.

RD3RD’s ensemble includes Ron Capinding, Joseph de la Cruz, Katski Flores, Teroy Guzman, Judy Ick, Cholo Ledesma, Itos Ledesma, Missy Maramara, Gold Soon, Jay Valencia-Glorioso, and Jamie Wilson.

Asked what the audience should take away from the production, Mr. Abad said: “I suppose I would like [the] audiences to be more aware that there’s more to leadership than the mission-vision-practice of a single person. And if people refuse to take a stand against brutal policies, then that refusal allows a nefarious system to thrive.”

For co-director Mr. Juan, humanity lies at the core of a society’s rituals, which ought to be expressed in our words, performances, and beliefs.

“It is in these times [that] our rituals should speak out even more urgently to the world. To question the indifference of those who watch, to understand and put to light the terror, the disbelief of many who think these killings are necessary, to reflect on our own inhumanity in accepting ‘the necessary means to an end,’” the playwright and professor at the Department of Film, Television, and Theater Arts in University of Notre-Dame-du-lac, USA said on Facebook.

RD3RD is a nonprofit artists’ initiative which will be staged at the Ateneo De Manila and is the Philippine representative to the Festival of Shakespearean plays which is part of the Asian Shakespeare Association Conference in Manila in May.

Reserve tickets at Faustine P. de Guzman