An intense Bernardo Bernardo shines as the king driven mad in PETA’s Haring Lear for Studio Connections International’s initial production that had its run at the SDA Theater in De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. Such intensity took its toll on Bernardo as he got ill and got hospitalized prompting the show’s producers to cancel the second week of the show reducing it into just a week run.
Originally staged by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and abridged when the it participated at the Kuandu Arts Festival held at the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) in October 2014, Haring Lear was supposed to be Studio Connections International’s initial offering as a the new kid on the theater block.
PETA’s Haring Lear is a visually striking production, with an all male cast all sporting a bald/shaved head. The post apocalyptic world is brought to life by production designer Gino Gonzales who bathed the set in various shades of grey, clothed the actors in stylized, futuristic costumes in mostly black (Abner Delina, Jr.’s Cordelia wearing white an exception. The fiery red makeup in some of the characters made this splash of color really stood out.
Beyond the sights, the content is still king and this translation into Filipino by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera enabled me to grasp the narrative more clearly since I admit that I do struggle with Shakespeare’s works in their original language. I knew that I was already getting into it when I somewhat felt hanging when the scene shifted from the main plot involving Haring Lear and his daughters Goneril (Buddy Caramat) and Regan (George de Jesus) to the subplot concerning Gloster (Garry Lim) and his dueling sons Edmund (Rhenwyn Gabalonzo) and Egardo (Nico Dans). I remembered my previous literature lessons on how Shakespeare liked to break the tension by shifting scenes from a different set of characters to another. But towards the end, the plots do come together in the end. I was able to see that both plots actually deal the children being loyal or disloyal towards their respective fathers. Both fathers become blind, one figuratively and one literally. And while at the onset, I felt that Shakespeare was deviating from the main plot, I was able to understand that what he was telling was thematically linked together.
With Nonon Padilla at the helm, it’s a safe bet that it will be filled with symbolism like the gray gauzy curtain representing property/wealth and when the characters died, they were veiled with the same gray gauzy curtain too. Compared to Lorenzo which I felt was burdened with too much things going on, Haring Lear was more subdued but it still had some elements that had me perplexed particularly the scantily clad, gyrating, hooded figure which I think was supposed to be Death or the Executioner.
But what really got me scratching my head was the finale when all the cast assembled on stage, uttering short lines, some in a foreign language which I didn’t recognize. And then, Abner started singing the Philippine National Anthem and was later on joined by the entire cast. It really took me off when all of a sudden, they play took on a Philippine context. I just learned to accept that this is a Nonon Padilla directed play and there will be things that I will not figure out right away.
Clearly, the hospitalization of Bernardo Bernardo leading to the cancellation of the second week of performances wasn’t what Studio Connections International was banking on when they opened Haring Lear. But there was already drama unfolding even prior to the performance of the opening night, as Bernardo suffered from an allergy attack and had to go to the hospital to get treated. He got back at the performance venue barely an hour before the scheduled starting time. And he delivered a performance that hinted nothing of what happened hours before. At the end of the day, it will be the very intense performance by Bernardo Bernardo that will be remembered. Shifting from a stern king, to a disillusioned one once the betrayal had been found out, and eventually to a crazy one, then a grieving one while getting soaking wet in the process, Bernardo showed that he can more than the comedic Steve Carpio from the sitcom Home Along Da Riles.