Now THAT is a show!
Dulaang UP’s “Orosman at Zafira” takes the komedya (remembered by most people my age as a Bulwagang Gantimpala production at the old Metropolitan Theater) and thrusts it forward a century and a half into the present. Like Rep’s “Hamlet” it retains the original verse, which presents some difficulty for people not used to hearing the language of Balagtas. Old Tagalog in dactylic hexameter*, anybody?
But it all works thanks to a brilliant decision to focus on dance.
You may not be able to understand all the words in the talasalitaan but the choreography speaks volumes. From signature moves for each kingdom / tribe to the spectacular war scenes – 3 of them, with around 40 people on a small stage** – dance defines this production. “OZ” takes traditional komedya moves and merges them with a hip-hop aesthetic reminiscent of “Stomp.” Like its music, the dances are an amalgamation of traditional ethnic moves and modern steps.
But wait there’s more. The production design is inventive. From the movable walis tingting trees to multiple entrances onstage, the production’s entire look is a world straight out of Greek tragedy with a distinctly Filipino feel. But what impressed me the most was the use of instruments as prop weapons – kubing are daggers, bungkaka are swords, rainmakers are spears, and a kudyapi is contorted into a bow. It adds to the surreal look but also allows each actor to contribute to the music. This culminates in the major characters rocking out with their signature instruments in the final war scene / production number.
The material has its flaws, though. Orosman as a character is underdeveloped, as is his romance with Zafira. He comes off as weak, like Paris pining for Helen, when he’s supposed to be a Romeo willing to risk his family’s ire for the woman he loves. But the rest of the production makes up for this.
Besides, the flaws lead to unexpected strengths. A wimpy male lead underscores the strength of the women, with Zafira giving off a Mulan / Joan of Arc vibe. Maita Ponce plays her with a certain angas (spunk) accentuated by a Tina Turner stance.
The music is ethnic rock, and while pop-attuned ears may find it difficult to appreciate at first, the melodies do get to you eventually. By the end of the production you’ll find yourself stomping and clapping to the beat in a curtain call that is part celebration and part encore.
The show will run for another weekend. Let’s hope they re stage it later this year, preferably at a bigger venue. I don’t mind pricier tickets, it’s going to be worth it.
* As far as I can tell; I wasn’t counting syllables and identifying stresses in the middle of the show.
** The fact that no one tripped and no eyes were poked out is an achievement in itself.