By Precious Lee Cundangan
Manila, Philippines, August 27, 2012 - A young actor/acting coach vehemently argues with a much older man about passion and performance, and how to go about a story that the latter had created: Reb Atadero (the young actor/acting coach) exudes dominating, relentless energy as he painstakingly "directs" Jeremy Domingo (the much older man) during one of the rehearsals for Stephen Mallatratt's "The Woman in Black," directed by William Elvin Manzano.
Based on the book by Susan Hill, "The Woman in Black" is one of London West End's longest-running straight plays. If you have seen the movie with the same name, starring Daniel Radcliffe, we can vouch that the play is a lot scarier than the film, especially in terms of the play's structure that is peppered with brilliantly unexpected twists and turns.
Presented by Kalayaan College's Dulaang Kalay for the new generation of theatergoers, "The Woman in Black" is one of the very few horror tales that is given life on stage.
The play tells the tragic story of lawyer Arthur Kipps (the older Kipps played by Domingo, the younger Kipps played by Atadero) through an actor's (Atadero) performance, which recounts bizarre occurrences during Kipps' short stay in the Eel Marsh House, where a woman in black, a malevolent ghost, refuses to be exorcised and returns to haunt Kipps.
Arriving for the rehearsals of "The Woman in Black," we are skeptical about how the production's creative team would go about the material as a horror story can be a huge challenge to any director, especially with one that had been recently adapted for the big screen. But such a challenge is faced head on by the show's director.
"When I heard that Dulaang Kalay was doing 'The Woman in Black,' I wanted it, and I begged for it. I watched the movie and being a horror film fan, I wanted to feel and take on the challenge of staging this play," Manzano discloses.
In creating his directorial concept for the play, especially with the set design, Manzano employs a presentational type of staging, which makes use of essential props and set pieces that transport the audience to the show's episodic scenes and various settings. The idea of such visual interpretation springs from the very words uttered by the actor/acting coach character in the play, where the character explains the process of Actual Art.
Some of the amazing things at the rehearsals of "The Woman in Black" are the actors' eloquent lines delivered with impeccable British accent; and the actors' clear-cut shifts from one character to another.
Just like their director, both Atadero and Domingo, the only actors in the play, accept the challenge that their multiple characters demand.
"I started from scratch and with a clean slate. For each character in the play, I was able to portray different types of people by looking at them as a product of their time and environment. As the rehearsals progressed, I also learned how to experiment when to give more or pull back a bit," Domingo shares. "When William offered the role to me, I said yes because this was one of my wish lists, and it's an honor to portray a role that has been done by [Philippine theater stalwarts] Jose Marie Avellana and Miguel Faustmann."
As a theater veteran, Domingo has portrayed numerous characters in his long career in the business. Besides being an accomplished actor and director, his love for horror films and for learning different accents enables him to essay the role of the older Kipps and a myriad of other characters in the play.
Equally a passionate performer is Atadero, who is known for his singing and musical direction prowess. "The Woman in Black" is his first foray into a semi-professional straight play production.
"When William invited me for this I said, 'Yeah, let's go do this.' It's a first for me, although I previously attended an acting workshop called 'Fringe Workshop,' where we did the straight play 'The Crucible.' That workshop was such a blessing; I was able to apply what I've learned from that workshop to prepare myself for this role," Atadero shares.