"TOSCA," Asian style


In the Asian version of the Italian opera TOSCA, Floria Tosca is a woman being forced to reveal the whereabouts of a member of the Hukbalahap, the anti-Japanese resistance group in World War I.



ThePhilippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) recently staged atwo-day run of Asian Tosca, an experimental reworking of theopera classic by Giacomo Puccini.

Puccini'sopera is based on a drama by Victorien Sarou and tells the tale ofthe jealous Floria Tosca and her boyfriend Mario during Napoleon'sinvasion of Rome. The Chief of Police Scarpia uses Tosca to gaininformation on the whereabouts of the escaped political prisonerAngelotti, whom Mario has helped.

Thisproduction, however, transplants the action to Asia. A collaborationwith the Black Tent Theater (BTT) of Japan and the Nottle Theater ofKorea, the Manila run of Asian Tosca is the currentincarnation of a series of revisions and adaptations that have beenmade by the different theater groups involved.

Thefirst "installment" of this multi-group touring production wascreated in 2006 by Nottle Theater and BTT. Last year, PETA and thePractice Theater of Singapore joined forces with BTT to further adaptthe storyline, infusing their own understanding of each other'scultures and histories.

Theattempt at creating a version of Tosca with an Asian perspective andstaged in an experimental way was an exciting and creative experiencefor the audience. There is a mixed cast of Filipino, Korean andJapanese actors and the exposition of Tosca's main plot is told,more or less, in Nihongo, Korean, Tagalog, and English with snippetsof arias from the Italian opera.

Toadd to the unusual and unique flavor, the show begins with fiveToscas (four Japanese and one Filipina). Later on, there are twoMarios and two Scarpias. Actors interchange with each other fromscene to scene, shifting from Japanese to Filipino and from young toold versions of the same character.

Itis interesting that directors Soxie Topacio and Kirtani Natsukodecided not to use any supertitles (the theater equivalent ofsubtitles, where text is projected above the stage) for the first fewscenes. This may have been a deliberate decision to further immersethe audience in the confusion that Tosca experiences.

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Thefirst half features mostly a Noh re-imagining of the story, where the"ghosts" of the different Toscas seem trapped in an endless curseto continually live through the events that lead to Scarpia'smurder, Mario's execution and Tosca's suicide. In a nod to theFilipino's love of a good punchline, the second half upends theserious tone and flips it around to slapstick comedy.

FeaturingNor Domingo as Mario and Bernah Bernardo as Tosca, both are nowghosts in a netherworld where they realize what has happened to them.Angelotti is now a member of the Hukbalahap, the anti-Japaneseresistance group in World War II and Scarpia (played by Raffy Tejada)is an officer of the Japanese army.

Cornyone-liners lead to a Benny Hill-type chase scene when the ghost ofScarpia finds them and the three of them start blaming Angelotti(played by Willy Casero) for their deaths. While funny andentertaining, the scene's point does not really lead to anythinguntil Tosca addresses the audience with the other four Toscas with afinal message.

Oneof the more striking components of the production is its use of therecurring theme of a running Tosca. Sometimes shown as a moving neonlaser light display (calling to mind the works of Toshimitsu Takagi)and sometimes as actors running in "slow motion," this provides acrafty way to weave a common thread through the multilingual,multicultural, multidimensional and multireality sequence of eventsand serves as the anchor for the show's poignant ending. It isthis constant running that Tosca points out as her higher calling: todo so for those who are unable.

PETAwill stage the children's plays Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang andBatang Rizal from September 19 to October 12, Fridays toSundays at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. For details, call410-0821 or 725-6244 or email petampro@yahoo.com.


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