Tanghalang Pilipino did this generation a great favor by re-staging Flores Para Los Muertos, the Filipino translation of Tennessee Willam's Pulitzer prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire.
Flores was first staged in 1975 at the Old Raja Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago, Manila, under the direction of the great Lino Brocka, a fleeting moment in Philippine theater that theatergoers now wished they experienced. The play has been revived every generation or so.
Director Floy Quintos, who considers the Brocka production of Flores as one of the "epiphanies" of his youth, revives the play using a set of young actors too young to remember the iconic Elia Kazan film version, who never saw Laurice Guillen and Phillip Salvador in the original staging, but whose "modern sensibilities and experience may add a fresh take on the text."
Quintos did not tamper with the text, nor with Williams' props and setting, but directed instead with restraint, moving around the time period of the play and the sensitive translation of Streetcar by the late Orlando Andres.
The result is a smooth, sexy, fade-to-sunset feel.
In Flores, Eula Valdes plays the coveted role of Blanche Dubois, a fading Southern belle in constant fear of her fading looks and missing marriage prospects. After losing their ancestral southern plantation Belle Reve in mortgage, she leaves the town of Laurel, Mississippi to visit her sister Stella Kowalsi (Meryll Soriano) in New Orleans, under the pretense that she has taken a leave from her job as an English teacher because of her upset nerves. Stella, who is expecting a child, receives Blanche with warmth but hesitantly, fearing the reaction of her domineering husband Stanley (Neil Ryan Sese).
Blanche instantly clashes with Stanley, a working-class Polish immigrant, who is not only irritated by her haughty air but convinced that Blanche lost their family plantation out of carelessness, thereby losing Stella's share of the family wealth. As the months wear on, Blanche develops a relationship with Mitch, Stanley's best friend, and has settled her mind on marrying him. As Stella's delivery nears, Stanley uncovers Blanche's past and tells Mitch, who quickly breaks off the engagement, leaving Blanche lost and desperate.
On the night of Stella's delivery, Blanche and Stanley are left alone in the house. Stanley confronts her with her secrets and, succumbing to baser instincts, rapes her—permanently shattering her sanity.
Stanley commits her into an asylum, but life in the Kowalski house will never be the same again.
The last time I saw Eula Valdes on the Tanghalang Pilipino stage was when she performed the title role of Zsa Zsa Zaturnah, a gay Darna who swallows a rock the size of a fist to become curvaceous super heroine with flaming red hair. It was a little difficult to shake the image of Eula pole dancing to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.
It must have taken a lot for her to make the transition from that kitschy stint to a delicate and nervous Ms. Dubois.
Blanche is a damaged character from the start, struggling to disguise her alcoholism and insecurity with pretensions of virtue and culture. Eula, with her natural gift for portraying outlandish characters, created a very Pinay Blanche—a little more humorous than the Kazan- Vivien Leigh version.
But what really surprised me was Meryll as the romantic, slightly masochistic Stella, who tolerates Stanley's caveman behavior because of his animal magnetism. Her portrayal of Stella is exaggeratedly feminine and unbelievably sexy.
Streetcar is famous for its many memorable moments: Marlon Brando's pushy and cry-babyish "Stellah!"; the climactic "I don' want realism, I want magic!"; and the poignant, perhaps the most memorable Blanche Dubois line, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
But in Quintos' production of Flores, the scene that clings to mind is the from-front-porch-to-bedroom love scene after Stanley yells for his wife who is hiding in their neighbor's quarters.
Meryll runs down the wooden stairs in a flimsy negligee, her soft curves accentuated by the soft stage light designed to mimic moonlight. Stanley, kneeling, presses his face to her stomach desperately, like a child abandoned by his mother. They kiss hungrily with Stella's arms wrapped around his neck and Stanley's arm around her waist. He carries her into the bedroom where a whole night of love making is conveyed through five minutes of love noises, soft fading and brightening of lights to show that the night has deepened and dawn has arrived.
Of all the Streetcar characters, Stanley Kowalsi is perhaps the most intriguing. Quintos considers this one of the "traps" in producing the play.
"Who's playing Stanley, everyone asks, as if the play were all about Stanley," Quintos says in the director's notes on the Flores souvenir program. "But try googling Streetcar and whose picture comes up? Marlon Brando's, of course. So most everyone who comes will come to see how the lead actor measures up to Brando's Stanley. And the much vaunted male sexuality that he imbued the role with. Which sets almost every actor playing the role up for failure."
And I was no exception—I was looking forward to the Pinoy version of Stanley.
Neil Ryan's Stanley has the alpha male force, yes, but somehow lacks the very subtle boyishness the character is imbued with. That neediness for Stella's exaggerated femininity and submissiveness that make the heart flutter. But he did succeed in producing that love-hate effect. His Stanley is a simple man who produces complex emotions: hate for his chauvinism and barbarian ways, and love for his resoluteness.
Flores was recreated at the right time and seen by a generation trapped in a transition from past values to the present, and by a generation pining away for the virtues of the old days.
Flores runs until October 25 at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It also stars Jonathan Tadionan (Mitchel), Marjorie Lorico (Eunice), Paulo Cabanero (Steve Hubel), Gerald Napoles (Pablo Gonzales), Tara Cabaero (Woman), Rocky Salumbides (Young Man), William Manzano (Doctor), and Jo-Ann Requiestas (Matron).
The playdates of the Filipino version where Eula stars as Blanche Dubois will be on October 23, 24 and 25. Performances are scheduled at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
For ticket inquiries and reservations, call Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661 and 832-1125 local 1620/1621. Look for Paolo or Lorelei. Tickets are also available in any Ticketworld outlet (Tel. No. 891-9999) and at the CCP Box Office (Tel. No. 832-3704).
Address: CCP Little Theater, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City