Manila Notes: Conversations in medias res

Both performers and audience alike were fortunate to experience the brilliance of highly-acclaimed playwright and director Oriza Hirata here in Manila. He is best known for Tokyo Notes, which received prestigious recognitions such as the Kishida Prize for Drama in 1995 and has been translated to 15 languages. Among these are Seoul Notes, Taipei Notes, and Bangkok Notes, all of which have been modified to fit their locations. As expected, the most recent translation is that of Manila Notes.

Hirata is known to adopt the “contemporary colloquial theatre” style which he himself developed. This technique highlights the calm and quiet – characteristics unusual for traditional theatre performances. Much like the history behind the birth of realism (as a counter for romanticism), Hirata’s theatre style rejects the western regard for exaggeration. Instead, his stories are told naturally, truthfully, and simply.

Directed by Hirata himself, this is exactly what Manila Notes has in store: an honest and modest account of several lives intertwined in the lobby of an art museum that showcased the works of Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. The quiet might work with the Japanese especially when accompanied by their discipline. However, known as people who are loud and ecstatic, one would think that such vibe might not encapsulate the Filipino. Astonishingly, however, Tokyo Notes’ local version did not miss out on common – and natural – Filipino antics through the translation of Filipino playwright, Rody Vera and the exquisite performance of its 20 cast members.

Conversations encompass the entirety of Manila Notes. Among the 20 characters were the Tenorio family, who agreed to meet in the museum, Jerome Henares, the museum director along with curator Emily Gorospe, students Sonia Torralba and Aliyah Go, Joy Goqingco, who plans to donate paintings entrusted to her by her late father, accompanied by her boyfriend Manuel Araos and lawyer Atty. Ross Miranda and a few couples.

We discover snippets of these characters through their casual conversations with each other, often in medias res, or in the middle of things. As one dialogue happens between two characters, another discussion may simultaneously arise from the next three. This happens quite often in the play, further emphasizing the intuitiveness of the story. Comparable with Vermeer’s paintings that featured “everyday life scenes that depicts ordinary people” (artble.com) whose characters are visualized in the middle of domestic errands, the characters of Manila Notes are all in the middle of things, despite the audience having little knowledge about these.

What Hirata introduced to the Filipino theatre scene may be different from the active and lively theatre performance we are more familiar with. In spite of this, he has highlighted the habitual musings of everyday which Filipinos commonly give less regard to. With Manila Notes, the phenomenon that each life takes a natural course of its own is manifested. Oftentimes , it even intertwines with another.






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