Words by Kathlene Masilongan
Photos by Kaye Bernal
When we think about Shakespeare, our minds usually go to Romeo and Juliet or even Hamlet and Macbeth. But ask who Coriolanus is and you’d probably get confused looks. Tanghalang Pilipino ends their 32nd season with a bang with Coriolano, a Shakespearean tragedy that’s been translated into Filipino by Guelan Luarca. Directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna, Coriolano is a story about a Roman soldier who gets pushed into politics and whose temper and tyrannical outlook lead him to his demise.
This play puts Coriolano, an unlikable man, as its central figure. While he is a brilliant soldier and a hero for many, he also loathes the poor and has no respect for any authority. This puts him in a strange position from the audience’s point of view because our heroes are often portrayed as “good” or “wholesome”—everything Coriolano is not. Raised to be a soldier and bred for war, Coriolano’s whole character is driven by his warped desire to “protect” Rome and conquer its enemies. He doesn’t care about common people or even the glory of being crowned after winning his battles. All he cares about is doing his job and doing the way he sees fit.
Coriolano is put in contrast against the people around him, especially the tribunes who act as if they are on the common people’s side, who supposedly give them a “voice” and protect them. In the end, however, the people are only used and exploited by these tribunes for their own personal gain.
It’s natural for a Shakespearean play to confuse an audience like this. Do we root for the central figure despite his faults and shady morals or do we root for the people against him whose intentions aren’t so selfless? This whole play presents that gray area, reminding us that the world isn’t in black and white. The thing is no one wins in this game of politics and power filled with problematic characters who, at the end of the day, only play for themselves. Shakespeare has always loved mirroring society and politics in his work and it’s amazing how his stories still resonate even until now, centuries after his death.
However, what’s more interesting is how well Shakespeare translates into Filipino. Guelan Luarca takes Shakespeare’s verse and makes it more accessible to the Filipino audience while maintaining its feeling and imagery. Localizing the language also helps in localizing its story. Despite it still being set in Ancient Rome, Coriolano made us feel as if we were watching a new drama set in modern times with its timely and relatable themes, albeit with swordfights and flowy costumes.
As with any impactful story, there’s a feeling that’s left in your chest after watching Coriolano that stays with you for a while. It might be a bit fast paced and difficult to absorb right away for people who don’t understand deep Filipino (like myself), but there’s a feeling there that just sticks as you make your own exit and start your journey home. It’s a familiar story; a story you might be watching unfold before your eyes outside of the safe confines of the theater.
If you want to watch a show with amazing production and impeccable acting, you should definitely catch Tanghalang Pilipino’s Coriolano at the CCP Little Theater. The show runs from February 22nd to March 17th. It stars Marco Viaña as the titular character, Coriolano, together with Brian Sy as Aufidio, and Sherry Lara and Frances Makil-Ignacio who alternate as Coriolano’s mother Volumnia. Tickets are available at Ticketworld.
Have you heard about Corionalo’s story before? What other Shakespearean plays do you think should be adapted into Filipino next?