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How Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ became the twilight of old Pinoy cinema

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SCENE from “DWonder Twins of Boac,” with Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino playing Donya Olivia. Photo by Amadís Ma. Guerrero

England’s Poet Laureate John Masefield once called “Twelfth Night” “the happiest and one of the loveliest of all Shakespeare’s plays. Mirth here is so mingled with romantic beauty that few can tire of it.”

Why, the Oscar-winning film “Shakespeare in Love”, starring Glyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, was “an imagined back story” to this celebrated tale.

The fable revolves around the twins Viola and Sebastian who are lost in a shipwreck and believe each other to be dead. Olivia disguises herself as a boy, calls herself “Cesario” and works for the Duke Orsino, who is in love with Lady Olivia (who, in turn, falls for “Cesario”).

Between Viola and Sebastian (who turns up later in the play) swirl a lot of colorful characters who are always up to some mischief or intrigue.

Lady Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, who is angry at her steward Malvolio for the latter’s perceived insubordination, leads him to believe Olivia is in love with him, and causes him to act in a bizarre manner. As a result, poor Malvolio is imprisoned.

At the end, the twins are joyfully reunited; Malvolvio is released but vows vengeance.

Successful production

This is the bare plot (not in the least complete) which translator Rody Vera has adapted for the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), inventively situating it within the Philippine movie industry during the late 1960s, just before the “bomba” (sex flicks) rage.

And the production succeeds, thanks to the audacity Peta is known for.

CRIS Villonco, Chrome Cosio, Maribel Legarda, Rody Vera, Shamaine Centenera and Lex Marcos at a post-show Q&A. Photo by Amadís Ma. Guerrero

“D Wonder Twins of Boac,” with music by Jeff Hernandez and direction by Maribel Legarda, is on at the Peta Theater Center (behind the Quezon City Sports Club;  call 7256244) until March 3.

It stars Cris Villonco and Chrome Cosio as the twins Viola and Bastian, Shamaine Centenera (alternating with Gail Billones) as Donya Nepomuceno, Bodjie Pascua (alternating with Lex Marcos) as Doc

Orsino Villar, and Gino Ramirez (alternating with Lao Rodriguez) as Malvolio.

The year is 1967. The fable this time casts Viola and Bastian as singer-dancers who want to make it big in Manila. Following the story line, they are shipwrecked on the way from Boac, Marinduque, to the Big Apple, and separated. Viola-Villonco disguises herself as a boy (Cesar) who becomes an assistant to the big-time studio mogul, Doc Orsino (Pascua), head of Campanilla Pictures.

Donya Olivia (Centenera) falls in love with “Cesar,” mistaking him for a boy. And so on.

Wicked satire

The play emerges as a wicked satire on the movie industry, with a lot of one-liners that went over big with the audience during the press preview. Any resemblance to real-life personalities is unintended (probably).

There are hilarious sequences, like regional Elvis Presley wannabes auditioning and dancing (with regional accents and expletives), and a wrestling match between two stunt men (hunks Cosio and Riki Benendicto) with homo-erotic overtones.

Playing against type, Centenera as the hotsy-patootsie Donya Olivia makes every scene count. Villonco is an appealing Cesar although she may not look masculine enough, and Cosio oozes with sex appeal.

At the end, Malvolio announces that, to end the movie industry’s problems of declining box-office receipts, the “bomba” era has arrived.

“‘Twelfth Night’ does not have a happy ending,” notes Vera.

So the coda has the characters turning serious and—in “American Graffiti”-style—predicting what they will become years from now. The one comic element has the prudish Malvolio announcing that he will become chair of Movie and Television Ratings and Classification Board!


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