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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 21, 2019


marcos viana as george and jonathan tadioan as toto in KATSURI

“KATSURI” is Bibeth Orteza’s Tagalog adaptation of the classic work of Nobel winner John Steinbeck, “Of Mice and Men”, which first came out as a novella in 1937, then as a Broadway play in 1938 and as a Hollywood movie in 1939 starring Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. in the the lead roles of buddies George and Lennie. It had a remake in 1992 with Gary Sinise as George and John Malkovich as Lennie.

The original is set in California during the Great Depression. Bibeth now effectively localizes it for Tanghalang Pilipino and “Katsuri” (a Visayan term for a kind of mouse that serves as a symbol for oppressed sugar workers) is transported in sugarlandia in Negros where marginalized sakada farmers continue to toil.

The play is directed by Bibeth’s husband, Carlos Siguion Reyna, and their conjugal tandem has given us a poignant drama that is sprinkled with humor with cultural pop references and reeking with social conscience to remind us of the injustice experienced by our abused and exploited proletariat kababayans who are mired in demeaning poverty up to this very day.

The original story is about George and Lennie, migrant workers during the Great Depression who have been fraternal friends from childhood. The childlike Lennie clearly has some mental disability and George serves as his protector and guardian.

They dream of having their own farm some day, a refuge from their nomadic life which will remain unattainable. They get to work in a ranch where they meet other characters, including the flirtatious wife of the son of the owner who proves to be the Jezebel that will bring them trouble and lead to some tragic consequences.

In “Katsuri”, George is played by Marco Viana and Lennie becomes Toto, played by Jonathan Tadioan. Direk Carlitos tells us Toto is the name of a sakada activist, Toto Patigas, killed in Negros last year and this is their tribute to him.

The other characters are the Boss (Michael Wiliams, who also doubles up as a soldier symbolizing terrorism and oppression ), his son Kulot who’s named Curley in the original (Fitz Bitana), Kulot’s wife Inday who has no name in the original (Antoinette Go), Tatang who’s Candy in the original (Nanding Josef), Payat who’s Slim in the original (JV Ibasate), Nognog who’s Crooks in the original (Ybes Bagadiong) plus two women characters (Lhorvie Nuevo as Carling and Eunice Pacia as Monang) who are males in the original.

The two leads both give fairly competent performances.  Tadioan has the more attention-getting role as the gentle brute and man-child and he lays on the dim-witted bit quite generously. He seems to have thought out his every gesture and inflection, like an actor who plans everything in detail. It’s a ploy that works in depicting a character with limited mental abilities, but it comes out as quite engineered.

In contrast, Viana’s interpretation comes out  more natural and achieves more emotionally as the smarter George who does the thinking for the both of them. His agony and frustration for thanklessly ministering to a handicapped loved one he cannot just forsake can be so palpable.

As a whole, Direk Carlitos manages to elicit fine ensemble acting from the entire cast to tell what is essentially a heartbreaking tale. We like it that the role of the “pokpok” wife is expanded here as a showbiz wannabe with a sad back story, trapped in an unhappy marriage, making her not one dimensional like in the original and giving the role a more feminist deconstruction slant.

It’s staged at the intimate Huseng Batute theater and the proximity to what’s happening on stage delivers the play’s message more intensely to the audience, heightened by the bleak set design and evocative lighting, and the musical score that uses the Ilonggo lullaby, “Ili-ili”.

Bibet’s adaptation is quite faithful and certainly does justice to the original, including the obvious instances of foreshadowing. You can catch “Katsuri” at the CCP up to October 27.