I never thought I’d make a review of KANSER this year. I did not write anything about it last year, except shared its press release once with the excitement on its new form. See, I grew up seeing KANSER, almost every year. Gantimpala Theater Foundation has been so faithful with its advocacies in educating young high school students through their own adaptation of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, that this soon became one of the inspirations why I majored in Theater after High School.
But truth be told that when Gantimpala transformed this known Philippine Theater contemporary into a musical in 2015, it wasn’t as fulfilling and striking as it was in its original form. In its desire to make it bigger, it grew louder and boisterously lengthy. It somehow missed delivering its themes, thus making the experience quite wanting.
But Gantimpala didn’t stop from making this musical a landmark on its own. Seeing it again this year with a newer title, KANSER: UPDATED 2016, it still offers the same form but with a more far-out rendition from its predecessor. KANSER: UPDATED 2016 is clearly a more accessible retelling of Rizal’s Noli from Playwright Jomar Fleras’ original adaptation. Director Frannie Zamora redirects with a more aligned vision embracing a more millennial audience. It still makes use of its original projections, however this time, they are sharper and its technology more relevant.
It is still not perfect, but who is? As far as I know, the results of this re-staging is something that is worth writing about.
KANSER tells the story of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in its most complete version possible for the stage. After learning about his father’s death, Crisostomo Ibarra arrives from Europe, to pay his respects, and to reunite with old family friends and his childhood love Maria Clara. Little does Ibarra know that the vicious friar, Padre Damaso, has a hand on the death of his father. As Ibarra learns the truth about his father’s death, he soon opens a can of worms about his past, his society and his church.
Carlo Mañalac, who played Padre Salvi last year, gives a different take on the Crisostomo Ibarra that we’re all familiar with. Instead of projecting the statuesque Every Man, Mañalac offers a more human Ibarra Jr. – vulnerable, meek, and graciously humbling. Note worthy is his singing voice, which gives the story’s main character a more focused central persona in a musical; granting a polarized individuality of an educated young man in rural San Diego. K.L. Dizon plays Maria Clara with undeniable spirit, maintaining the stereotypical Filipina maiden in Rizal’s novel. Dizon is undeniably one of our great young performers today. She flourishes the Maria Clara stereotype with unparalleled control, yet with intelligible conventionality. Worthy to mention too, are Abel Napuran as Pilosopo Tasyo and Francis Matheu as Elias. Napuran renders quite a compelling take on the eccentric Wise Old Man in Noli through a poignant convulsiveness, reminiscent of Joel Grey’s Oscar-winning performance in CABARET (1972). Matheu’s Elias is equally potent; his speaking voice booming with hidden revolutions and wonted regrets.
Noli Me Tángere is more than just a time capsule, and Gantimpala’s KANSER makes sure that its material goes beyond a simple historical reference. This novel once aimed to promote awareness of a social illness, creeping silently into our system, our religions and eventually into our lives. Along with this, Noli – to this day – promotes self-sacrifice for the country and unsullied patriotism. That is why we still read them in our classrooms, and in even in our book club discussions. That is why we still revere this timeless masterpiece as seeing the young Ibarra’s San Diego in our societies today.
Zamora worked with Fleras and musical director Jed Baldesamo to trim down the ponderous first try of the musical version, and the results are incredible. This year, young audiences grasp, not just on Rizal’s narrative, but also on his arguments and ultimately on his cry for change. Because that is what makes KANSER quite different from other Noli Me Tángere retellings on stage since the 90s. This one touches on the more important aspects of Rizal’s masterpiece, and that is the decaying society that slowly kills its people, it ideas and identity. Since its conception, it hits the nail by focusing on the political dynamics during the Spanish era, and how these dynamics eventually produced abuse of power and manipulation of a People. In its newest re-staging, Gantimpala grants a beloved theater piece with a newer experience without setting aside its original context and Rizal’s cry for change.
KANSER, as a theater piece on Noli, makes you see your own society today. And that in itself is a triumph.
FEATURED PHOTO BY: Ms. Trixie Dauz