Theatre arose from ritual. And through centuries of its existence, performers have treated it as such, with some becoming martyrs for the sacred art. Stage performers treat the stage as an extension of their life, or even their whole existence.

The Dressing Room is a love letter to theatre. It is a love letter to something which is eternal, even against the backdrop of wars and all other hardships. It is a testament of a performer to his sacred ritual.

It depicts four actresses as they prepare backstage for their cue to go on on-stage. While preparing, these actresses share their sentiments and memories concerning their passion for their craft.

Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas 43rd Theatre Season is restaging “The Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Ultimately Becomes Nostalgia” which was first staged in 2016, alongside its Filipino adaptation “Ang Dressing Room: Kung Saan Lubusang Pangungulila ang Dulot ng Agos ng Panahon” this November 7 to 25 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theatre.

The English version is directed by Alexander Cortez with an all-female cast of DUP constants Frances Makil-Ignacio, Ces Quesada, Missy Maramara, Maxine Ignacio, and Hariette Damole. The Filipino version is translated by Palanca Hall of Famer Nicolas Pichay with an all-male cast of Roeder Camañag, Bobby Martino, Mitoy Sta. Ana., and Jude Matthew Servilla.

Dexter M. Santos does the choreography with Fritz Esase as the assistant choreographer. Ohm David is on the set, Meliton Roxas Jr. on the lighting design, Faust Peneyra on the costume design, Arvy Dimaculangan on the sound design, and Steven Tansiongco on the graphics, video, and poster design.

Set in post-World War II Japan, The Dressing Room depicts the country’s re-emerging cultural scene in theatre. Following the tragic war, the play depicts the damage and national trauma it tolled upon the country, and Japan yearns for the days of old. So do the characters in the play, as they long for the bustling Japanese culture before the horrors of the war. And to channel this desire, they have theatre. Because of this, nostalgia takes center stage in the play

While the simplicity of the script makes the story straightforward and easy to digest, the lighting, set design, and wardrobe provide the emotional and dramatic boost that immerses audiences in the period. Structurally, it is based upon traditional Japanese theatre. Streams of Noh and Kyogen theatre are mixed with modern sentiments to glaring effect. Kabuki theatre is also injected in the production design.

As ghosts take an important role in traditional Japanese theatre, this was also the case in The Dressing Room. From the start, some of the characters explicitly appear as people who have already departed the physical realm. Actress A and Actress B, both ghosts, are shown to have never left the backstage, seemingly exhibiting a permanent affinity to their craft, and preparing for some eternal performance.

The dialogue is laced with pieces of longing — roles they’ve taken that highlight their career. Sadness and an eerie excitement gracefully emanate from their words.

These ghosts invoke nostalgia and longing, but these are not the only themes of the play. Fittingly, characters who are alive are driven by the obsessiveness the departed have  already resigned themselves to. The main conflict of the play is between Actress C and Actress D, both alive, who — to the point of aggressiveness — both express their eagerness to play the lead role of Nina in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. It shows the lengths these actresses would go to take on this elusive role.

Nostalgia and obsessiveness go hand-in-hand. The play shows these two being driven by an endearing passion of grandeur, perfection, and expression as exemplified by the characters.

The Dressing Room is based on the play by Shimizu Kunio, translated by Chiori Miyagawa from the original translation by John Gillespie.

The play runs from November 7 to 25 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2nd floor, Palma Hall, U.P. Diliman.

Photo by John Patrick Manio

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