Few actors get me excited about theater. Even fewer make me want to spend time and money on a play. It is of course easy to drop the names of veterans who are deemed as the best—the bandwagon of praise in the theater circuit is a very real thing after all.
There are actors that I’ve followed whose performances I’ve loved across productions. Cris Pasturan was a young actor I followed early on, after seeing him in Virgin Labfest’s (VLF) Kawala and Higit Pa Dito (2011), and Dulaang UP’s Tinarantadong Asintado (2011), and even in a Shake Rattle and Roll film where he played a zombie soldier. He has stopped doing theater, but was in perfect form in last year’s VLF entry Anonymous, breathing life into the contemporary Pinoy male evil who is charmingly dangerous. Delphine Buencamino has also constantly evolved every time I chance upon her on stage, from Orosman at Zafira (2011), to Titus Andronicus (2011) where her Salve was one of the characters that haunted me for weeks, and to Ang Oresteyas (2013) where her Elektra’s broken spirit was intricately woven with a sense of power.
In a country where awards are questionable and boil down to notions of taste—if not to the fact of patronage—one knows Pasturan and Buencamino might never get their due: they perform in productions that wouldn’t qualify for these awards for the pettiest of reasons.
Between adventurous acting choices and the refusal to settle for performances that are expected, it might be our failure that we don’t know to reward these actors.
This is even truer for someone like Jonathan Tadioan.
From Bingo to AJ
The first time I saw Tadioan was in Floy Quintos’s Evening At The Opera for Virgin Labfest 7 in 2011. The story of a political marriage that breaks down in the stretch of an hour in the couple’s bedroom, Tadioan played Bingo Beloto, the quintessential macho politico who has nothing going for him but his guns goons gold. And a trophy wife, of course.
But within the confines of this bedroom what is revealed is the powerplay between Beloto and his wife, where the man wins both by brute strength and cunning, Pinoy politico style. “Governor Beloto is stereotype perfectly portrayed, scary and disgusting, proving our fears about the powerful in our midst, about machismo made worse by politics. Tadioan’s characterization here is also about that language he brings to life, where the provincial Tagalog and English becomes part of the character’s shamelessness.” (GMANews.tv, July 2011)
In last year’s VLF 10, Tadioan played the role of AJ in Allan Lopez’s complex drama Sa Isang Hindi Natatanging Umaga, At Ang Mga Ulap Ay Dahan-Dahan Pumaibabaw Sa Nabubulok Na Lungsod. A deceptively simple story of boy meets girl, Tadioan made AJ into the most likeable human being, despite his glumness and lack of sentimentality. Here, Tadioan made AJ’s mere existence proof of how being human can be about a very clear sense of endings, as it can be about deadpan humor, misunderstood as that is.
Tadioan was a revelation in this role, where the few words, low voice, and limited movement revealed his ability to sink his teeth into a role and run with it. Taking us with him on the trip.
From Boy Pogi to Shylock
In the 2012 restaging of Layeta Bucoy’s Doc Resureccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan, Tadioan played Boy Pogi, nuisance candidate versus a long-lost cousin with whom he shares the same name. Set in a wretched makeshift home that sits atop a dried up river, the exchange between Boy Pogi and his namesake Jess shifts from notions of nostalgia to neglect, assertions of sameness to stark difference. These are shifts that Tadioan navigated flawlessly, never missing a beat, nor losing sight of the depth of Boy Pogi’s rage. When it ends with him killing his own blood, one can believe the act to be justified, and that is all because of Tadioan.
It was easy to imagine Tadioan getting typecast in roles like this, and for sure I have seen him in what might be considered as permutations of Boy Pogi: the yosi vendor in Kudeta! Kudeta! for example (2013), or Bianong Taga in Kleptomaniacs (2014). Yet one also knows to see the nuances in Tadioan’s portrayals, where there is a refusal to be pegged to a hole and an insistence on infusing characters with a balance that makes them human. I watched Tadioan play with Bianong Taga’s character countless times, until he hit his stride and built a father character that was all heart, even when of a social class that knows only violence and survival.
It is this kind of intricacy that was in Tadioan’s reconfiguration of Shakespeare’s Shylock in Der Kaufmann (2013), where his character’s success could only be a measure of him as actor “who turned the scary Jew stereotype on its head, and re-created Shylock into victim of circumstance. The shift in the power structure is in that moment in court when Shylock faces Antonio and Bassanio; in “Der Kaufmann” this moment plays out wonderfully.” (Radikalchick.com, October 2013)
Beyond age and experience
One finds though that the most triumphant I’ve seen Tadioan in any role, is when it is not larger-than-life, nor as complex as AJ, or Shylock.
The heart that was in Bianong Taga I first saw in Tadioan when he played the role of father to a girl with no legs in Sandosenang Sapatos (2013). It is one of his most memorable portrayals to date: “Tadioan as the father, who can take that stage with only the kindest of a father’s smiles, as he might take on a stance that already speaks of defeat and sadness. By the time Tadioan sings ‘Tinatawid ng Pagmamahal’ you cannot but be floored.” (GMANews.tv, 2013)
This was also what made his Willy Loman in 2014’s Pahimakas Sa Isang Ahente (2014) extraordinary. It revealed a versatility in Tadioan that is rare to come by, where age is of no object, and it is in the stance, the furrowed brow, the exhausted tone, that he becomes that old man lost in the changing world, tragically too deep in his psychosis to survive.
It was watching Tadioan do Loman and Bianong Taga on stage that fueled this critique of his body of work, limited as my spectatorship of it might be. But one finds that in these roles, big or small, Tadioan’s evolution was always a challenge for me to keep up, and rise to the occasion of his nuanced portrayals. And it is in these instances when I am rendered speechless, when I am floored, when I cannot do a review because I have no words for how fantastic something was, that I find Pinoy theater to be most triumphant.
And one knows that because actors like Tadioan exist, it always will be.