November 23, 2011
“Now is the winter of our discontent.” As soon as he launched into the famous opening monologue, Kevin Spacey owned the stage.
And he should. I flew to Singapore with my mother and sister to see Spacey in The Bridge Project’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Looking for Richard…all the way to Singapore, if you will. Although Manila had, in recent years, hosted touring musicals (Cats, Mamma Mia!, and The Phantom of the Opera), foreign productions of straight plays were hard to come by. It might as well be because local productions could hold their own.
But Spacey was Spacey. Before I knew about his stage career, I had already been a groupie of this twice Oscar-minted actor. His star wattage alone justified my first foray into entertainment tourism, now made convenient and affordable by the internet and budget airlines, respectively.
My sister purchased show tickets online through SISTIC Singapore with nary a hitch. Her friends graciously hosted us in their well-appointed flat in the Orchard area. I did the airline booking with Jetstar Airways, a low-cost carrier headquartered in Singapore. Aware of the attendant risks in flying coach, I made sure we flew in two days before the show date to allow elbow room for delays and cancellations. True enough, Jetstar rescheduled our flight to another day. Foresight paid off when going budget.
Arriving early for the matinee show, we had time to spare to appreciate the colorful welcome, an Indian folk art called Rangoli, laid out at the entrance of The Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay. Looking like a pair of halved durian (a tropical fruit common in Southeast Asia), the entertainment complex infused traditional Asian inspiration to its modern steel-and-glass design. Such was the Singaporean aesthetic: embracing Western modernity while celebrating Asian form. In this spirit of cultural collaboration, the venue offered Western productions to Asian audiences in the region.
The main event, though, was Spacey himself as the hunchbacked and crippled Richard III, a historical figure generally regarded to have lied and murdered his way to the throne of England in the 15th century. Limping through his characterization, he wore his leg brace so convincingly, not only that it seemed natural, but that the debilitation had become a compelling force to furiously shuffle about the stage. Spacey’s Richard III wore his flaws like a charm, playing it up with seductive bravado that, despite the physical deformity and moral bankruptcy that Shakespeare had imbued the historical character, the audience could not take their eyes off his hyperactive turpitude.
His performance was most riveting when he was scheming most despicably. As he charmed the pants off Lady Anne whose father and husband he had killed, I rooted for him. As he feigned reluctance in accepting the crown of the King of England he had jockeyed from the Lord Mayor, I applauded him. It was the guiltiest of pleasures: succumbing to his crafty charm.
As Richard III stole the crown, so did Spacey steal the heart of his audience. There lay the crux of a credible performance, one that did not charge to plot alone the gullibility of other characters to the antihero’s Machiavellian machinations amidst an increasing body count.
Under the helm of Sam Mendes, Spacey’s director in American Beauty that won them well-deserved Oscars, the production assumed the pacing and special effects of film. His ingenious and humorous use of video conveyed the 16th-century drama to the contemporary stage. The play ended with the twisted corpse of Richard III dangling upside-down in a cinematic comeuppance. Spacey’s tour-de-force performance and Mendes’ brisk and updated direction deserved – and received – no less than a thunderous standing ovation.
At the lobby, our group unabashedly effected twisted legs for photo ops by the life-size poster, in honor of Kevin Spacey’s Richard III. These groupies-turned-wannabes had The Singapore Repertory Theater to thank for bringing a production that would’ve cost an arm and a leg (splinted or not) to see in London to the region.
Finally, it was not lost on me that I saw the play on the second anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre, the brutal killing of 34 journalists along with family and supporters of the oppositionist to the then-incumbent provincial governor. The Shakespearean tragedy about the murderous lust for power may have been gripping to watch on stage, but it was chilling to witness in real life in present-day Philippines.