This site is best viewed in Google Chrome on desktop.
A Quiet Drama
Published December 6, 2020

By Rody Vera

It was in 2016, if I recall correctly, when Tanghalang Pilipino, by way of then Associate Artistic Director Liesl Batucan, contacted me and asked me if I would be interested to adapt a play by Oriza Hirata, Tokyo Notes. I have not heard nor read nor seen this play, which I later realized has been performed many times in various countries such as Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, France, and the United States.

Liesl Batucan told me that Tanghalang Pilipino is set to produce the adapted play in 2018, to be sponsored by and in partnership with the Japan Foundation Manila Office. She submitted my name as one of the possible playwrights who would be chosen by Mr. Hirata to adapt the play. It was to follow the same adaptation process as had been done in several Asian cities (Seoul, Taipei, and Bangkok), which was that the setting will be located in Manila, hence the title Manila Notes. There was a bit of reluctance on my part at first. I felt I needed to know more about the play before I agree. She sent me a video copy of Seoul Notes. She also told me that the style of the play is called “quiet theater”- for lack of a better label. She described the play as a performance that had no music, no scoring, just talking, people sitting, hardly moving, not much of physical exertion for the actors, and the inner feelings of the characters are rarely articulated, if at all. As I listened, without having seen any example of what has been described to me, I imagined a subtler version of Chekhov, perhaps? Or probably the equivalent of “slow” cinema with the likes of Yasujiro Ozu, Tarkovsky, or our own Lav Diaz? 

The resemblance of the play to the filmmakers’ style made more sense when I learned that Oriza Hirata was inspired by Ozu’s film, Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari), about a woman who chooses to take care of her father instead of marrying. As I embarked on reading the play (in English), I was at first sight, struck by the layout format of the script. It was divided into two columns and was numbered in several units or chunks of scenes. There were no formal scene divisions because the whole action of the play happens in one continuous time and space. It’s one long act with 20 characters coming in and out of the acting area, which is the lobby of an art museum. Immediately I imagined this play that should probably run for a little less than two hours will have no intermission.

Click here to read the full transcript.

This article was first published in The Japan Foundation, Manila Suki Magazine February 2019.