Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 06-12 March 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America,' published in San Francisco, CA. The author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.
We first sighted him in Manila during the first anniversary of the Million People March to Stop Pork Barrel: the Stand Up, Sign Up at the Rizal Park on 25 August 2014. He was on stage for some time as one of the emcees during the program held there. We followed his expressions of support for this advocacy in the social media, but we did not know he would come home in time for this mass action.
It looks like Bernardo Bernardo is back for good after 12 years in the United States as an “artist of extraordinary talents.” He arrived in San Francisco in 2002, settled in Los Angeles in 2009, and in between those years, according to his online biographies, he plied his artistic ‘trades’ in the East Coast, West Coast and the Midwest as host, singer, stand-up comedian and stage actor.
As stage actor, he was in the musical “The Long Season” as a Pinoy cannery foreman in Alaska, and in “Voyage,” a play based on the lives of four generations of Pinoy immigrants in Alaska. He was most involved in the play “The Romance of Magno Rubio” by Lonnie Carter based on a short story of Carlos Bulosan. We saw him play the role of Prudencio, one of the five Pinoy laborers in “Magno Rubio”, when it was mounted in New York in 2007. We learned he translated this play to Filipino, and directed its staging in Los Angeles for which he won the L.A. Weekly Theater Award for Best Direction 2012.
During his American sojourn, he received several awards, the latest being the LAFACE 2012 Filipino-American Heritage Achievement Award for Entertainment, along with Certificates of Recognition from the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Los Angeles for "outstanding contributions to the Filipino-American community through Music and Entertainment."
Now back in the country’s entablado, he is the president and artistic director of Studio Connections International, a new player in the Philippine scene, whose vision is “to help form alliances among performing arts companies in order to raise professional and artistic benchmarks in educational Philippine Theatre.” From its company profile, we gather that the company aims to “Create [a larger audience for Filipino theater using the national language], Educate [through training programs in acting, directing, playwriting and production management], and Connect [with other production outfits with a similar sense of responsibility to our art and responsive mindset to the challenges of our evolving contemporary society]”.
Its first venture is a partnership with the De La Salle College of St. Benilde School of Design and Arts (SDA) in presenting Philippine Educational Theater Association’s Haring Lear, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, directed by Nonon Padilla.
Bernardo turned 70 early this year. It may be the ripe age to perform Haring Lear, the aged ruler (“the foolish king,” says director Padilla) who decided to give up his power and divide his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. He did not like his favorite daughter Cordelia’s simple declaration of affection for him though, so he disowns her and gives her away to the King of France. Thus, two older sisters ended up equally splitting the kingdom between them.
This Filipino King Lear is set in a futuristic world. The actors are all male, which was how Shakespeare’s plays were staged during his time, with the female roles played by men. Everyone is bald in this case. The actors are all from the PETA Kalinangan Ensemble: Gary Lim (Gloster), Buddy Caramat (Goneril), George de Jesus (Regan), Abner Delina Jr (Cordelia, Lakayo), Nico Dans (Edgardo), Rhenwyn Gabalonzo (Edmundo), Lambert de Jesus (Kent), Roy Calilong (Oswaldo), Renan Bustamante( Duke ng Albanya), Jeff Hernandez (Duke ng Cornualles, Ikalawang Kapitan), Jason Barcial (Duke ng Burgonia, Utusan, Sundalo), Jess Evardone (Tagapaglingkod,Matandang Lalaki, Duktor ni Cordelia, Eraldo) and McDonnel Bolanos (Hari ng Francia, Maginoo, Utusan, Sundalo, Kapitan).
The costumes appear to be Japanese kimono inspired. This reminds that the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa also adapted King Lear for his award-winning movie, Ran, where the emperor divided his kingdom among three sons, not daughters.
Bernardo’s costume change to modern comfort clothes tells us that Lear is timeless. This is when he realizes the deceit of his two daughters, and when begins to slip into insanity. His tale happens today. Snatches of it sometimes jar the familiar run of news programs, or serve as motif of a TV series or a Filipino movie.
The power struggle after the division of the kingdom is a web of hatred, intrigue and betrayal involving two families: the king’s and that of Gloster (Gloucester) with his two sons Edmundo and Edgardo. The mad Haring Lear briefly regains his sanity when he reconciles with his daughter Cordelia where a glimmer of love flickers. Everyone dies though except Edgardo who will become the ruler of Britain.
Bernardo Bernardo held us captive throughout the play especially when he was raging in the storm, and during the final dying moments with Cordelia. He had an excellent support from the ensemble of PETA actors.
He is back. Those who grew up watching the long-running sitcom “Home Along the Riles” would certainly remember his Steve Carpio character who gave Dolphy contravida moments in every episode.