As you enter the Greenbelt Onstage Theater to get to your seats, you are presented with the curtains of the stage wide open and the set laid bare for all to see. It’s the dressing room at the backstage of a theater in the 1940s and a recording of Winston Churchill’s radio speech. Instantly, you are being prepared to go back into England during World War II where Ronald Harwood’s Tony Award nominated play ‘The Dresser’ is set.
In the midst of World War II, a touring company performing the works of Shakespeare perform daily while the city is being bombed by the Nazis and right before a performance of King Lear, there is drama unfolding in the backstage. Norman, the personal assistant and the titular “dresser” of the lead actor and head of the company, opens the play with a tense discussion with a woman referred to as “Her Ladyship.” The lead actor, referred to as “Sir,” throughout the play, was seen having a dramatic episode the night before and was brought to the hospital. They worry about his mental state and whether the show may go on but Norman is adamant that it will, while Her Ladyship is unconvinced.
Then Sir arrives and despite obvious signs of mental weariness, the show must go on and the backstage becomes a flurry of movement as they prepare for their performance of King Lear despite air raids, the theater company coming apart at the seams, and Sir’s mind unraveling as Norman tries to prepare him to push onwards.
‘The Dresser’ is a wonderful play about two men and their complex relationship and the power of the arts — in this case, the theater — and its ability to uplift people’s hearts and minds even in the darkest of circumstances. Sir is an accomplished actor, well regarded and revered; whereas Norman comes across as a failed performer who has found his niche in the theater as an assistant to a powerful man. It seems that one needs the other to function at their best but as the world seems to be crumbling down around them, their relationship is put to the test.
While there are many fine performances from its supporting cast that includes Missy Maramara, Tami Monsod, and Jeremy Domingo — and standouts Justine Narciso and Jaime del Mundo — ‘The Dresser’ really revolves around Audie Gemora’s Norman and Teroy Guzman’s Sir. While Gemora creates a picture-perfect, distinctly mannered performance for Norman, Guzman steals all the thunder on stage by embodying Sir with all the intensity and pathos of his character. Sir is not a likable person but Teroy Guzman captivates as he presents us with a man carrying the weight of the whole company on his shoulders. He is battling mortality, the oppression born from war time, and the fear of being forgotten.
As fine as an actor Audie Gemora is, it is Teroy Guzman who takes center stage in the performance that I saw on opening night and not the titular character. I’ve seen the BBC television movie version of this play with Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins a few years ago and what struck me most, in comparison, is how Loy Arcenas’ direction of this production brought out the themes of how art flourishes in times of conflict and struggle. More than anything else, this production made me see the importance of art’s role in society by reminding us what it means to be human; whether it's in the performance of a revered Shakespeare play or in the opportunity to better one’s self as seen in a beautiful little scene between Jaime del Mundo’s Geoffrey and Teroy Guzman’s Sir.
‘The Dresser’ is a rather moving piece that is funny and touching. Adding the dazzling show-stopping performance of Teroy Guzman to the mix, this production is something you wouldn’t want to miss.
Repertory Philippines' 'The Dresser' runs until May 26 at the Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati. Purchase your tickets now by calling REP at 451-1474, Ticketworld at 891-9999, or by logging on to www.ticketworld.com.ph.