Modern take on ‘Noli Me Tangere’ goes onstage at Hollywood Fringe Fest
LOS ANGELES — A modern adaptation of Jose Rizal’s classic novel Noli Me Tangere will be staged June 4-25, at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Written and produced by Mike Talplacido and titled “#Don’t,” the play reverses the gender of the main protagonist and adds characters not found in the book. There are other twists in store to make the story more relatable to the audience, according to the playwright.
The play’s producers aim to entice audiences and readers who may be unfamiliar with the book by using the premise that Cris Ibarra, after seven years pursuing higher education in the US, returns home to the Philippines to avenge the death of her father.
Noli Me Tangere was published in 1887 when the Philippines was still under Spanish colonial rule. “After its release, the novel became instrumental in initiating Filipino nationalism that ultimately led to the Philippine Revolution in 1896. Not only did it awaken sleeping Filipino awareness, but it also established the grounds for aspiring to independence,” says Talplacido.
The production is a Filipino American endeavor, directed by Randal Kamradt and coproduced by Miralee Menzies with production design by Lawrence Ramirez. Casey Estorque leads the cast as Cris Ibarra. Cynthia San Luis plays Maria Clara, Arianna Basco plays Sisa and Mark Labella plays Damaso.
Awareness and relatability
Talplacido says the intention of developing a modern take on this classic story is to reignite political and social awareness among audiences.
Talplacido says “I have spent a lot of time talking to a lot of younger Filipino Americans on my podcast ‘Kiss My Mike’ and on the Clubhouse app.”
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“There’s just so much interest from the Fil-Am community to learn more about our history and connect with our culture but not a lot of interesting and exciting new ways to do so.”
“Thus, as a screenwriter, I decided that my next project would have a historical component, but I also wanted to present it in a new and fresh way. I picked Rizal’s work because to me, it’s a staple for understanding Philippine history.”
Talplacido started writing “#Don’t” in 2022 originally as a seven-episode limited TV series. “I soon realized later in the process that it would be much harder and more expensive to produce as a TV show. That’s when I decided to convert my script into a play.”
“In terms of research, I re-read Noli Me Tangere and immersed myself into re-learning Philippine history.”
Nevertheless, he points out that the play is a different take on Rizal’s work and has a different story.
Characters he’s created for the play include Jessica Ressa, a news reporter who “covers the nefarious world of drug trafficking, graft and corruption, and the unscrupulous politicians involved” and Bulldog (played by Fil-Am celebrity singer-actor Boy Rose),” a cop and an ultimate henchman who will do anything he’s told.”
“They were added to help convey some of the modern underpinnings of the story.”
He shares what cast member Camille Aragon, who plays Victorina, wrote on Instagram, “In many ways this creative process is bridging the cultural gap and shining a light on an important story of our beloved Philippines, that I and many other Filipinxs raised outside of their homeland, may otherwise not know.”
Talplacido says sparking this of sentiment is “the kind of impact that I am hoping we can achieve through the show.”
“Overall, in this adaptation, there’s a lot of focus on female empowerment, diversity and inclusion and pop culture. I cannot wait for the audience members to see our play.”
“#Don’t” runs June 4-25, 2023. Visit Instagram.com/hashtag_dont.