THERE is plenty that 3 Stars And A Sun has going for it, foremost of which is that they had access to Francis M’s songs. As PETA has proven with Rak of Aegis, existing discographies might be the key to filling up a theater; a set of iconic songs, even more so Francis M? It would be hard to mess things up.
A question of time
The decision to go dystopic is admirable, especially since one realizes dystopia does not fly in this country. It could be because we are so third world that the narrative of utter chaos and absolute darkness does not even seem like a thing of the future; it is here and now.
It could also be because one is hard put to imagine a high-tech ultra-scientific society when we are still a people with no access to basic health services. How can 10 years be enough for us to build a self-sustaining dome as protection from a nuclear war?
You are told that it is the year 2026 within the play; on the program you are told that we are watching 2096. Where 10 years from now is just too close for even that younger generation to not have a sense of nation or history; 2096 would make the elder of the community, Mang Okik (Raffy Tejada), at least 90 years old. Which he was not.
There is also a missing generation here, the one that is the age of the leader of the dome Vidame Inky (Che Ramos-Cosio). Could they have all died? Were they pre-nuclear or post-nuclear war? If Inky was born post-war—it is 2096 after all—then why was no one else from her generation born? Was there no sex in this future?
(OMG: is there no sex in the future? I digress.)
And if this is 2096, and the yaya (Gimbey dela Cruz) had volunteered to have her memory erased when the dome was built in 2026—how old is yaya? More importantly: how can the daughter she left behind still be a teenager? Unless age does matter in this dystopia, or does not exist? Yet if that were true, why is there a very clear sense of a “next generation” here?
Sure time might be rendered obsolete in a dystopic narrative—they were living in a dome after all. And yet time is critical to the telling of this narrative, working as it does with past, present, and future; insisting as it does that the crisis in the dome is borne of a lack of history.
A question of history, consciousness
That history is being held high on a pedestal by this production would be an understatement. After all, Francis M’s songs, specifically the ones that they chose here, are borne of a very keen sense of nation and identity, history and becoming. Those songs stand on their own as a call to relevance, if not as a call to revolt. These songs are also the best thing about watching 3 Stars. Nostalgia is a good thing.
One had hoped though, for a more stable, more nuanced narrative, one that had time down pat, but also one that problematizes history.
Because the idea that the young of this dystopic society were beyond history, that they were ahistorical, is contradicted by what allows for this narrative to move: the fact that the young of Lumina via Diane (Justine Peña) and of Diliman via Sol (Gold Villar) were asking questions.
This is where this dystopic narrative could have been more nuanced: if both Diane and Sol knew nothing of the past, why were they asking about it in the present? The heart of Diane’s rebellion is this task of asking about her yaya’s past, of asking about why things are such. But that begs the question: if you do not know of otherwise, would you know to question what’s in front of you?
If there is no sense of the past, how do we conceptualize the present? How does one imagine a future, when one knows not where one comes from? How can the future even be part of our consciousness?
This is the glaring misstep in the creation of this dystopia: where we are being made to believe that this is in the future, where it lives off the fact that the future is a magnified version of the inequality in the present, it also refuses to problematize history and engage with questions about consciousness.
In the process we are being told that in 2096, with a new generation living inside a dome that has been divided yet again by social class, not only do the rich sound like Kris Aquino, the poor sound like angry young rebels without a clue.
Yet we need not fret, because there is a sense of inequality and injustice, of right and wrong. For a generation that purportedly has no sense of the past, these kids have a clear sense of a law that dictates precisely what is good and evil, what is just and unjust.
But if you do not know of injustice, if all the words equated with it have been erased by space and time and technology, how would you know that you are its subject? If we are to believe this dystopic world, rebellions happen in a vacuum, as do revolutions.
The dangers of that presupposition cannot be overstated.
A question of dystopia
But this is this production’s biggest anxiety: on the one hand it proposes a world where nation and identity as created through time and history has been lost; on the other, it ends with the insistence that this nation continues to exist outside the dome, flag and all, ending with what looked like a pledge of allegiance.
This is the risk and burden of doing dystopia: the complete erasure of nation as we know it. 3 Stars and a Sun was sadly bogged down by this burden, and given the songs it wanted to use, ended up romanticizing freedom instead. It does so without discussing hunger and need, and every form of injustice that is here. Suddenly the sun was out, and there was hope.
Days since watching it, one wonders if this needed to work with dystopia at all.
An important note: absolutely loved Tejada here, who achieved this great balance between craziness and sanity, the present and the past, living with the constant recovery of what has been lost; and Villar and dela Cruz deserve some praise for holding their own on an otherwise chaotic stage with indistinct characters.
There is no doubt that this production will be a hit—Francis M’s songs will make it so. One hopes it generates an interest in the past and inspires less apathy in the present, instead of it encouraging a romance with starting over, without history, without anxiety, and without nation. Now that would be a disservice to three stars and the sun.