A last word on Virgin Labfest 12
From the solid Set C of the Virgin Labfest 12 which included Ang Mga Bisita Ni Jean (Maki dela Rosa), Bait (Guelan Luarca), and Mula sa Kulimliman (Carlo Vergara), to the last two we reviewed here Ang Bata sa Drum (Dominique La Victoria) and Hapagkainan (Rick Patriarca); from the wonderful ensemble performance in Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania (Alexandra May Cardoso), to the stand-out performances of Blanche Buhia in the latter, and Juliene Mendoza in Dahan-Dahan ang Paglubog ng Araw (Soc delos Reyes); one is hard put to dismiss the last VLF to have been a waste of time at all.
This is not to say that there were no highly problematic and questionable works here. But it was also clear that what dominated the VLF this year were stories that sought to problematize, critique, reconsider subjects that are rarely given the time and space for creative discourse, and at least to me, that is rare enough. Below is one more play that resonated because of its Pinoy-style (hooray!) and, additionally, a bit about the more problematic works.
Sisterhood and suffering
Si Jaya, Si Ronda, Si Barbra at ang Mahiwagang Kanta (written by Oggie Arcenas, directed by Roobak Valle) is a hilariously genuine portrayal of Pinoy sisterhood among three friends, who have built a relationship premised on honesty, music, and a whole lot of laughter. Spending a rare night together for drinks and videoke, Jaya (Wenah Nagales), Ronda (Doreen Bernal), and Barbra (Hope Matriano) are competing for the last token for the videoke machine, for that final song that promises to free them from their individual crisis.
While the comedy in this play comes from competing for the token, what this reveals in the process is the depth of these women’s miseries, seemingly superficial, but also fundamental to many-a-woman’s sense of freedom: Barbra wishes for love, finally; Jaya hopes for the strength to free herself from an oppressive husband; Ronda wishes to be accepted by her father for who she is. Certainly these are class-based aspirations, and unapologetically so. Among the three friends, each wish is on the same level; in the end it boils down to who has the money to pay for that token.
It was refreshing to watch a friendship among women that does not take itself seriously and is not weighed down by notions of woman empowerment or feminism. This was enjoyable because the banter was real, the teasing devoid of insecurities or judgments. Sisterhood can be this funny, thank heavens.
Nagales, Bernal and Matriano work perfectly together as the triumvirate of friends and keep the narrative afloat despite moments stretched for too long (the waiter moving in and out; the slow back and forth about who deserves the token). One hoped each character would arrive at a climax, but only Ronda does so with a grand reveal about her need for fatherly acceptance.
One wonders what it would’ve been like had music been made more important to each character’s individual stories, where music is about home for OFW Ronda, where it is about liberation from love for trophy wife Jaya, where it is about singlehood for romantic Barbra. It could’ve even just worked with their individual theme songs, which would be telling of the depth of their miseries as well. Maybe in that way even the competition for that token would’ve carried more meaning.
The dangers of convolution
Two works stood out not so much for failing to discuss the subject matter these propose as important; but for weighing down these subjects with layers of enjoyment towards nowhere but dangerous convolution.
For Loyalist (written by Kanakan Balintagos, directed by Lawrence Fajardo), the subject was simple: a mother and son are at odds about the return of Imelda Marcos to the Philippines – the mother is a Marcos loyalist, the son an activist. Yes, the conflict is cliché, so Loyalist layers this conflict with the crisis of a father who has since disappeared, leaving a trail of questions.
This layer of the absent father would be fine, if this material also knew the limit that it set on how else Imelda and the Marcoses could be discussed. But there was no control here, and in the process Martial Law became mere backdrop to a highly personal familial crisis of unanswered questions – ones that have nothing to do with the Marcoses at all.
At best this material is dangerous, as it mentions Martial Law’s dead and disappeared, torture and rape, as mere lines to be used to win this argument between mother and son.
One can’t help but wonder what this adds to the already shallow discourse on Martial Law.
One finds that all it does is encourage us all to call it the Martial Law thingy.
Daddy’s Girl (written by Dingdong Novenario, directed by Nicolas Pichay) also suffers this seeming decision to make light of, if not justify, a crisis. In the case of this play it was incest.
A daughter and father meet in limbo, and while the conversation makes light of the father’s sins against daughter and society, the rape of the daughter – reenacted over and over – takes over the narrative. That in the end the statement the play makes is that the father and daughter are in fact soul mates, that they are meant to be, and that the father has known it all this time and has waited for the daughter to see it, is not only dangerous but also utterly unacceptable, pushing as it inadvertently does this tortuous excuse for rape and incest.
One sees a glimmer of what the material sought to discuss: the possibility of love that is far more sincere, infinitely more authentic between two people, beyond societal constraints and judgments. But whatever glimmer that was got lost in the premise of a father’s rape of his daughter, a rape that is unforgivably reenacted repeatedly. In the end this was nothing but an arduously staged excuse for incest via notions of reincarnation and romance.
You’d step out of the theater thinking: ah, it was a rape and incest thingy.