Three from the ‘Virgin Labfest 12’ harvest (Part 1)
Across all the plays for this year’s Virgin Labfest (VLF), other than the three of Set C (in last week’s column), here are three more worthy of mention, not because these were “the best”—one keeps from measuring cultural production like there’s a fixed set of inarguable criteria that we all agree on—but because these resonate a week after.
Other than the six plays, worth mentioning for me are two performances. One, the ensemble of Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania (written by Alexandra May Cardoso, directed by Charles Yee), for making the narrative move swiftly despite the believable (and comical) slowness of drunken storytelling, and the long and tiring persistence of woman; Blanche Buhia shifted from innocent girl in love to obstinate irrational woman, building towards exhaustion and fury that was fascinating to watch. Two, Juliene Mendoza as the father in Dahan-Dahan ang Paglubog ng Araw (written by Soc delos Reyes, directed by Adolf Alix) for making it believable that fortitude in the face of death can be about a sense of humor, a lightness, where the refusal to hope is valid, the decision to live in the meantime, enough.
Punishment and poverty
Ang Bata sa Drum (written by Dominique La Victoria, directed by Dudz Teraña) is the story of young siblings, a brother and sister (Ron Alos and Raven Relavo, respectively), who are trapped in the absence of a mother working elsewhere, and the presence of a drunkard father who cares little. The sister is doing her after school chores: taking down the laundry, looking after the chickens while having meryenda. She finds her brother inside the large steel drum in their backyard, put there by their father as punishment.
In this otherwise normal conversation between brother and sister, their story of survival unravels. Where the sister worries about their father’s anger, the younger brother is the voice of reason: getting angry is what he does, and look! I’ve come to like this drum. There is peace and quiet here, where I am neither judged nor scolded.
Outside of that drum though the sister is frantic (those missing chickens!) as she is excited: there is the promise of being taken away from this place, after which she will come back for her brother. The brother hears only that he is being left behind – in that drum, in this trap they call life.
Rendered as a slice-of-provincial-life, simplicity is this text’s weapon: it allows for the innocence in these children, while making the brilliance of their realizations believable.
The constant lightness in tone, the careful hand that dealt with the material, allows for the youthfulness of the text, no matter the punishing circumstances. This is Bata Sa Drum’s gift: it will deceive you into thinking that it is nothing but a simple story, until you find that what it puts into question is our belief that there are easy answers to poverty and its contingent oppressions. There are none.
The two actors playing the siblings here are this play’s magic, especially Relavo who speaks to a drum for the duration of the play, filling the stage with her character’s distress and anxiety, sustaining naiveté despite the urgencies of their survival.
Hapagkainan (written by Rick Patriarca, directed by Chris Martinez) takes the stereotypical Pinoy middle class family and turns it on its head, as it reveals its conservatism to be pretense, its notions of propriety a way to silence the more important and difficult issues that face families today, if not society in general.
Working with the premise of dinner conversations being about happy pleasant things, this family of four takes this required pleasantry and brings it to the point of absurdity – all of them sound like they’re speaking in a TV commercial, selling a family of perfection to an imagined audience.
The mother (Adriana Agcaoili) cheerily serves the meal and speaks with a lilt as she asks her family: how was your day? The father (Arnold Reyes) talks about the violence he encountered on the street that day like he is removed from the narrative – a spectator instead of witness. The daughter (Adrienne Vergara) talks about being harassed by her PE teacher, and is criticized for bringing that upon herself. The son’s (Mikoy Morales) poor performance in school and rebellious ways is accepted to be a lack of ambition – a fact, not a judgment.
This conversation evolves in a fake, jovial tone, where whatever anger that floats to the surface is restricted by the need to maintain pleasantries over the dining table. Spoken within the frame of propriety and decorum, what it becomes is a satirical portrayal of our harmonious familial relations, where the silences are heavy with the issues of teenage sexuality and reproductive health, infidelity and violence, juvenile delinquency and parenting.
Hapagkainan’s quick-witted script and astute direction build a situation that’s wonderfully absurd because it does not lose track of the real, and keeps anchored on the material’s satirical truth. That the cast is able to carry this through to its “logical” conclusion, without missing a beat, is what allows for this charade to work. Agcaoili as the mother deserves special mention if only because it is her character that is most developed here as oppressed housewife and mother who has found freedom in her husband’s philandering – and in taking care of her own orgasms, thank you very much.
To be continued next issue…