We walked into The Open Space where Si Medea by the Langgam Performance Troupe (directed by Blonski Cruz) was being staged and found that few of the 35 seats were taken.
I know enough not to be saddened by this, in the same way that I’ve stopped getting excited about productions just because I enter a jam-packed theater. In a country where the cultural sectors are so tiny and interconnected, not to mention cliquish, it’s easy to understand why some theater productions might have sold-out shows, while others will open and close with nary a squeak from the purportedly more “intelligent” theater-watching public.
It very rarely has anything to do with whether or not a production was good, i.e., offered more than the usual display of Filipino talent, or our touted ability to make do with the little that we have. Neither is it ever about whether or not we’re watching an original Filipino production, or yet another foreign text transposed to the local setting.
It is, as with all cultural sectors, never about the work itself, but about the larger system(s) of valuation that dictate what is worthy. One learns to always question that system, and to go see a production regardless of what has been said, or not, about it.
Sometimes this exercise yields really admirable works – ones that you would otherwise not see.
Ambition and complexity
Si Medea is one such production, which is admirable not because it is perfect, but because it had the gall to set its sights on an ambition, and to see this vision through to a final production.
Make that two productions. Si Medea is made up of two adaptations, Madiya and Maida (by Jenny Logico-Cruz and Ian Lomongo, and Alekxandra Toyhacao, respectively), staged back-to-back, using the same set. This is of course a challenge in itself for an audience, to sit through two very different adaptations of the same material, which also means being made to contend with more female psyches than one might be prepared to handle at any given time. Between these two Medeas one is actually traversing space and time, where Madiya is a babayi of pre-colonial Philippines, and Maida is of the present; where Madiya is shifting from the psyches that are affected by language, geography, consciousness; and where Maida’s silences might have spoken more about her than her articulations.
Together, both Madiya and Maida force upon us a larger sense of the blood that inevitably runs through our veins as Filipinas, given our roots in our past, given our complicity in the failures of the present; given the archetypes and stereotypes, the oppressions and violence that are contingent upon being woman on these shores.
If only for this, Si Medea was worth the three hours or so spent in the theater.
Comparisons and failures
The decision to stage two adaptations comes with the risk, if not the by-product, of a comparison. In the case of Si Medea it’s a risk that means one must suffer the consequence of the other.
Madiya’s complexity was its power; this is what rendered Maida too simple an assessment of the character of the original Medea, and of her adaptation into a contemporary Filipina.
It was a lost opportunity, really. Maida’s story already begins with her being judged by a public court, which is already pregnant with possibility given social media as the current version of “a public,” and given the kind of shaming that this kind of public puts women through. One could imagine psychosis borne of the expectations we are faced with given this public; it could’ve also been just about discussing, tearing apart, rebuilding that label of “crazy woman” given its multifarious meanings in the present context.
But these two adaptations were not working on the same discursive level, not quite engaging with the issues of womanhood and being Pinay with the same kind of nuance nor complexity.
One out of two ain’t bad at all.
Madiya more than makes up though for what was missing in Maida, given the former’s decision to create an adaptation that did not stop at the decision to do a pre-colonial Pinay version, but in further layering that with nuances of language as wrought by geographical difference, and with the truth of multiplicity given rootedness in folk beliefs versus “civilization.”
Madiya as such is not just Bikolana transposed into Katagalugan, but also priestess made to conform to “normalcy” whatever that might mean. The greatness of this adaptation is in the fact that where the shifts needed to be palpable (between one character to another, one language to the next), the narrative itself allowed for the creation of one Madiya who was credible and real in —and despite—her psychosis.
That this adaptation works is testament to its staging. Madiya’s existence within that pool of water stands as both an element of calm and a form of capture. The water differentiates her from the rest of her community, and that difference is both her entrapment and freedom, where the community exists outside of it literally, and beyond understanding her figuratively.
This community is an ensemble of five, that does lights and sounds to boot, an interesting exercise in itself. Logico-Cruz’s Madiya is eerie and haunting, the shifts subtle enough to make the character’s psychoses believable; the dismay and disgust, sadness and anger carefully imagined and melded together into one woman, still undefined but finally fathomable, and ready to go through the course of unraveling and becoming again and again.
You step out of Si Medea believing that it is Madiya’s blood that courses through your veins. That she could be – actually is – you. And you grapple with the range of her anger and cruelty, based on the depth of her convictions and her belief in love.
And you’re glad you watched this show, empty theater notwithstanding.