The UP that I knew like the palm of my hand

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While some urbane theatergoers scrambled to throw a fortune or scrape their last savings for Cameron Mackintosh’s world class “Les Misérables” at Solaire, almost on the same timeline, semi-retired UP theater honcho Alexander Cortez, Ph.D. staged his own métier at the Diliman Commune (sounds very 70s) at Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall.

Cortez saw the play four years ago in Beijing and got the iconic Nicholas Pichay to bring it in the country as part of Dulaang UP’s 40th Theatre Season, short of one decade prior to the First Quarter Storm.

Here’s a factoid: A then-little theater at the side of Balara academe resonated the name of Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero until he was literally thrown off, issued a walking paper for overstaying and ordered to immediately vacate the faculty house he had been occupying. If it was of any consolation at all, Guerrero was posthumously proclaimed National Artist for Theater.

While I have always been privy to most of Dulaang UP’s legit theater, I thought it would be beguiling to watch a play with male characters doing female roles, produced by the tandem of Alex and founding Artistic Director Tony Mabesa, Ph. D. (yes, we call one another on first name basis). The two used to lord it over the campus theater scene in UP Los Banos—then considered as the emerging center of “devcom”—before they moved to UP Diliman to become big names themselves alongside theater stalwarts Anton Juan, Ph. D. and the late Behn Cervantes.


True to the play’s tagline “that which flows away become nostalgia,” Dressing Room is a tantalizing ensemble of black humor with the tandem of Director Andoy Ranay and Roeder Camanag in their rousing tour de force performance. I highly recommend it to all wannabes of show business, of life and the entertainment writers as well.

With an uncomplaining friend driving me away from Palma Hall, past the College of Education, I was suddenly thrown into a fit of remembering things, unreeling right at the moment. At the Benitez Hall, I once gathered three names to conduct lectures and demos on acting like the famous Marlene Aguilar for Eric Morris’ Being, Tita Pambid for Stella Adler’s, and Cecile Guidote Alvarez—who to me is a National Artist with or without a court ruling—on Stanislavsky/Method.

Sorry to note that Narra men’s dormitory across the college that had the ever smiling well-coiffed Mang Wily at the information desk is now gone; there used to live Heber Bartolome—in a room he shared with three others—painting and writing poems for poetess Rowena Tiempo, daughter of the couple who pioneered the Annual Summer National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City. Who would have thought that he would immortalize himself and make us ever proud of our “flat” (actually aquiline) noses in the one-hit wonder “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy?”

The lean bespectacled Conrado de Quiros from Ateneo de Manila University once walked into the lobby with Carl Jung’s “Mandala” in hand to ask me if Ricky Lee was in. He was Ateneo’s answer to UP’s Ricky Lee.

In a flash, the burnt Faculty Center brought my thoughts back to the past, to revered professors like then-fresh from Harvard University Alfredo Lagmay, Ph.D., who echoed in his Behavior Modification classes Skinner’s and Pavlov’s operant conditioning; and feminist and founder of Magpakabansa Lucila Hosillos, Ph.D., who after classes would huddle at her faculty room to share Trotsky, Marx, Mao and Lenin with her recruits.

Snaking past the Mass Com building took me back to my faculty lecturing stint at the graduate school on scriptwriting in what was known then as the Institute of Mass Communication (IMC) under Dean Gloria Feliciano.

Finally, on our way out of the campus, stood Alec Hall, the rehearsal venue of SDK’s cultural arm Gintong Silahis where the obligatory G.D’s (group discussions) were once facilitated by names of youthful activists during the UP barikada days. Some of them were Gigi Duenas who clinched a memorable cameo role in Apocalypse Now; journalist Monica Feria, son of a popular military who served the Strongman Dodo Crisol; and the charismatic ‘castilaloy’ Roy Drilon of Dumangas who got me going almost crazy brainstorming agitprop street plays for the group through UP Silak Brotherhood (which he founded and which comprised of Ilongos nationwide).

Alec Hall saw a major homage to the red flag with the the late Behn Cervantes’s musical play Barikada, staged at the University Theater.

This was the “UP naming mahal…” I once knew like the palm of my hand.

It freshens me up to relish these memories at the most unexpected moment, memories that pop up like movies in my mind and play instantly when I push the right button.

Similarly, it freshens me up to see how the method actors in Dressing Room breathed life into their roles as emphatic, nostalgic, and almost senile freaks even in their afterlives.

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2 Comments

  1. maximo p fabella on

    I find this interesting Diliman has a lot of interesting characters. My favorites were
    Dr Ching Dadufalza, English, Dr. Emerenciana Arcellana, she had not finished her
    doctorate. Prof. Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Dr Napoleon J Casambre, and prof. Justina
    is Ocampo, Onofre Dizon Corpuz.There are others. So many, I cannot possibly
    list all.

    • George Vail Kabristante on

      Wow Max you were lucky to be under those named faculty members, in particular the historian Prof. Teodoro Agoncillo. Thanks for the feedback. Keep them coming!