REVIEW: Count more than just six senses in Peta's 'Ang Dalawang Buhay ni Plaridel'

Count more than just six senses 
By Walter Ang
December 2, 1999
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last week, the people whom I tried to coerce to come watch a play with me all bailed. This left poor little me all alone when I went to Fort Santiago to watch the Philippine Educational Theater Association's (Peta) production of "Ang Dalawang Buhay ni Plaridel."

It'd been drizzling earlier in the evening so I became apprehensive about leaving the house since the play would be staged at the Rajah Sulayman Theater, an open air theater with a T shaped stage right smack across the middle. I've heard of shows being cancelled when the weather got a little too much to take, so I didn't want to have to suffer through traffic and then find out I'd have to scoot right back home.

Leaving the evening to fate, I slipped on a jacket, held on to my trusty foldable umbrella and braved the dimly lit streets to get to the Fort. As I strolled from the entrance to the theater, I did what most people do but never admit, imagined myself transported back in time, pretending to be in Spanish era Manila. With the crumbling walls and lovely evening breeze, how could one not? In any case, since I knew the play would be dealing with the past, I didn't think getting myself into the mood of things was such a bad idea.

Being inside Fort Santiago during the night is always an interesting way to get distance yourself from the noise and stress of the city. A different option to hanging at the mall or attending the latest rave or street party. On one hand, you get to see the intricate details of the walls in a new light and if you raise your head a little bit, you get to see the towering steel and glass buildings along the Pasig River lined up against the night sky. Very nice contrast.

Written by Nicholas Pichay and translated by Elmer Gatchalian, "Ang Dalawang Buhay ni Plaridel" dishes out the story of Marcelo H. del Pilar's involvement in the Propaganda Movement against the Spanish colonizers during the 1890's. At last, something other than the dozens of material dealing with Rizal and his novels. It won last year's Centennial Literary Contest's Grand Prize for English Full Length Play .

One performance I especially enjoyed was Connie Lauigan's portrayal of Nana Ubing, a character who would pop up from nowhere, groaning and moaning in a guttural, raspy tone. This always managed to scared the wits out of some of the audience members. I'd know where she'd be coming from every time I'd hear muffled shrieks of fright. She even made a baby cry. Granted that focusing on this particular character was somewhat missing the point of the play, I figured, hey, no one could sue me for it.

[Another highlight for me was a visual metaphor used when some Spanish guy was getting it on with Nana Ubing: a long white piece of canvass shot out across above the length of the stage. I thought the device very apt since the scene was depicting the ravaging of a woman. Wink wink, nudge nudge.]

In the Mood
Normally, I shy away from plays dealing with historical material, but the surrounding atmosphere sort of put me in the mood for it that night. Apparently, the theater was once a Spanish garrison, now transformed into a performance space that breaks away from the usual, familiar proscenium stage. I've seen a few plays in this theater and the experience is always fun.

There's no roof, no air conditioning, no cushioned seats. Instead you have the sky, occasional gusts of wind and drizzle, black plastic chairs. While actors are strutting their stuff onstage, you hear dogs barking, cars tooting their horns, and sometimes, airplanes roaring overhead. For those of you who saw The Sixth Sense and are still paranoid about it until now, you may hear more than just the things I mentioned. Adds to the excitement for sure.

People who claim to go for alternative activities have not seen anything yet until they've tried watching a show here at the Sulayman. How can stuffy formal theaters compare to such an invigorating setting? How can anything compare to the simultaneous opening of umbrellas when the drizzle started to get a little too heavy for everyone's comfort?

There's a dynamic to the place that I don't think can be found anywhere else. This could be one of the factors that adds to most of Peta's plays a sense of earthiness, a sense of visceral appeal. Until the next time I go over to Fort Santiago to catch another Peta performance, I'm going to practice my own raspy guttural moans and see if I can't make a baby cry also.

Graduation Showstoppers

By Walter Ang
March 1, 1999
Philippine Star

I once attended a wedding reception with an emcee that made the evening feel like watching the Miss Universe Pageant. He kept shouting out the names of the sponsors like they were contestants from some obscure country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. "Meeeester and Meeeeseeees Gooooooooo!"

This provided much of the fun for an otherwise boring night. It also gave me an insight: more events should be hosted this way. Louder, faster! More pomp and circumstance! Transform the usual bare stage into a showstopping performance! And what better institution to revitalize than the graduation ceremony? I wonder why no one's thought of doing things this way before!

I once had to attend three graduation ceremonies, each one day after the other. One was for a cousin, the other, my brother, the last was for a friend. And let me tell you, counting my toenails would have been so much more livelier. In fact, it was a good thing I wore sandals to these events.

Imagine how much fun it would be to go to a graduation ceremony and catch a glittering show! Instead of the usual valedictory address, we could have the valedictorian come out with a melee of backup dancers with balloons, fans, and streamers. An opening number that can rival those of the Vilma! show. Of course, the de rigueur Vilma! "lifts" should be incorporated into the number: the valedictorian being lifted onto high platforms, being lifted by two hulking men, being lifted through burning hoops ... well, you get the idea.

Afterwards, various concepts and excerpts from Broadway shows can be used to liven up the event! There are many, many shows to select from to get ideas. Here's a short list to start you off:

1. Sound of Music
One way to have the graduates receive their diplomas would be to use the very obvious metaphor of crossing a "mountain". For the background music, we'll throw out Verdi's "Triumphant March from Aida". Instead, we'll hear the song "Climb Every Mountain". The graduates must cross an elevation in the middle of the stage strewn with edelweiss flowers and perhaps two or three marionette goats for effect. We can have the person giving out the diplomas wear a goat herd costume.

2. Les Miserables
Please, none of those medleys which everyone is sick of already. You can only bear to listen to teenagers with squeaky voices sing "On My Own" so many times. We could utilize the scene where the stage rotates to show both sides of the barricade -- the dying enemy soldiers on one side rotates to show the, well, dying student activists on the other. We could begin the graduation ceremony with each class rotating into view and have them shout out their respective class war cries. Or better yet, their favorite algebraic theorem ... with feelings.

3. Miss Saigon
Of course, the famous helicopter scene comes to mind. This is when many Vietnamese run to the American Embassy in desperate attempts to fly off with the Americans, but they are unfortunately stopped by a very high wire fence. We could have the top five students fly off after they're awarded their medals. While the rest of the different classes onstage clamour and grope behind wire fences for their diplomas. This will definitely raise the excitement level a few notches.

4. Phantom of the Opera
An idea from this Andrew Lloyd Weber musical would be perfect to close the show with. As the graduates sing the final note of their last song, a giant chandelier falls straight down, crashing onto the stage floor and then, blackout. Dramatic! This will certainly have the graduates' families and friends cheering and clapping for all they're worth.

At Chinese restaurants, don't be polite!

Don't be polite!
By Walter Ang
February 16, 1999
Philippine Star

A trip to a Chinese restaurant either results in happy smiling faces after a hearty meal, or it can sometimes leave you completely dazed. I find that going with relatives or family ensures at least an interesting, if not an eventful, evening.

First, everyone trundles into the resto and scouts for a good table. If you're like most people, you'll probably wait to be seated. If you're the more gung-ho type, you weave through furniture and people and seek out your own table. You beam at your adeptness for finding a table that doesn't have an airconditioner blasting straight at it.

As you sit down and take in the atmosphere of the resto, you realize all Chinese restos are basically the same. It offers the compounded layer of grease that covers every available surface, the loud clanking of silverware, the pudgy lady cashier with large silver hoop earrings who resembles the happy Buddha. There will be a small altar nearby with Tho Tee Kong and Sto. Nino beside each other.

Then the family acrobatics begin. The grandmother or mother will wipe her tableware (and everybody else's if they won't) with paper napkins and will douse her drinking glass with the house tea before anything else. The younger brother will play with his chopsticks grabbing pretend flies in the air. This, he will explain, is an imitation of a kung-fu movie he just saw the other day. The kung-fu master caught flies with his chopsticks in order to teach his student mastery of hand-eye coordination. "Haii-yaaa!"

The younger sister will be reading her Archie comics as the father reprimands her for doing so. An even younger sibling will rush off to the aquariums and look at the fishies and shrimp. You will tag along and announce to everyone against the din, "I'll look after the brat." The truth of the matter is, you want to take a look at the fishies and shrimp too. All of this and the order taker hasn't even arrived yet.

Later on, your mother will lay on your plate those squiggly seaweed appetizers that look like worms despite your pleas, head shaking, palm waving and loud nonononono's. Perhaps you've hated those squiggly worms since your childhood, and you taunt your mother for not eating the half slices of century egg your dad sneakily piled on her plate.

Immediately after the cold cut appetizers, the younger sibling once again run off to the aquariums with an adamant, "I'm full!" And as author Amy Tan puts it so aptly, rounds of "Don't be polite" will be exchanged among everyone. The rest of the meal will hopefully go on smoothly, accented by animated chatter and punctuated by rambuctious laughter by the adults as the young sister goes back to reading her book and the younger brother starts playing with the toothpicks.

Sometimes for extra fun, you could get a fresh untrained server. He will ceremoniously lay down the soup tureen in the middle of the lazy susan and will promptly leave without ladling the soup into the individual soup bowls.

All this fun (or torture), sad to say, soon comes to an end. If your family has invited someone else along, he and the father will argue as to who will pay the bill. Each threatening to become angry at the other if not allowed to pay. The brother starts mixing all the liquid condiments into his glass of half finished iced tea. The grandmother will have cunningly snuck several toothpicks into her purse to bring home. You start getting a headache from the monosodiumglutamate.