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.