REVIEW: Campus productions tackle cruel nature of life, memory, death

Campus productions tackle cruel nature of life, memory, death
By Walter Ang
October 25, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In our world of sensory overload through various mediums, desensitization to real life is a constant threat, if not result. Last month, the University of the Philippines' College of Arts and Letters put up three productions whose different materials and staging methods provided meditations on this implication while commemorating International Day of the Disappeared.

The college's Departamento ng Filipino at Panitikan ng Pilipinas staged a twinbill of Palanca Hall of Fame awardee Reuel Aguila's works: "Alimuom / Walang Maliw," directed by Chris Millado and its Dept. of English and Comparative Literature staged Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro's "Information for Foreigners," directed by Anton Juan. Its Dept. of Speech Communications and Theater Arts, through Dulaang UP, staged Floy Quintos' "Shock Value," directed by Alex Cortez.

Aguila's works take us into the internal and ephemeral. Staged in the intimate Tanghalang Hermogenes Ylagan, "Alimuom" (roughly: mugginess) is a monologue featuring a former military torturer inventorying the various methods he has applied in his career.

He talks of becoming used to the sights and sounds of the fallout of torture. He justifies that he'd only been following orders. A solitary length of bright orange plastic pipe coiled on the ground, a torture implement creating waves of creepy atmosphere.

Jonathan Tadiaoan deftly brought the torturer to life, though the monologue was staged in an unrelenting one-note of guilty anger, making it easy to space out at his ranting. Yes, we too became used the sights and sounds on stage, no matter the horrors being revealed.

"Walang Maliw" (roughly: unwaning) features a couple talking about their daughter who has disappeared five years hence. Names of Filipino desaparecidos (victims of forced disappearance) were written in chalk across the stage floor, setting a sharp, poignant and poetic statement: these names of real people who have disappeared that can all be easily erased with the swipe of a hand.

Millado employed a light touch with this piece, allowing Teroy Guzman (Daddy), Sherry Lara (Mommy) and Julia Enriquez (alternating with Kat Castillo) playing the daughter, Leny, to highlight Aguila's text with impactful subtlety.

The twinbill highlighted the burden of memory, the oppression of longing, and the struggle of letting go. The stark staging provided the immediacy and space to contemplate these themes.

If Aguila's work showed the inner workings of the mind and heart, Juan and assistant director/dramaturg Pat Valera's "Information for Foreigners" was all guts and gore.

Through a bacchanalia of exaggerated props, costumes (Lhenvil Paneda), lighting (Meliton Roxas) and sound (Jethro Joaquin) under Ohm David's technical direction, the show overwhelmed by using three entire floors of the College of Arts and Letters Building and bombarded audiences with scenes of torture and other acts of inhuman insanity in different classrooms and hallways.

To create the sense of loss of control, audiences were broken into groups led by tour guides through the different locations and were whisked away at turning points in scenes, some of which required audience participation. Kudos to the cast for powering through repeated performances for every group that arrives in succession and to the tour guides who had to navigate Juan's labyrinthine production while controlling large groups of people.

At one point, the novelty of going from room to room wearing off, the heat and humidity, the unyielding cacophony, the going up and down the stairs in herds had gotten to me and I thought, "How different is this from riding the MRT during rush hour and seeing, hearing and smelling Manila's brand of poverty-ridden craziness when I exit the station? What am I seeing here that I haven't already seen on TV or on the internet? This is supposed to be scary?"

Yet another instance of the numbing effect, which is very telling of the desensitizing powers of media and everyday life, despite the theatrically-configured presentation. Reality is blurred into fantasy when the production features the story of desaparecido Jonas Burgos. The enforced manner of experiencing this production leaves no time for thinking but is definitely thought-provoking through and through.

At the other end of the spectrum, "Shock Value" is a fluffy comedy about TV producer Matt Desaparecidos and how he orchestrates his own disappearance after becoming involved in a sex scandal that was, in turn, orchestrated by a rival. Subplots involve TV personalities as products of formulation and exploitation.

Andoy Ranay (alternating with Jojit Lorenzo) made Matt easy to hate: a self-absorbed, selfish, deceitful man-child. Mylene Dizon (alternating with Ana Abad Sanots) gives moments of earnestness to Rina Corpuz, the high-strung producer attempting to be Matt's voice of reason. Stella Canete (alternating with Frances Makil Ignacio) is a hilarious news anchor forced to compromise standards for ratings gimmicks while John Lapus (alternating with Jomari Jose) is a hilarious TV show host with no standards at all.

Cortez shows us the carnival that the broadcast industry is and Quintos makes us laugh at its ridiculousness. That this is a light comedy doesn't mean it doesn't have anything serious to say.

Quintos uses the broadcast industry as a metaphor to show us how power can be systematically abused on such a scale and to such a degree that we don't even notice it anymore or accept it as par (again, the notion of numbing).

Victims all
While the three departments didn't plan to showcase three distinct ways of presenting connected subject matter, audiences are better for it because they've been treated to a wealth of ideas to ponder on.

Social issues and history are touched on by the first two productions, but as the last production prods us to ask, despite the illusion that information is more accessible than ever, if all you watched on cable television were showbiz talk shows or all your current events news came only from your Facebook friends' shoutouts, and if all published and broadcasted information is actually edited by unseen powers anyway, who's to know what's real or not?

Needless to say, comparing enforced disappearances to anything else will be construed as insensitive. This tangential connection is merely to indulge a very small idea: if desaparecidos become disappeared without their consent because of their character, beliefs and will, it doesn't seem any better to have your own character, beliefs and will disappear, with your consent and participation, while you're still alive. Human cruelty spans from the horrible to the haunting, and also, the habitual.

Dulaang UP will stage "Isang Panaginip na Fili" written and directed by Floy Quintos from Nov. 24 to Dec. 12, 2010. This will be the third production for its 35th season "Return Engagement: Plays that deserve a second look," a series of restagings of DUP's past popular works. Call 981-8500 local 2449, 926-1349, 433-7840 or 0917-6206224.

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