Friday, July 25, 2008

Elmer Ordonez Hails Joi B and Chris M

The protests then in the early 80s revived the student movement in the midst of repression. Joi and Chris, both theater majors in UP Diliman, founded along with others Tropang Bodabil which presented Ilocula (Ilocano Dracula) in street demonstrations. Tropang Bodabil evolved into Peryante , and it is in one of its shows in 1982 that I first saw Joi as a performer. She would become a committed dramatist, poet, and Ph.D. credited with many scholarly and creative works.

I saw Chris Millado’s first play Buwan at Baril in Eb Major at the Faculty Center in 1985. His Panata sa Kalayaan (Ode to Freedom) in 1986 presented worldwide by PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) and other groups like Patatag would mark the celebration of people power after toppling the dictatorship. Chris directed Dong-Ao, (translated by Rody Vera), an Ilocano wake play where Pepe Samson, the activist character of Jose’s novel Mass, is mourned. Here type characters of the novel come alive and give comments on the life of Pepe.

Two other plays, Pamantasang Hirang (Sa Dilim Man) written by Tim Dacanay and directed by Hazel Gutierrez, a satire on fraternities and politicians, and Masaganang Ekonomiya written by Allan Lopez and directed by J.Victor Villareal, an expressionist and absurd rendering of state torture of insurgents against the backdrop of government claims of economic prosperity, constitute the political drama of that evening.

The launching of Savage Beast was preceded by a reading of excerpts from plays presented over the years by the Ma-yi Theater Company– plays included in the volume edited with a well-researched introduction and three more essays by Joi.

Joi says that the “naming” of Ma-yi (a precolonial term) theater company (founded in 1989 by Filipino-Americans in New York City) was an act of decolonization. Choosing not to take part in “the assimila­tionist discourse that dwells on Accept us, America!’, Ma-Yi, (says Joi) has concerned itself with the struggles of sovereignty in the homeland, the class struggles articulated by Carlos Bulosan, and the continuing tensions brought about by the global war on terror and neocolonial globalization.

She points out that the concept of pagdamay or empathy in the pasyon has led Ma-yi to transform itself into an Asian-American company. So far, my wife and I have watched only one full performance The Romance of Magno Rubio based on Bulosan’s writings, and the dramatic readings of three other plays included in Savage Beast. The book (available in Solidaridad, Fully Booked, Power Books, and A Different Bookstore) deserves a full treatment next time.

On the other, Jose’s Dong-ao seems to put a closure on the fate of Pepe Samson who in Mass is last seen saying good-bye to Tia Nena and Fr.Jess as he joins the NPA. There is a reference to Pepe in Jose’s later novel Viajero—a meditation on revolution.

I had wished for Frankie Jose to write a sequel to Mass (excerpted in Kamao, post-EDSA CCP’s anthology of protest literature) and was surprised that he had already written the play. Here Jose resorts to his device of getting different perspectives as in Vibora, a novel about Artemio Ricarte. In Dong-ao the other characters of Mass take turns remembering, eulogizing, and also chiding Pepe for living the life of an insurgent.

Inevitably speakers tell the audience more about themselves. The colonel (then the lieutenant who arrested Pepe) and Senator Reyes represent the views of opportunistic/corrupt members of society. Dr. Hortenso (said to be modeled after a marxist U.P. professor) comes off as an ineffectual revolutionary in his “I told you ” manner of addressing the bier of Pepe Samson. Fr. Jess is ever the sacrificing priest doing apostolate work in a poor parish in Tondo. It is the old woman in black (“the chieftest mourner”) who grips the audience as she wails with an exhortation that moves the youth among the mourners to rise and carry on the struggle of Pepe Samson –a denouement worthy of activist drama. Isang bagsak!


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