Artistang Artlets stages Sa North Diversion Road

Sa North Diversion Road Artistang Artlets

Artistang Artlets, the official theatre guild of the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas, is staging this September a Tony Perez play, Sa North Diversion Road.

Perez is known for “dark and moody” explorations of the human psyche, influenced largely by his background in clinical psychology. The only Tony Perez work I’ve read so far is Cubao: 1980, a coming-of-age novel about a barkada of adolescent hustlers plying their trade in the titular place and time. The novel is acclaimed for its experimental prose that is reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye and its controversial subject matter (at least, during the time it was published).  I particularly remember Perez’s clever comparison of the milieu of Cubao to a cat in heat.

SNDR, on the other hand, has been a favourite among theatre companies, and was even filmed once. Like Cubao, SNDR confronts another “taboo” topic: infidelity. The subject has since become a staple in Philippine movies, what with all those mediocre “mistress movies” the major studios have been churning out recently. So it would be interesting to see how much has changed in Filipinos’ attitude towards infidelity through Artlets’ SNDR staging that is being produced by Christine Emano and being directed by Maria Kristina Magno.

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer last February, Perez said he prefers to write about the “Filipino psyche” because unlike social issues – works on which he calls “ephemeral” – such a topic lasts.

“[I] would rather write a play remembered and restaged a 100 years from now because it addressed the psyche of the Filipinos rather than current issues,” he said.

Disclosure: I am receiving free tickets for this post

Sa North Diversion Road. Directed by Ma. Kristina Magno and produced by Christine Emano. At the Tan Yan Kee Auditorium, Tan Yan Kee Building, University of Santo Tomas, on September 24, 25, 26 and 27, 2013. Time slots are 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. For inquiries, contact Cymon Denise Mercado at 0927-329-6953 or visit Artistang Artlets’ Facebook page at


Mabesa adapts The Duchess of Malfi

DUP  The Duchess of MalfiThis September, Dulaang UP continues its tradition of bringing world classics to the Filipino audience through the first major Philippine production of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Dark and visceral, The Duchess of Malfi is widely held as the greatest of Webster’s works and the most gripping of the Jacobean tragedies. It has mesmerized and shocked audiences since it was first staged 400 years ago in 1613.

The Duchess of Malfi is renowned for producing what could probably be theatre’s most compelling female protagonist and two of its most twisted villains.

The play follows the story of a recently widowed duchess as she decides to go against her scheming brothers by secretly marrying her personal steward. The discovery of her deception engulfs everyone in a tumultuous and maddening whirlpool of envy, incest, greed, destruction, and death. The characters’ struggle for and against their desires forces us to ask ourselves, “How far will we go for pleasure?”

DUP’s production also features Ang Dukesa ng Malfi as translated into Filipino by Palanca awardee Allan Palileo. The play is adapted and directed by theater icon and DUP Founding Artistic Director Tony Mabesa, well known for his staging of world and Filipino classics. New York-based Obie award winner Clint Ramos and Eric Pineda collaborate for the set and costume design respectively; Choreography by Peter Alcedo, Jr., Lights design by Meliton Roxas, Jr., and Sound design by Jethro Joaquin.

The cast is headlined by some of theater’s biggest stars and supported by some of its most promising actors. Banaue Miclat, Liza Dino, and Adriana Agcaoili alternate as the defiant Duchess. Richard Cunanan, Neil Ryan Sese, and George de Jesus take turns playing the twisted Bosola. The Duchess’ malevolent twin brother, Ferdinand, is given life by Jacques Borlaza and Allan Palileo. The corrupt Cardinal is played by Menggie Cobarrubias and Brian Tibayan. The production also stars Carlo Tarobal, Dax Alejandro, Issa Litton, Ces Aldaba, and the Dulaang UP ensemble.

The Duchess of Malfi/Ang Dukesa ng Malfi runs September 11- 29, 2013 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, University of the Philippines Diliman. For sponsorship and ticket inquiries, please contact the Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349, 981-8500 local 2449 or 433-7840 and look for Ms. Camille Guevarra or Ms. Samanta Clarin.


Accident of history

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Only a few works about the Filipino-Chinese experience have been so far produced in Philippine literature today. This is probably why much about the Tsinoy remains a mystery to most, and the few instances the people has been depicted are often stereotypical, frequently as shrewd business people who would take to even illegal means to further their enterprises.

While this portrayal is inaccurate, it is not far-fetched to say that even as late as today, such high regard for careers in commerce over those in the arts or literature persists among the Filipino-Chinese. This could also explain why there are only a few Filipino-Chinese writers who write about their culture in print today, among them the novelist Charlson Ong, who, in 2005, published Banyaga: A Song of War.

The business-versus-art bind Ong touches on in the novel, such as with the case of a shopping-mall owner, a second-generation Filipino-Chinese, who disapproves of his son’s interest in classical music. The son eventually gets his way, what with the support from none other than his grandfather, the family’s patriarch and one of the four protagonists in the sixty-year Filipino-Chinese saga. The grandfather, Antonio Limpoco, a grizzled tycoon who has bribed his way to business success, sending his grandson to Juilliard? What gives?

Art is again cast in an unflattering light when the only artist among the four main characters turns out to be the darkest. Having been adopted by a rich family, Fernando de Lolariaga leads the most comfortable life among the sworn brothers, training to be an artist and eventually becoming a prized painter and politician. Despite the privilege, Fernando is a troubled character, hunted through his lifetime with feelings of guilt from his youth during the pre-war years and the Japanese occupation.

Besides eschewing unprofitable pursuits such as the arts, the novel offers another reason to the Filipino-Chinese commercial acumen: a headstart. Like Antonio, Hilario and Samuel, many of the big Filipino-Chinese began their businesses when manufacturing and retail industries in the Philippines were still in their nascent stage in the 1950s. So by the time these industries replaced agriculture, these Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs had already secured their positions, which they would go on to maintain through decades of wars and regime changes.

The profound impact of history on personal lives is a theme which Banyaga shares with another Chinese saga, the Chen Kaige film Farewell, My Concubine. In both works, history serves not only as backdrop but turning points, an element that influences the characters’ decisions and changes the course of their lives. Take the Japanese occupation, for instance. The most compelling section of the novel, the war separated the protagonists from their newfound families and forced them to kill. The damage it would wreak on them they would never recover from and affect their relationships in their post-war lives. History is both friend and foe, bestowing privilege now to take away so much in the next. Other common themes present in both Farewell, My Concubine and Banyaga are father-son estrangement and brotherly love.

As it is, writing a period novel is more demanding than one set in the contemporary times, what with having to render the past as convincingly as possible. With Banyaga, the challenge becomes tougher with Ong’s choice to tell the story from the points of view of the four main characters. This is also the novel’s Achilles heel: having to reorient himself with the change of point of view in every chapter, the reader is often left confused. The shifts in points of view makes the narrative feel fragmented, with no palpable element connecting the next chapter from the last.

Like Farewell, My Concubine, Banyaga has its share of melodrama. Some scenes are too fabulous to be convincing, such as Nenita becoming a spirit medium and Antonio in old age falling off the yacht after hearing the music of his dead brother’s flute. The narration sometimes tries too hard to convey the character’s inner turmoil and tends to be overly sentimental.

By the end of the novel, the reader feels that Ong never set out to defend the often misconstrued Tsinoy. At the very least, what he has done is provide a more complex picture of the Filipino-Chinese. Come to think of it, the travails of his characters aren’t so different from those of other ethnicities.  Being Filipino-Chinese – actually, being anything – is simply an accident of history. The past brings with it two options: either you become its victim, or you become its master.


From Sputnik Sweetheart (2001) by Haruki Murakami

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And it came to then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that wasonly for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.


Ang Tagak at ang Kalabaw

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Image source: Sir Mevs at Flickr

Kung tawagin kami noo’y  sina Tagak at Kalabaw. Ako ang tagak at si Kuya naman ang kalabaw. Sabi ni Kuya, bata pa kami ng sinimulan kaming tawagin ng mga kapitbahay nang ganito. Minsan daw kasi’y nagkasugat ako sa paa’t matagal gumaling, kaya’t kinailangan ni Kuyang pasanin ako sa kanyang likod saan man kami pumunta.

Mga apat na taon ako at anim na taon naman si Kuya nang sumama sa mga rebelde sina Inay at Itay. Mula noo’y kinupkop na kami ng aming Tiyo Jaime. Magsasaka si Tiyo kaya lumaki kami ni Kuya sa putikan.

“Ano kayang nasa kabila ng Bulawan?” madalas kong matanong kay Kuya tuwing nasa bukid kami at nagpupunla.

“Malamang ay putik din. Pag uwi natin sa bahay, maligo ka agad at napakabaho mo na,” sagot niya.

Kung tatanungin ako, ayoko sa putikan. Mas gusto ko sa paaralan. Doon, malinis at maghapon ka lang na nakaupo.

Mas naibigan ko pang pumasok sa paaralan nang tumuntong ako nang Grade Six at naging guro namin si Ma’am Salvador.

“Class, ito ang tatandaan ninyo,” ang minsang sinabi ni Ma’am Salvador. “Ang pinakamahahalagang bagay ay hindi nakikita ng mata. Tanging ang puso ang nakakakita nang tama.”

Wala pa akong narinig na tulad niyon. Nang sandaling iyon, iyon na yata ang pinakamaganda at pinakatotoong bagay na narinig ko. Galing iyon sa nobelang The Little Prince. Syempre, ilang taon pa bago ko mabasa nang buo ang nobelang ito.

Si Kuya? Hindi mo maipipirmi si Kuya sa loob ng classroom. Hindi lalagpas ang isang oras at tingnan mo’t wala nang laman ang upuan. Naroon na uli siya sa kabukiran.

Panatag si Kuya sa bukid. Pati ang pasikot-sikot sa kagubata’y kabisado niya. Minsan, dinala niya ako gubat. Narating namin ang isang maliit na lawa. Sa ibabaw ng lawa, nagliliparan ang sanlaksang tutubi. Sa liwanag na araw, kumikislap ang kanilang mga pakpak.

Umupo si kuya sa isang malaking bato. May hawak siyang dahon ng balete. Inilapit niya iyon sa kanyang bibig at nagsimulang tugtugin iyon na parang plawta.

Noong bata pa kami, pareho kami ni Kuyang marunong tumugtog ng dahon. Siya ang nagturo sa akin. Ngunit ngayo’y nakalimutan ko na kung paano.

Nang matapos siyang tumugtog, nagsalita siya: “Balak kong sumama kay Nestor sa Bulawan.”

Si Nestor ang anak ng kapitbahay naming si Aling Guada. Isa siyang minero sa Bulawan.

Tanong ko:“Bakit?”

Sagot ni Kuya: “Kailangan daw ng dagdag na tao sa minahan. Saka, malay mo, makahukay din ako ng ginto doon, tulad ni Nestor.”

“Pero delikado. Palaging may sumasabog doon. At pag may sumasabog, lumilindol. At saka, ang dinig ko, may mga sundalo din daw doon. May mga baril sila.”

“Hay, naku naman, Emil. Kalalaki mong tao’y napakamatatakutin mo.Walang mangyayari sa akin doon.”

“Bakit kailangan mo pang magtrabaho doon? Pwede naman tayong magsaka dito.”

“Mas malaki ang kikitain ko doon. Saka, tigang na ang lupa. Sabi ni Tiyo, ilang taon na lang daw at hindi na matatamnan pa ng kahit ano ang bukid.”

“Sasama ako sa iyo.”

“Ano? Sasama ka sa ‘kin, sa payat mong ‘yan? Hindi mo kakayanin doon.”


“Sa isang linggo daw ang uwi ni Nestor. Pag balik niya sa Bulawan, sasama na ako sa kanya.

At ganoon nga ang nangyari. Naging minero si Kuya. Labing-apat na taon siya noon.

Naging totoo ang lahat ng sinabi ni Kuya. Malaki ang kanyang naging kita. Dahil dito’y napag-aral niya ako hanggang high school. Umalis din ako sa amin upang makapag-aral sa  kolehiyo sa lungsod. Naging working student ako.

Hanggang ngayo’y minero pa rin si Kuya Ruben, at sa trabahong ito binubuhay niya ang kanyang asawa at dalawang anak. Sa tuwing uuwi ako sa amin, madalas ay hindi ko naabutan si Kuya sa bahay dahil nasa minahan pa. Kung Tagak at Kalabaw ang tawag sa amin dati, kami na ngayon sina Kamusta at Mabuti Naman. Dahil iyon lang, at ang dalawang salitang iyon lang, ang nasasabi namin sa isa’t isa tuwing magkikita kami.  Anong sasabihin ko sa kanya? Na, sa wakas, marunong nang magsulat ng coherent na argumentative essay ang mga estudyante ko?

Tulad ng sinabi niya, unti-unting naging tigang ang bukid. Minsang nakaupo ako sa harap ng bahay namin sa Bulawan, napansin ko na wala na akong ibang matanaw kundi ang bitak-bitak na kulay abong lupa. Wala nang luntiang bukirin. Wala na ring mga tagak at mga kalabaw. rcc