PROTEST PLAYS seem to have come alive again hereabouts. Could this be because it is once more a time of political struggle, similar to the American and Japanese occupation and the Marcos dictatorship?
After a Naga re-run of Sining Banwa’s excellent “1900,” we had the good fortune to watch two protest plays this August, Teatro Sta. Luisa’s “Apokalipsis (Ang Paghahanap ng Bagong Bayani)” and Sining Banwa’s one-act play “Titser, Titser,” two original pieces written by Bikol playwrights in Filipino.
Apokalipsis is set in a dystopic future ruled by a gun-toting Pangulo and his armed goons out to eliminate any rebels. Sounds familiar? The rebel leader’s daughter, together with a blind philosopher-narrator and a mad woman who provides comic relief, sets out to find her father. Along the way, they encounter ordinary people such as a teacher, writer, and singer. The blind narrator says they are all bagong bayani even if they do not realize this themselves. Meanwhile, the Pangulo, appropriately another comedian, stalks them, gleefully killing the innocent on his path. A chorus wearing grotesque white make-up and black and red robes chant “Kamatayan” between scenes, alluding to the carnage going on in the Philippines.
The play is commendable for the music, the talented singers, and energetic acting skills of its cast, especially the mad woman. The rebel’s farewell scene to his wife and daughter could be trimmed to prevent it from turning into a soap opera, and the chanting chorus toned down to lessen predictability. Nevertheless, this Brechtian play, both instructive and entertaining, was effective agit prop, when the narrator called on the audience to be new heroes too while the Philippine flag was unfurled and waved in the foreground. Apokalipsis has a patriotic message against tyranny and for reliance on self and others in a time of evil.
While Apokalipsis is an allegory of the national problem, “Titser, Titser” is a more focused social commentary on the teaching profession. A teacher slaves in school and brings home work while other professionals can afford a full night’s sleep. She has little time for her own child, and cares for her students as her own children. She is abused by her insecure and alcoholic spouse who has less education than she does. Her students are tragically subjected to societal and family violence too. A quote from the play is relevant: “Paano nga ba ipinta ang isang maliwanag na umaga sa panahon ng tag-ulan?”
The play shows teachers as new heroes, and one appreciates them better after watching this. Nevertheless, it pokes fun at some wrongs in the education sector as well. One is the “you pay, you get an item,” or bribes to procure teaching jobs allegedly practiced in some public schools. The other is the “London mentality,” or loan dito loan doon, whether for need or ill-afforded luxuries. The “Londoner,” a loud and flashily-dressed teacher provided comic relief to the otherwise moving social realist drama. “Titser Titser” is one play that should be required theater fare of all teachers, public or private, and their high school and college students.
“Apokalipsis” was penned and directed by Alcid O. Valencia with original music by Guiseppe S. Crescini and shown exclusively at the Universidad de Sta Isabel. “Titser, Titser” was written and directed by Sari Saysay, and performed at the Bicol University, Daraga, Albay. – Doods M. Santos