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Ages of Innocence

Would young people today still love Octavio and Pororopot?

My sister, Ebit, and I were exchanging messages about memories of these two plays. Octavio and Pororopot were, on record the only blockbuster plays that came from any school. Or, we may be wrong. Memories can be tricky, you know.

In the origin of things, Pororopot came first. The reason for this was primogeniture: the high school and college batch of students behind it were way ahead of the Octavio group and belonged to different generations.

I remember that morning at the assembly hall. I was in high school. Fr. James O’Brien, SJ, was introducing a group of former high school students. Monlee, Jorge Caudilla…They came up with a play in Bikol language. That was rare. Ateneo de Naga in those days was steeped in excerpts from Shakespeare; annual plays involved huge names from the American theatre catalogue.

It was a preview. And the title was… Pororopot. So raw a title, after all, the school, being the only educational institution offering Bikol Culture classes, was still into American English. In first year, you were given a book called “Sounds,” a tongue exercise needed so we could achieve a bright – as in glittering – vowels and consonants that made us affect like, well, Nuyokers.

There was no backdrop for the performance that morning at the Assembly Hall, just these characters in their regular clothes. They were not following the classical blocking rules. They were all over the place but the energies were like coiled balls of rage. Out of the blue, it sliced the air: Oragan ta ka! One of the characters shouted the “obscenity.” This was long before academics deconstructed the word “Orag” to mean power. There was a shocked silence. Did Francis Xavier standing behind the small pillars of the Assembly Hall turn his head in disbelief? Then a roar of laughter erupted. Suddenly it stopped. Most of us were looking at Fr. O’B. We were waiting for him to storm the stage and stop the staging of the play. But there he was grinning. Before we could focus on what was happening on the stage, there it was again: “B-ray ni Ina niya.”The loud laughter was threatening to remove the roof of the hall.

That morning, we found our theatre.

When Pororopot was finally staged in full, the gymnasium was filled to the rafters. The performance rose a hundred times in tension and artistry. Stones rained intermittently on the roofs of the gym. That was the gilded tradition then, for the young (and perhaps old) men of Sta. Cruz to disturb whatever was happening in the gym. I wonder if this tradition has been maintained.

Octavio followed after four or five years. There was a script written by several wayward evangelists of absurdist truth. The writers were coming from friends composed of Pempe Valiente, Jems Jacob, Herminio Brazal and some others (Benito “Bantu” Oira, Matt Lamit, Bebot Padrigon et al), who, in their drunkenness or tipsiness, managed to offer a gem or two of wild ideas.

In theatre, there is a part called “drop-script,” a moment when everyone literally drops the script, or leave it somewhere, because the actors are ready to mouth the lines as if they own those sterling nuggets of rhythm and charm. For Octavio, however, to drop the script was to set aside the lines, memorize the scene, and deliver dialogues that were concocted that very moment. This was a joyful discovery but a dangerous event as well: it was Martial Law, remember?

Where did the title come from? The full title of the play was Octavio Series, which was the title of a radio-aired series of adventures of Octavio, a hero aided in his heroics by Eveready Battery. In our play, however, “Octavio” was the first name of the lead character and his family name was “Series.” The fun we had with that title was immortal.

The play was directed by Herminio “Minio” Brazal, perhaps the only serious soul in that group. Minio discovered early on the secret of humor and this he reminded his actors: ‘Do not try to be funny. Be serious with your roles and the audience will see the hilarity.’ He was right: the first night, the wild and irreverent laughter was back in the gym. More stones rained from Sta. Cruz as double-meanings flew and expletives stormed the air. Sta. Cruz by then had ceased to be a barrio and had become a barangay, courtesy of the dictator who opted to change the smallest unit of our government into something pre-Magellanic.

Iconoclastic as it was, the play, Octavio Series, was invited to do out-of-town performances to raise funds for churches. In Magarao, we performed in the church for a fund-raising. The priest placed a huge black curtain to cover the altar of the old church, to separate the sacred from the truly profane.

“Octavio” was also Pempe, my older brother.

Pempe would carry the name of Octavio offstage. He was “Octavio,” “Taboy.” On his grave marker, that name, “Octavio” is inscribed with our love and our prayers. Those love and prayers may well be for plays that made fun of society too serious in its hypocrisy and pretense to be taken seriously or respected by any good artist or individual.

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