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The Saga Continues (Those Wild Theatrical Days in Naga City Part 4)

How did a bunch of Atenistas end up in a non-musical theatrical production in the exclusive and gated Colegio (now Universidad) de Santa Isabel?

The only time, I believe, Ateneans got to enter the said campus was either because there was an event in the CSI auditorium, the only decent performing site, in the city and, for that matter, in the region. The school was also not known for serious, straight plays; the Daughters of Charity were into musicales and please spell that with an “e.” And the directors of those plays were usually imported from Manila and the school administration was partial to seminarians. Better behaved and generally with more well-trained vocal pipes.

But we were not doing a musical. We were staging Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit. Described as tragicomic, the play was about a rich woman who returned to exact revenge on the man who was her former lover, impregnated her, and left her in shame. The woman was named Claire and in the Filipino translation/adaptation, the play became Doña Clara.

Chito Fanglow was, as usual, directing. By that time, he had developed a very good reputation. The Sisters then, for some reason, were not present during the rehearsals. Improvisatory sometimes, there was a scene in the play where Claire had already bribed the townspeople to kill Anton, her former lover. The line was: “walang aalis sa bayan na ito!” (Nobody is leaving this town!). To dramatize the closure of all exits, the stagehands were told during the rehearsals to station themselves at the many doors of the auditorium and, on cue, would bang those massive (expensive?) doors and keep them closed. Santisima was all I could hear from the Sisters at that point.

But nothing could ever prepare them from the lines assigned to Claire. She entered the auditorium on a palanquin - a kind of throne with beams that were carried by four burly men. I do not remember anymore the hapless actors assigned to do this. Becky Alcala, who I believe has become a nun (correct me if I am wrong), played Claire or Doña Clara. She was a presence and she had this strong guttural voice when projecting.

The direction was after she had reached the front row of the seats, just enough for many of those in the balcony to catch sight of her, and right where the VIPS and the CSI officials were, she would declare her words of vengeance:

“Ginawa akong P-ta ng daigdig na ito! Pwes gagawin kong isang Bahay ng P-ta ang daigdig na ito!” (This world has turned me into a whore. Then I will turn this world into a House of Whore!)

The Santisimas, I am sure, were all over the place, but we could not hear them. An applause had erupted from the audience, convinced of this woman who had been wronged by the town now all cowering before her because she had money!

The point, however, of this memory is not so much the play but the gathering of actors coming from different places, organizations, and schools. This was rare. I can recall the names: Bonafe, Botor, Celebrado, Sante, two Valientes, and many more. How we forgot our backgrounds and forged alliances all for the sake of theater. And Arts.

We were moving from one school to another. One time, Chito Fanglow, again, offered me the role of the Young Man in Ladislav Smoček’s The Maze. The play from the Czech playwright was used as a laboratory piece at the PETA in Manila. Chito brought the play to Naga and had it staged in the UNC Plastic Theater. Jun Aguilar (the future Dr. Filomeno V. Aguilar,Jr, economic and social historian, who was then studying in Ateneo de Manila, was on vacation. It was summer. My brother Pempe played the Butterfly Collector and was unrecognizable on stage. I think I performed quite well but during the curtain call, Pempe Valiente got the most applause and, in the words of Jun, “matibay si Pemps! Dai ko nabisto.”

That night, I knew it: Manong Pempe was the better actor.

Then it was time for the professional actors!

At the Abella house, we used to have informal theater workshops. Improvisation. It was there that we met some radio talents with lovely, theatrical voices. There was Wig Pamor and then Del Volante.

Wig was one of those radio personalities who could produce plays very quickly. Almost on the spot. One day, he was asked to translate into Bikol Leoncio Deriada’s The Dog Eaters. He turned it into Kaming Mga Parakakan Idu and filled it with expletives. We thought it was “unstageable.” Remember, it was Martial Law.

Imagine that play now.

The case of Del was amusing. She was such a great actress that in Rogelio Sikat’s Moses, Moses, every time she delivered her dramatic lines during rehearsal, all of us would tear up, including Matt Lamit. The problem was Matt was the evil Mayor and he was supposed to be ruthless and not a crybaby.

That dramatic aria of Del ended with Matt as Mayor offering her money. Del as the mother would respond with a slap. Each night that slap resounded all over the gym and people loved it. Except Matt, of course.


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