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The Thinking Community: Theater in Naga of the 70s

Naga was sophisticated and intellectual when it came to theater in the mid-70s up to the mid-80s.

In the University of Nueva Caceres, Chito Sagarbarria had assumed the nom-de-guerre Chito Fanglow. He had the UNC Plastic Theatre, the term “plastic, “ a reference to what Tennessee Williams called then as play where the lights, props, spaces were poetry. They were staging difficult plays like, Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett.

The said play is unusual because its Act 11 is actually a repeat of Act 1. This means that the waiting in the first act is repeated in the second act, to allow the audience to experience the poetry – and boredom – of waiting.

In Ateneo de Naga, Rudy F. Alano was staging Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, which was not about the zoo but about us animals. It was about two individuals who met in the park, and soon fought over a bench. In the end, the rugged guy rushed to the knife held defensively by this decent man, and was killed.

It would not be long when these two theater groups coalesced. Diego Recto and Alice Lorena and other individuals would join us.

With Diego, we would stage Haluyhoy sa Karimlan, a one-act play about two old couples conversing with each other in the dark as they wondered what that incessant knocking on the roof was all about. With the sounds becoming more disturbing, the Old Man was forced to reveal to the Old Woman where they were: inside a tomb and the sound was that of their child fixing the tombstone and planting flowers on their grave.

Haluyhoy was a small play and Alice Lorena and I would perform this in any small space. In one production, we performed inside Cesar Natividad’s The Gallery. Diego was on the second floor making the thumping and knocking sounds and we, the actors, were on the ground floor, performing like there was no death for humanity.,

There was only the cross – Sta Cruz – separating these possessed individuals. We soon crossed that strait, with my brother, Pempe and I acting in a play directed by Chito. It was The Maze, by the Czech playwright, Ladislav Smocek, a piece that was a product of Chito’s stint with then Manila-based Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA). I was the lead but Pempe was beyond recognition as a butterfly collector who entered the maze and was never seen again. He ran away with the the scene; I would never perform with him again.

We went into translations. One of the successful translations/adaptations we had was a medieval farce, The Worthy Master Pierre Pathelin, a story of five individuals, all dishonest except the judge. Translated and adapted into Bikol by radio talent, Wig Pamor, the play became Maraya ka pa, Baldomero. This brought into our group, Del Volante. Also in the play was King Pasilaban, one of the stars of the immortal, Pororopot.

There were more plays. UNC was staging theatrical pieces that were breaking the so-called fourth wall. Lots of experimentations. In Ateneo de Naga was Pintakasi, a hotly contested one-act play competition among school organizations. For the first time, students were ransacking the library in search of plays to perform. Palanca-winning plays were the favorite, but so too were the American classics, like the plays of Eugene O’Neill and William Saroyan and those smaller, tediously obscure exercises from Pirandello and Ionesco.

Two plays would eventually unite us and and these were Orlando Nadres’s Hanggang Dito na Lamang at Maraming Salamat, Po and Doña Clara, a Filipino translation/adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit.

The said two plays would be performed in the venerable CSI (then) Auditorium, a venue that had remained sacred through those years with performances of clean and pure Broadway musicals.

Hanggang ditto na lamang had earlier rocked the Manila theater-going societies with this play about gays – a flamboyant gay, Julie, and his good, friend, Fidel, who, at the end of the play, would confess his love to his adopted son. In its Manila premiere, Rafael Roco, known later as Bembol Roco, was Efren. He almost stole the show from Lino Brocka, who played Fidel; in Naga, a young, innocent-looking Tony Blando, Atenista and ROTC officer, was the object of love and lust of his “uncle.”

Two days before the performance, the lead opted to back out. As I was the stage manager (who was expected to know the blocking and the lines) I stepped in to play the role of Fidel. To recoup the investment, we also came up with a creative solution: to work with a gay male organization in the region, the Cher-Ami. This was the same group that staged uninterrupted the longest-running gay male beauty pageant in the country.

In the play, there was a scene where Julie came back to announce to Fidel that he won the beauty contest. We expanded this scene to include a beauty pageant onstage. Tata Flores who was the president of the group agreed to host the pageant, which should, in the end, proclaim Chito Fanglow/Julie as the winner.

As the contest unfurled, however, many of the contestants felt the pageant should be real, and that the loveliest should be proclaimed winner. The powerful Tata Flores had to remind them that Julie should win or else the play could not continue.

Julie/Chito was thus declared de-facto winner and Fidel got to tear his crown and sash from him in a fit of dramatic anger. That was the first (and last?) time a real gay male beauty pageant was held in the sacred CSI auditorium under the watch of the Daughters of Charity.


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