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Those Wild Theatrical Days in Naga City (Part 1)

Theater - local, folk, popular - helped us regain some sense of normalcy after martial law was declared. Somehow, activities that included cultural presentations, improvisations, and translation/adaptation of Western classics evaded the scrutiny of the military and, for that matter, any institution feeling censorious under the dictatorship. Schools were the first to take advantage of what was like a cultural revolution, the reference of course being the Manila-based projects of Imelda Marcos.

We were not conscious of what the endgame would be of all those activities. We were simply enamored being on stage, regaling friends and kin with our newfound ability to be another being. And to mouth those strong, irascible lines as if they were ours.

Ateneo de Naga was particularly significant for mainstreaming plays in the Bikol language. There were two. The first was “Pororopot” closely identified with Ramon Lee, the same writer behind the immortal essay/short story “An Tulay na Semento,” which became so popular for its absurd character of the “Ikus na naka de-cuatro,” people started calling the work as such. If I could recall, the poster for Pororopot already showed the entwined human torsos, images that Roxlee would explore in the phantasmagoric future.

The other play was “Octavio Series,” which had a deeper bench of thespians - from Jems Jacob (who would top the Bar in the future and be a congressman) to Aton Nabua, artist par-excellence. Bantu Oira, Bebot Padrigon, Matt Lamit and a bunch of great actors proved that there were no small roles, only small actors. In other editions, Melo Reyta became part of the ensemble as were other individuals when the troupe performed in Magarao and other towns.

Pempe Valiente (the better actor between this columnist) was Octavio Series. Yes, no typo there: his character was named Octavio Series, which was actually from a series of ads run by Eveready battery, where the hero was named Octavio. End of explanation.

Out in the University of Nueva Caceres, Adelfa Conda and Chito Sagarbarria, who was known more as Chito Fanglow (perhaps the only local actor who had a nom de guerre) were doing adaptations, most of which were products of the PETA laboratories. With Chito was Beni Mipa, Jess Ramirez, Diego Recto, Alice Lorena, and many other cultural stalwarts. For the record, UNC through its Plastic Theater was the first to present Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and Paul Dumol’s “Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio.

Speaking of being daring, Chito Fanglow was “Medea” no less in one of the first presentations of the UNC theater group.”

And so while Ateneo de Naga had the subversions of the Bikol languages accomplished in Pororopot and Octavio Series, the campus remained faithful to the canons of Western classics. The tradition was followed, which began earlier with stage presentations of plays like “The Man for All Seasons’’ and “Camino Real.”

There was also another stellar achievement in the Jesuit college (it was not a university then) and that was the yearly (a kind of annual play) staging of Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” by a very young and cool English teacher with a tender baritone voice, Rudy F. Alano. The roles of Peter and Jerry, respectively were essayed by generations of students from Rudy’s class, most of whom would form the nucleus of a quasi bohemian group organized by Rudy, Mel and Lina Regis, and Myrna Nocos - the SP2ASM.

Interestingly, Chito Fanglow and Rudy Alano would have a collaboration, which was formed out of the informal improvisation class and theater workshops organized by the former. At a certain point, we had sessions on the grassy lawn of the old Abella chalet, which was leased out to the Daughters of Mary.

We used the same house for our rehearsal for two plays that we would present in a repertory. One was a Bikol adaptation of a 15th- century farce named “The Worthy Master Pierre Patelin, which became “Maraya ka pa, Baldomero.” The cast was terrific: King Pasilaban, Aton Nabua, Pempe Valiente, and Del Volante. The translator was the radio dramatist and player, Wig Pamor. He would go on to translate Leoncio Deriada’s “The Dog Eaters.”

In the inner room of the chalet, Alice Lorena and I were rehearsing the intensely gothic (morbid even) play called “Mga Haluyhoy sa Karimlan.” This was a play that began with a dark stage and a series of knocks on the wall. The two characters - an old man and an old woman - are disturbed by the noise coming from outside. Roused from sleep, they while away the hours talking about their lives. But the noise persists and the old woman insists to know what is happening; the old man relents and tells his wife that they are inside a tomb, and it is their son who is making that noise as he plants some flowers on their graves and fixes the surroundings.

The play was scary but something more terrifying would happen that night during our rehearsal. It was a sign that we should move to another place, where no spirits could be disturbed.

More next week.


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