In the almost hackneyed leitmotifs of redundant tragedies ever-present in the lives of ordinary Filipinos, giving life to a tragic subject using the methodologies of a tragic play or anything with a likeness of such in theater will only drag and blur the theme, the subject, and the artistic attempt, rendering them all trite and unable to achieve the level of poetry and the unfamiliar.
Such light but intelligent treatment of very serious social realities in the Philippines proves to be, for me, the strongest point of Isang Araw sa Karnabal, a one-act play by the acclaimed playwright Nicolas B. Pichay and directed by veteran theater director Chris Millado.
The play is set in a local perya (carnival) where Toni and Zaldy meet for a date. Although it is not clear whether they have a formal, romantic relationship, they are intimately attached to each other. Their initial conversations, marked with funny punchlines and comical delivery belie the dark circumstances they’re both caught in. Toni’s father disappeared allegedly abducted by military agents during a Labor Day rally five years ago. Zaldy’s five-year-old sister, on the other hand, disappeared and whose body was later found decomposing after suffering from torture.
Both are forced to face the desaparecidos in their lives. Desparacidos is a term originating from South America that means people who are victims of forced disappearance by an oppressive government. Toni has not let go of the hope of one day finding his father even though he has been gone for five years already. Zaldy wants to move on and forget or to at least have a semblance of normalcy in their lives. The topic of their conversations, which are as variegated as the concerns of the different roles they play as lovers, daughter, brother, and as contemporary persons, mirror the everyday of most Filipinos–full of struggles, longing, at times punctuated by delusions if only to get by life. Nonetheless this same ordinariness giving snippets us of their sometimes mundane concerns juxtaposed with the great and the beyond-themselves allows the characters to be elevated to the greatness of heroes confronting their worst archenemies in great tragedies and epics.
Everything in the play (the characterization of the two actors and their good complementation of each other, their bright costumes, the colorful set that looks almost like a soft cotton candy sold in Enchanted Kingdom, and the recreated gay air of a theme park) establishes a stark contrast to that of the serious theme of the play: how people affected by external struggles deal with the problem and how their relationships with other people change because of these circumstances.
If there is something this play is successful at, it is giving a face to the almost monotonous and overly-homogenized group of people who are victimized, including their families, by the state’s oppressive apparatuses. The number of forced disappearances which escalates in the Arroyo administration, the most since Marcos’s time has become so stale a topic for most the primetime-newscast-viewing public.
I believe that the primary reason ordinary people feel apathetic towards these issues is that these killings, disappearances, tortures have gone trite and clichéd due to mainstream media’s almost repetitious and shallow presentation of the news. This play, in contrast, humanizes those dehumanized faces and provides tangibility to this almost imaginary and unreal truth.
While watching the play, I thought: Look! Here’s a play that is too specific in its scope, not at all presumptuous, simple, funny but turned out to be expressive of the universality of hope, profound, and serious and successful in all its effort to inject humor wherever and whenever is it possible.
The playwright’s vision, was methodically and almost perfectly made into a tactile experience for the theater-goers because of the superb direction by Chris Millado. The imaginative lighting and sound techniques both make this modest production as impressive as any highly budgeted production.
Isang Araw sa Karnabal is a one-act play written in time for the Writers’ Bloc Virgin Labfest V sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The characters of Toni and Zaldy are played by Skyz Labastilla and Paolo O’Hara, respectively. The played is staged in Huseng Batute Theatre on the following dates: 27th and 30th of June at 8pm; 27th of June and 1st of July at 3pm.