Review of Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko: the perils of unbridled improvisation

The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.” – Arthur Miller

Arriving at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Audio-Visual Hall at exactly six 0’clock, I saw some of the faculty members and decided to find a seat near them. I sat beside Professor Rica Cainglet of the Department of Chemistry but I had to later transfer near the stage to hear better the exchange of lines of the character. She mentioned about how she appreciates students presentations like this one. I could not agree more. It’s now time students divert their attention from some really vacuous projects that have no other goal but inane fun to those that have a bit of substance in them.

When I asked her how long the play would be, she said “Depende kung masadyahan ang casts.” (It depends if the casts enjoy their performance so much so that they may forget about the time.) Her response was striking. I knew this particular theatrical presentation was going to be different. And indeed it was.

Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko (Professor Gecko’s Way) is a one-act play written by Alfredo Santos in 1980. This hybrid of a dramatic and spirited humor play portrays the system and techniques of a professor who unconsciously revels in his colonial mentality, adoring Shakespeare and viewing history through Western eyes brought about by his obsolete college education. His four students, Kiko, Babols, Ningning and Bondying are caught in the wall-less classroom of Propesor Tuko learning from their teacher and in turn teaching their professor a lesson he’ll never forget.

The play attacks imperial powers and the oppressive system that is pervasive in the education during the 80s. However, despite it being written thirty years ago, the play remains relevant; it unfailingly inspired chuckles from the audience not only for the slapstick but also for the  subtle and obvious bitter parody of the Philippine educational system.

This is a version of the play by the only theater group at University of the Philippines Visayas in Miagao, UP Intermedius. It was a smart decision to stage Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko in Hiligaynon instead of the original Tagalog because by doing so the play felt more real, the humor more amusing, and the characters easier to relate with.

Directed by Marvin Arcangel Aspiras, this version allowed the characters to be more free in rendering each performance different from the next (there were two show dates and two different venues). The entire play seemed to rely so much on the ability of the characters to improvise, but not too much as to veer away from the original intention of the playwright.

UP Intermedius also did a lot of changes in the play aside from language. The names of the characters were changed; they did away with Babols and replaced her with Bojo (or Benjo, it was unclear because of poor acoustics). Bondying, the character of the village idiot in the play, is a girl in this version.

This version of the play did not fare well in the technical aspect. The lighting, most of the time, was uncreative and inappropriate, if not primitive. Relying on the overhead fluorescent light, the characters looked as if they’re being probed on top of a dissecting table. And whenever foreground lighting directly in front was used, the orange light gave the characters a sinister look, which was not apt for the genre of this play.

The sound was equally bad, if not worse. The venue was too big for a presentation of this size. Because the venue was devoid of any curtains to absorb incidental noise, the supposed humorous lines were drowned in echoes, forcing the play to rely so much on the actions of the characters and the contortions in their faces to elicit laughter. To put it simply, the characters needed to exaggerate their own theatricality to deliver the message because the acoustics of the venue was not suitable for this play or any type other type of theatrical presentation.

I’ve seen presentations of experimental theater at the Bulwagang Huseng Batute in the Cultural Center of the Philippines. They call it, if I remember it correctly, intimate theater because the actors perform very near the audience, they can almost touch each other. Had this play been staged in this kind of venue, the very rich rhythm of Hiligaynon could have been brought out more effectively.

Those mentioned above, however, are lapses that can be ignored especially for a struggling school-based theater company.

The aspect that made this play animated during the earlier part proved to be the reason for its downfall. The improvisations of the actors, which provoked good laughter at first became tired and forced after the middle part, and it was obvious the audience felt this when these ad lib began to become redundant and unnecessary near the ending. The casts tried to be humorous for humor’s sake without considering whether that specific extemporaneous acts would help in the play achieving its goals.

The ability to ad lib is a sign of creativity, quick thinking in the midst of pressure. But real acting demands discipline acquired only through a careful study of the characterization and a passionate attempt to achieve perfection in the exacting art of the theater.

Worth mentioning, nevertheless, were the unforgettable performances of the characters of Kiko, female in this version, and her very adorable way of asserting the facts she knows by reading her ‘newly’ published history books written by Agoncillo, as well as the larger-than-life character of Propesor Tuko who, although limited by the static-ness of his character,  remained focus the entire time.

Bondying, turned out to be more annoying than funny at times, repeatedly and tediously extending parts which could’ve been altogether eliminated. The character of Ningning was overdone; so was Bojo’s (or Benjo’s).

After all, an actor can only do so much with a caricature.

Still, if there is any consolation, this Hiligaynon version of the play Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko is full of attitude. There was a serious effort to bring theater back to the university, an effort worth commending and nurturing. We can only hope UP Intermedius will come up with more productions, productions that would challenge the way we see our world and the way we think about the theater itself, and leave a statement that theater is alive in this part of the UP System.

Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko ( Professor Gecko’s Way) is a play in one act, written by Al Santos in 1980. It was first staged on 7 Feb 1980 by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) at the Dulaang Raha Sulayman in Front of Santiago, Manila. The original Filipino version was published in the PETA-KE Script Series 2 in 1983. The English translation was published in Nicanor G. Tiongson (ed), Modern ASEAN Plays: Philippines , Manila: ASEAN COCI, 1992.

This light dramatic and spirited humor play portrays the system and absurd techniques of a professor (who reveals colonial mentality as he adores Sharespeare and views history through Western eyes) to stressed on the attack on imperial powers and the oppressive. Thus, this play ends in a disagreement of the students and teachers who want to help this professor improve and update his absurd system.

A before-sahoor talk with playwright Rogelio Braga

Rogelio Braga

It was around 10:30 in the evening, I had just arrived at my place from an evening drinking coffee, alone, at Shangri-la when I texted Ogie if he was still in Manila. He texted back yes, and before I could start reading the books I bought that night I was already preparing to meet him at Shangri-la. The mall is a short walk from where I stay, roughly. But I decided to take the train from Boni to Shaw. What should have been a 15-minute walk or a five-minute bus ride turned out to be a thirty-minute wait for the train. I already finished the short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself as If Reciting Poetry by Haruki Murakami while waiting on the platform with other passengers for the last train trip from Taft to North Avenue station when I saw the lazy train approaching like the first light of dawn breaking the horizon that was Guadalupe Bridge.

Rogelio Braga was in Manila to attend the awarding for this year’s Palanca. This is his first time to win the award. And although he is known for his plays, he copped the award for best short story written in Filipino.

I met him more than a month ago at the Cultural Center of the Philippines during the 5th Virgin Labfest. Two of his plays were being performed that time. I was doing reviews of the plays for this blog when I happened to watch his play Ang Bayot, Ang Meranao, at ang Habal-habal sa isang Nakababagot na Paghihintay sa Kanto ng Lanao del Norte. I did not like it in the same way that I like sipping melon shake on a humid and hot afternoon, but I understood what the play wanted to say about the place where I come from, the Mindanao I never bothered to understand. He made a lengthy response to my review of the play. The following night I met him after watching his play So Sangibo A Ranon Na Piyatay O Satiman A Tadman. The meeting was brief. I introduced myself; we shook hands; I left.

He arrived at Starbucks earlier than I did. He was coming from Tandang Sora in Quezon City, almost ten times the distance I traveled. I tried looking haggard and apologetic to rationalize my tardiness upon entering the coffee shop, but I did not see him inside. He initially escaped recognition because of his cropped hair. The last time he was sporting an Afro-like coiffure minus the really kinky hair. This time he seemed to have looked more mature. Only when he waved at me did I recognize that it was he.

I suggested transferring to the Starbucks beside EDSA Central because the one in Shangri-la closes at midnight. While walking our way we talked about our academic backgrounds. It surprised me to know that he finished his undergraduate majoring in Political Science in 2000 from the University of Santo Tomas, making him 29 years old based on my calculation. I thought we were batch mates. They say writing makes one look more mature than his real age. It has an opposite effect on Ogie.

He ordered chamomile tea. “Gusto kong makatulog.” It was interesting because as far as I was concerned that time, I intended to extend the talk until dawn. And talking to somebody who was sleepy might prove a challenge. I asked for any drink free from caffeine because I already had a big tumbler of cappuccino several hours ago. And the conversation continued.

As an artist and a writer, I expected him to have a high regard for truth. He did not fail to deliver. He is passionate, almost to a point of obsession, to tell about the truths he believes in. He hates almost as obsessively people who lie to themselves. He dropped names, names I know and read about, who according to him spread bull shit. He expressed his disappointment, his disillusionment.

Still his passion for his Art remains as true.

He corrected, “Di ako taga-Mindanao.”

“I thought you were. Andami mong alam about the place.”

He gave me a full-dentured smile. He worked for an NGO based in Iligan long enough to understand the place and its people. He left in 2007 to return to Manila after an experience that caused him to be bitter about the place. This same experience pushed him to later embrace the place and use this as an inspiration for his plays and fictions.

He believes in the Moros’ fight for a Bangsa Moro. It was something I was not ready to accept having come from a family of Visayan origin that was transplanted in Southern Mindanao. I cannot think of calling any other place home other than Mindanao.

This is the complexity of our idea of a nation. For Ogie, nationhood is a “Grand Manila Project” and the Philippine government’s non-recognition of the Bangsa Moro is a manifestation of this. He dismisses this concept of a nation as a mere hegemonic battle. I got his point. Clearly because he has been to the place and saw the daily struggles of the Muslims to live like second-class citizens in their homeland inhabited by the more politically powerful “Filipinos”. “Only when we give Mindanao back to the Moros will we be able to put an end to this war.”

Yes it makes sense, I said. But it’s impossible in this lifetime. I thought that the solution is more complex than that. Mindanao is a part of the modern puzzle. It cannot anymore live on it glorious past. The island is a dynamic multicultural place that can only exist if it incorporates diversity on all the facet of its development.

I envy him because he was able to make his opinion regarding the place, write about the people of Mindanao with sensitivity and sympathy. He is a reminder of what I am missing.

We talked about our work, writing, existentialism, French films, his being “French”, and life in general. He is currently based in Cebu and is working as a Human Resource manager in a BPO.

It was almost four o’clock in the morning when we left the coffee shop. “Sige I’ll treat you for breakfast. Sabi kasi nila you’ll be blessed daw if you share during Ramadan”.

I almost forgot that he’s Muslim. It was his last meal before the start of fasting.


All five in this picture are from Mindanao – the three people on the left, which the sender of the picture referred to as Moros, the playwright Rogelio Braga who emailed me this picture and the blogger.

I do not know if this is the most politically correct term for the Muslims of Mindanao or if it is the name chosen by the politically articulate Muslims who are based in Manila to call themselves.

Unlike Rogelio and the other three in this picture, I am ignorant of the politics in Mindanao. My elementary Sibika at Kultura teacher told us that ‘moro’ is a derogatory term as in ‘Moro-moro’ which means a phony war. I do not know if this still holds true or things have changed since I finished elementary in 1999.

I do not know if the knowledge I have of this part of the Philippines still holds true a decade after.

John and my friends

Picture taken by Alberto Bainto during the 5th Virgin Labfest at the Bulwagang Huseng Batute, Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Muling Pagbisita: Rebyung Panteatro ng Tatlong Dula

Ang rebyung panteatrong ito ay aking iniaalay sa kaibigan kong si Nikos na ngayon ay nasa bansang Thailand upang pansamantalang iwanan ang Maynila at kung anumang mga bagay na may kinalaman sa lugar na ito.

Bagama’t kadalasan ay nagkakasalungat ang aming mga opinyon sa mga bagay bagay, sisikapin kong maging obhektibo, ngunit alam kong ito’y imposible, nang sa gayon ay magkaroon ng atmospera ng pagkakaroon ng distansya at hindi iisipin ng aking kaibigan na ako’y gumagawa na naman ng isang editoryal patungkol sa mga bagay na dapat sana’y panatilihin na lamang sa kung ano at saan sila, gaya ng mga usapan sa Starbucks.

Binalak naming panuorin ang set na ito, subalit sa isang di inaasahang pagkakataong dulot ng di-miminsang pagmamadali at hindi pag-anda sa mga mumunting detalye ay iba ang set ng mga dula ang aming pinanuod. At dahil na rin sa pagkagusto kong ma-i-share sa kanya ang aking karanasang panteatro noong nakaraang gabi, minabuti ko nang sumulat patungkol sa tatlong dulang iyon na hindi na naming napanuod na magkasama.

Masasabi kong hindi nasayang ang ginawa kong paglalakad galing estasyon ng LRT sa Buendia papuntang Cultural Center of the Philippines (kulang-kulang ay tatlong kilometro) malapit sa Roxas Boulevard at ang di ko pagkain ng agahan at tanghalian upang makabili ng ticket na nagkakahalaga ng 200 piso. (Ang una’y hindi po pagmamalabis at naglakad talaga ako ng ganoon kalayo; ang ikalawa’y pagbibiro lamang po!)

Sa pagsulat ng mga rebyu sa ibaba, naisip ko ang kahalahagahan ng pagganap ng mga tauhan sa isang dula. Ang kagandahan ng kwento o kawalan nito ng kwenta ay nakasalalay ng malaki sa ng mga tauhan. Sa gayon, ang mga rebyung ito ay pagsibad sa kwento sa kabuuan at pagtingin sa pamamaraan ng actor at aktres sa tatlong dula.

Ang Kalungkutan ng mga Reyna (by Floy Quintos, directed by Floy Quintos)

Kung ako ang tatanungin, sa lahat ng mga napanood kong mga dula sa Virgin Labfest V, ito na siguro ang pinakamahusay ang pagkasulat at pagkaganap. Ang karakter ng reyna na si Yolanda Cadiz ay parang hinugot sa katotohanan ng bawat isa sa atin, isang karakter na puno ng buhay who can inspire pathos, rage, pity, pagka-inis at kung anu-anupang gamut of human emotions.. Isang lider na nabitag sa pagpapasakanya ng sobrang kapangyarihan, at ang pagdiskubre na hindi lamang magandang motibo ang kailangan upang mapatakbo ang isang bansa.


Lubhang makatotohanan ang kanyang pagganap na kung ilang beses akong nakaramdam ng paninindig ng balahibo – paano kung ganito nga mag-isip ang mga lider natin? paano kung itong mga bagay nga mismo ang kanilang itinuturing na pinakamahalaga: ang bagay na hairstyle sa kanila (apple cut ba o ang wastong tawag dito na bob cut)?

Ito’y kwento rin ng beauticiang si Marcel na iba ang pananaw sa kanyang trabaho, na ito ay isa ring bokasyon, na sa kabila ng “kabaliwan” ng reyna ay nanatili pa ring matapat hanggang sa huli. Lubhang kumplikado ang mga emosyong pinakita ni Marcel, mula sa kanyang pagdadalawang isip, pagkwestyon sa mga kakaibang pananaw ng reyna patungkol sa konsepto ng monarkiya, ang kanyang pagka-awa, hanggang sa kanyang lubusang pagkawak bilang tao sa katapusan ng kwento.

Bagama’t puno ng katatawanan ang kwento, ito’y umaapaw rin ng mapapait na parodya ng pulitika sa Pilipinas. Na sa huli’y di rin nakasalalay sa lider o sa uri ng pamahalaan mayroon ang isang bansa upang ito’y magbago at maging maunlad, na sinumang magmadali na baguhin ito gamit ang mga mababaw na pamamaraan ay naitadhanang mabigo, na ang mga mamamayan pa rin nito ang magdidikta kung kailan at sa paanong paraan nila gustong magbago. Sapagkat ang pagbabago, sa monarkiya man o demokrasya, ayon kay Marcel, ay nangangailangan ng libong taon at hindi ang basta-bastang pagbabago ng istilo ng buhok, pagpatong ng koronang hitik sa hiyas sa ulo ng isang isang reyna, o pagtugtog sa marching tune ng kantang Somewhere Over the Rainbow ni Judy Garland.

Bukod sa paraan ng panulat, maingat at detalyado rin ang paggamit ng direktor sa ilaw. May mga puntong nagdudulot ng takot ang mukha ng reynang si Yolanda dahil sa ilaw na nakapwesto sa bandang paanan niya, at sa ibang panaho’y awa o dili kaya’y pagkatuwa.

Ang dulang ito ay naging epektibo dahil sa magaling na pagsasama ng katatawanan at opinyong pulitikal. Ito’y epektibo dahil sa paggamit nito ng naratibong alam nating interesado tayong lahat, kwento ng mga taong naka-upo sa trono. Ito’y epektibo dahil sinagot nito ang ating mga mabababaw na katanungan: ano kaya ang mga pinag-uusapan ng mga lider? ano kaya ang laman ng mga matters of state? ano kaya kung magkaroon ng reyna sa Pilipinas?

Parehong mabibigla at matatawa kayo sa mga kasagutan.

Uuwi na ang Nanay kong si Darna (adapted by Job Pagsibingan of the original Uuwi na ang Nanay kong si Darna by Edgar Samar, directed by Catherine Racsag)


Ang dulang ito ay mga kaganapan sa pantasya ng batang nasa elementarya patungkol sa kanyang nanay na nagta-trabaho bilang domestic helper sa Hong Kong o Japan. Masining ang ginamit na pamamaraan sa pagbuo ng set kung saan sa isang bahagi ng entablado ay nagku-kwentuhan ang mag-ama samantalang sa isang bahagi naman ay ang nanay na nakikipaglaban sa mga ‘kalaban’: mikrobyo sa bahay, dumi sa mga damit, at pagpapatahan sa kanyang alagang bata.

Simple ang kwento at walang masyadong aasahang pagsibad sa mga kwentong panlipunang kinakaharap ng pamilyang nahiwalay dahil sa pagta-trabaho ng isa o parehong mga magulang. Ang ganitong treatment ay husto lamang para sa isang kwento nagaganap sa pantasya ng isang paslit, sa ganang akin.

Ang pinakamalaking puna at ang mismong pinakamabigat na kahinaan ng dulang ito ay sa teknikal na aspeto. May mga pagkakataong wala sa tamang timing ang pag-iilaw, o ang pagtunog ng mga sound effects; kung minsa’y ang mga effects na ito’y di lumalabas kung kailan pinaka-kailangan sila ng tagpo. Lubhang mahaba at paulit-ulit ang mga labanan sa pagitan ng nanay at nang kanyang mga kalabang mikroboyo at dumi sa damit na sa huli pagkaumay na lamang ang mananatiling reaksyong makukuha mula sa mga tagapanood.

Isa ring malaking hadlang sa tuluyang konsumasyon ng dula ay ang kahinaan sa pag-arte ng lahat ng mga tauhan. Ang batang tauhan ay di-miminsang nauutal at halatang nakakalimot sa kanyang mga linya na buti na lamang ay ginagiya ng karakter ng kanyang ama. Hindi rin masyadong nagpakita ng emosyon ang nanay, na kung hindi sa kanyang maputing kili-kili na kung ilang beses pinakita, ay mananatiling flat ang karakter sa kabuuan.

Nangangailangan pa ng ibayong ensayo ang dulang ito.

Ang Bayot, Ang Meranao, at ang Habal-habal sa isang Nakababagot na Paghihintay sa Kanto ng Lanao del Norte (by Rogelio Braga, directed by Nick Olanka)

Para sa isang galing sa Mindanao, aaminin ko pinaka-kritikal ako sa dulang ito na tinangkang sagutin ang mga tanong patungkol sa kinalalagyan ng Mindanao sa Pilipinas at ang naratibo ng diskriminasyon sa pagitan ng mga Muslim at Kristiyano, taga-itaas at taga-ibaba, taga-bundok at taga-patag, taga-Mindanao at taga-Maynila, mga bakla at straight.

Ang dalawang tauhan: si Bambi at Christian o Jamid, minsan sa kanilang mga buhay, ay parehong naging biktima ng diskriminasyon sa iba’t iba nitong mukha. Si Bambi bilang bayot na taga-labas, at si Christian bilang Muslim na Maranao. Isang araw habang naghihintay ng masasakyan si Bambi papuntang opisina ng kanilang NGO sa itaas ng bundok ay nakilala niya ang mapilit at gwapong drayber ng habal-habal na si Christian. Sa pagpupumilit ng drayber na pasakayin si Bambi sa kanayang minamanehong sasakyan ay nauwi ang kanilang usapan sa mga isyung kinakaharap ng Mindanao, ng mga bakla, korupsyon sa pamahalaan, at mga pangmamata sa mga Muslim.

Lanao Lake

Sa kalagitnaan ng dula habang kung ilang beses bitawan ni Bambi ang katagang “putang ina! O puke ng ina!” hindi ako mapakali sa aking kinauupuan sapagkat nakaramdam akong sumobra yata sa dami ang pagkabanggit sa mga salitang ito. Kailanma’y di ako tumutol sa pagiging prangka ng mga tauhan sa pelikula man o dula, siguro’y dala na rin ng pagiging daynamiko ng midyum, subalit sa mga pagkakataong iyon ay hindi na naging kaayaayang paulit-ulit na marinig ang mga salitang iyon na binibitawan kung kailanman naisin ng tauhang si Bambi. It has completely dulled the effect of the otherwise emphatic expletive. Sa kabilang banda, magaling ang pagtangka ng karakter ni Christian na ibitaw ang kanyang mga linya na may tonong Maranao. Oo nga’t may mga pagkakataong eksaherado na ito subalit nagbigay ito ng kapansin-pansing contrast sa paraan ng pananalita ng dalawang tauhan.

May mga pagkakataon nawawala ako sa daloy ng kwento dahil sa sobrang daming isyung pinagpilitang ipasok ng manunulat ng dula sa kanyang dulang may isang tagpo. Ngunit masasabi kong mahusay pa rin ang kanyang paghabi sa kwento ng dalawang tauhan at kung paano sila nauuganay ng isang bagay: na sila’y parehong biktima ng diskriminasyon sa lipunang kinabibilangan nila.

Isang linya sa dula ang para sa aki’y lubusang inilahad ang tema ng gawang ito, na “sa buhay, may mga bagay na hanggang sorry na lamang talaga”. Na gaano man kalakas ang katagang putang-ina mo! upang daut-dauting ang isang putang nasa itaas ng puno na ang pangalang ay Gloria o maki-usap at magpumilit si Bambi na i-konsider ang application ni Jamid o Christian sa pinagtatrabahuhan niyang NGO, sadyang sorry na lamang ang makukuha nilang kasagutan.

Ang dulang ito, na halos ay magborder na sa pag-mo-moralize gaya ng karamihan sa mga dulang may kalakip na komentaryong panlipunan, ay nanatili pa ring matapat sa kanyang layunin – ang ilahad ang mga kwentong hindi na kadalasan pinakikinggan dahil ang mga taong kasangkot ay mga simpleng tao gayan ng isang bayot na naka-pink sunglasses o isang habal-habal driver ng isang motorsiklong Kawasaki na flat ang gulong.

Paigan (Fagen): when the sub-altern dares to speak but chooses not to


It is not necessary that one has to have a good background in the history of Filipino-American war in the beginning of the 20th century to appreciate the play Paigan (Fagen) by Liza Magtoto and directed by Sigrid Bernardo.

It is the story of Pedring, a member of the  insurrection and Tacio, his former comrade who is the brother of Pedring”s girlfriend abducted by the Americans and their indecision to kill Fagen in exchange of the 600 dollars for the rebel soldier’s head. Pedring captures the defected Black American soldier, David Fagen, and is about to behead him when Tacio persuades him to let go of the man because, like them, the soldier is also a victim of discrimination by the American troops whose majority is made up of white Americans.

Fagen is freed eventually by his headstrong Filipina wife who directed a ploy to deceive the Americans by using another man’s skull to be given to the Americans. According to legends. Fagen is still living in the mountains of Luzon with his Filipina wife until this time.

Indianapolis Freeman 2 pics

A news clipping from the Indianapolis Freeman about the occasional sightings of David Fagen

He became legendary not only because of his skills in eluding capture and staging impressive guerrilla attacks, but his supposed audacious belief in the Filipino cause for freedom and his rejection of him being used as an instrument to ‘free’ the Philippines as if it were the white man’s burden.

However, in the play Paigan, the focus is shifted from the black American soldier to the two Filipino characters of Tacio and Pedring. Two caricatures of Filipinos during those time whose options are limited to the black and white of total rejection of the American project or otherwise and whether an American, although partly black, can be their comrade in the fight against American colonialism.

This inability to come up with a strong resolve to behead Fagen on the part of Pedring and the constant dissuasion of Tacio against the act drag the play in the most of the middle part. In fact, a precious amount of time is spent on this part that viewers felt an uncomfortable restlessness concealed by their intermittent laughter at the slapstick of the two short, brown-skinned characters while they make fools out of themselves.

Granting that David Fagen did not die in real life, the playwright missed the very good opportunity of actually giving a voice to her sub-altern characters, to let them use their voice even to such an extreme point as to murder the demigod David Fagen.

David Fagen was fighting his own battle to stop discrimination among American troops, to give voice to the marginalized colored members of the US armed forces. And while stationed in the Philippines, he met Filipinos fighting the US occupation and, it seemed to me, convenient allies in his rebellion. And the Filipinos, known for their hospitality to foreigners, welcomed with open arms the renegade Fagen.

The play, by following faithfully this accepted ‘reality’ of Fagen escaping execution let go of the chance of problematizing the white man’s burden and the possibility of the Filipinos of southern Luzon having murdered Fagen, because like him they are also a sub-altern who long to be heard, and that the battle of Fagen is detached from their experience, that after all he is still an American who although not found in the top-most  stratum of the center, still is a part of the center.

But in the playwright’s attempt to be historically ‘correct’ this possibility is ignored and considered too extreme to be considered an option. And so Tacio and Pedring both laughable characters remain wallowing on the margins, holding on to the only description one can have of their characters – caricatures.

Probably, I was looking for something that is not in the play. A realistic treatment of a historical story. (Realistic as the adjective form of the movement called Realism not as how it is understood today.)

Paigen is a one-act play written in time for the Writers’ Bloc Virgin Labfest V sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It is staged in Huseng Batute Theatre. Virgin Labfest runs from the 23rd of June until the 5th of July 2009.

A night of comic tragedy in Isang Araw sa Karnabal

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.