Twenty years ago, long before the more democratic and decentralized Unang Tagpo, or the 1st National Theater Festival, there was its predecessor -- the National Drama Competition -- spearheaded by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Turn of the decade saw us, being assigned to cover the Bicol Region together with its Board of Judges composed of Philippine theater icons Naty Crame Rogers and Ray Ventura, with Nonon Padilla who headed the CCP Coordinating Center for Dramatic Arts.
At the time, they successfully showed us the way to work well with institutions and individuals like Everardo Napay, Merito Espinas, and Jesse Robredo who became the first Filipino mayor to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service that year.
The said contest had a common play – Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio -- first written for Ateneo de Manila University's 2nd Dulaang Sibol Play Production Contest when its author was a high school senior student way back in 1968.
That obligatory piece's playwright was Paul Arvisu Dumol who recalled: “I know that some of that time I was sick in bed, probably with the flu, and that I tossed around ideas of what to write in my head. The resulting play was the combination of three sources. The first was a skit that I saw in the theater workshop I attended in PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) during the summer. The skit was about Luther’s arrival in hell and his interrogation by two devils, who end up dancing around him chanting a song in Greek prior to his damnation. Luther became Serapio (“Cordapio” in an earlier draft); the two devils became the Dalawang Tagapagtanong. The second source was an article in theSaturday Mirror Magazine about a beggars’ syndicate run by policemen. That article was the source, not only of thefederasyon ng mga pulubi, but also of the different kinds of beggars mentioned in the play. The third source was a play of Eugene O’Neill’s which I never saw or read, but which was described in a book on playwriting I was reading. The climax of that play has sailors confronting one of their mates whom they have seen opening a box at nights and reading something he keeps in the box.”
Last November 15, we were chosen by the Ateneo de Manila High School (AMHS) to judge in a competition – fondly called Palig -- with Tanghalang Ateneo's artistic director and moderator, Dr. Ricardo Abad, and, lo and behold, our idol,Paul Dumol, who now has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto in Canada where he also had his Licentiate in Medieval Studies from the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.
How can we argue with the youngest Palanca winner who recently served as University of Asia and the Pacific's Vice President for Academic Affairs?
Last Thursday, the world saw the postmodernist angle in his Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio, considered the first modernist play in Filipino!
Indeed, it was interesting to see how the deconstructionist in Dr. Dumol would react to being deconstructed by another AMHS alumnus in Khavn de la Cruz.
Cinemalaya 6 was actually for our friend Dennis Marasigan and such new breeds as Gutierrez Mangansakan II, Sheron Dayoc, Kim Homer Garcia, Dan Louie Villegas and Paul Sta. Ana, Danny Aňonuevo, Francis Xavier Pasion, Arthur Katipunan, and Ian Dean Loreňos. Or for shortfilm makers like Alistaire Christian Chan, Steven Flor, Janus Victoria, Borgy Torre, Jerrold Tarog, Mikhail Red, Hubert Tibi, Joey Agbayani, Pam Miras, and Milo Tolentino who began as a critic during our The Varsitarian days at the University of Santo Tomas where he was known as Rommel.
Or for veteran directors like Mario O'Hara, Edward Mark Meily, Joselito Altarejos, Joel Lamangan, and Gil Portes whoseTwo Funerals opened simultaneously with Khavn's The Trial of Mister Serapio. However, we happened to be moreconscious and concerned with the latter's premiere last July 15 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Not only because the entire Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino crowd was one in asking: “Did Dr. Dumol finally meet his match?” But also because Khavn convinced us to play the Unang Tagapagtanong with Mike Coroza, Teo Antonio, and, of course, Jess Santiago. As its scriptwriter, Khavn's rigorous pursuit of a new meaning was already achieved when he re-wrote the text by giving the four major characters their moment to shine. As its director, he chose two mambabalagtas and one lakandiwa to play the part of a judge and two interrogators as if transporting our Filipino poetic joust to its place in world literature as well as in world cinema. But since it is through an indie film, he himself dares to expose not only the oppositions in privileging a marginalized literary form nowadays but also the contradictions of the text, its structure and all, that has already dismantled itself, since Onofre Pagsanjan interpreted it. As its producer, Khavn assembled a complex, unstable, or impossible crew in editor Lawrence Ang, cinematographer Albert Banzon, sound designer Arvie Bartolome, production designer Lena Cobangbang, production manager Kristine Kintana, sound recordist Tristan Salas, among others, who all triumphed in creating a dystopian vision of Dr. Dumol's big hit that was used as a means of Christian apostolate.
The following evening treated us to steps of showing any text what it does not see.
It was in the form and style of SayawSalamat@30.up.edu at the University of the Philippines College of Music.
Our entire family was with our inaanak, Agnes Aja, who celebrated her 19th birthday with our gift – a free ticket to this 94th anniversary gala celebration in music and dance!
Yes, it was upon the invitation of the man of the hour Basilio Esteban Villaruz, the founder and artistic director emeritus of U.P. Dance Company, who restaged, with Angela Lawenko Baguilat and Anna Tirol Abastillas, Ryan Cayabyab's Misa Filipina, with its incumbent dean, Dr. Ramon Acoymo, as one of the soloists; and revived, with Herbert Alvarez, Dr. Ramon Santos' Awit. We thought we had our day's dose of music and dance apart from the daily varietry shows' imbalanced diet until the U.P. Dance Company came back with the U.P. Orchestra. Choosing a female conductor in Prof. Edna Marcil Martinez, after watching Prof. Eudenice Palaruan and Prof. Rodney Ambat do great earlier, is a disambiguation itself. And they compensated our waiting for Godot, este, Igor!
Their take on Stravinsky's Petrouchka was early for The International Conference on Postcolonial Praxis on 21 to 23 July at the UP National Institute for Science and Math Education auditorium.
But they had proven it is timeless and timely to do their own via Pedro Kusinero!
They filipinized Alexander Benois' libretto the minute The Pokpoks entered before The G.I. only to engage in a monkey business that climaxed to the murder of Pedro, the cook from the Cordilleras, who got caught in love triangle with Bailarina and El Kano!
We could not compare Vaslav Nijinsky with Al Bernard Garcia. Or Michel Fokine with our former students, Ma. Elena Laniog and Herbert Alvarez, whose love and life story as dancers and choreographers jerked the tears of Maalaala Mo Kaya's avid viewers! Yet that attempt to filipinize Ballets Russes' original neoclassical approach, re-choreographed for the WiFi Body 4 at the C.C.P. last year, went beyond Elena's graduation recital or beyond her receiving the Student's Achievement Award in 2004.
All of the deconstructionists above are guilty of Mang Serapio's crime too.
As the Judge supposedly in a Japanese yukata puts it: “Umaasa kami na nauunawaan ninyo kung bakit kami napilitang parusahan si Serapio. Tinuturuan niya ang mga kasaping magkaroon ng mga haraya, ng mga pangarap...”
It is amazing to realized that living in simplicity gives true contentment. We go as we come to this world. In the end, nothing is ours to keep.