George de Jesus III‘s award-winning 1998 material PAGLAYANG MINAMAHAL graces the La Salle College of Saint Benilde SDA Theater this month. With music by Jeff Hernandez, this neo-zarzuela tries to remain faithful to the genre’s form, structure, motif and style. Worthy to note, too, is the attempt to modernize a few common devices, making it quite accessible. It is, arguably, still far from perfect. There are a few points that still needs rethinking, but the courage, passion and initiative to stage an almost-forgotten Filipino performing art form such as a the zarzuela, is enough to complete my weekend.
After years of studying in Europe, Mauricio returns to his hometown and reunites with his sweetheart, Alodia. Unbeknown to them, their childhoon friend Joselito is also secretly in love with Alodia. He thinks he’s more deserving, considering that both he and Alodia are of the same social class. See, Alodia and Joselito are both maid and manservants of the hacienda owned by Doña Maura – Mauricio’s mother. On the night of Mauricio’s welcome party, Doña Maura announces the engagement of her only son to one Señorita Carmela. Grief sticken Alodia crashes to party stumbling across the hall, accidentally pushing the proud visiting Friar. An argument ensues between Mauricio and the Friar, resulting to threats and flights. Doña Maura insists that Mauricio marries Carmela, and banishes Alodia and her family from the hacienda. As the first Act ends, Mauricio was arrested for suspected treason and Joselito escapes to the mountains to join the newly formed Katipunan.
This rendition of de Jesus’ zarzuela comes with a painted picture of black & white sets, and stiff (parang-inamirol) costumes, depicting a skeletal feel, yet magnifying its characters and their moments. Unlike CCP‘s restaging of WALANG SUGAT back in the 90s, this somehow jumps off from the known colors of the genre, and yet maintains its power. What you see is a penciled sketch of a stage and its flying sets, that you revert your focus back to Mauricio, Alodia, Joselito and Carmela. In its plainess, the design amplifies the magic of our own music, our story and our revolutions. Yes: with an -s. I’ll discuss that later.
De Jesus’ directs with conscious theatricalism and exaggerations, common in our known zarzuelas. Traditionally, these forms were staged in very big venues during its golden years, thus, requiring more movements, bigger costumes, set designs and projected voices. De Jesus doesn’t dismiss these conventions. He doesn’t even get rid of the pathetic melodrama and quick resolutions, known to have tickled our Lolos and Lola. It almost borders to what Sontag calls camp, and it’s good! As de Jesus faithfully considers these devices, he presents muddled nostalgia and reminds us the magic of our forgotten tastes.
From a formalistic perspective, this material oozes with devotion to the form of our own opera. The maiden in distress, the cowardly trickster, the funny chamber main, the handsome young man, and the Spanish villain, all go into the mixing bowl to complete the story. De Jesus faithfully put in, all these, to complete his plot and establish the same formula-feel of our early tele-seryes.
But it is through his deconstruction of these known Filipino stereotypes that makes this material worth studying. At first, I was expecting Mauricio to put on his battle gears and join the Katipunan. Instead, it was the faithful, kind-hearted Alodia who soon became the rebel. Blinded Doña Maura continues on with her religious fanaticism and self-centered intentions. These, and much more. Here, de Jesus presents another deconstructive look at our operas. Our stories. And it is through these formalistic literary transformations do this material triumphs on its own.
Natasha Cabrera plays Alodia with passionate intensity. Her interpretation of this re-formed heroine presents a new look at how the Filipina can also take part in our social struggles, and still mantain the lovable ideals of our women. Kevin Posadas oozes with energy as Joselito. Worthy to mention, too is KL Dizon‘s Señorita Carmela. Here, Dizon depicts the menacing, yet lovable participant in a love triangle. Dizon’s charm rings across as the neglected Señorita. We love her still, and pray that she also gets her happy ending too, before the curtain falls. And who would not notice how great Joshua Tayco is as the trickster Timoteo. I’ve last seen him in this year’s Virgin Labfest as the timid young student in Jerome Ignacio‘s KUBLIHAN. It is a refreshing sight to experience Tayco on stage, this time, as the jumpy, humorous and faithful brother to Alodia. He is an easy watch, a refreshing treat in an otherwise serious story about revolutions and war.
On the other hand, there are a few minor mishaps: missed lines, lack of rhythm, inappropriate blocks, among others. Understanding that this was produced for a partial completion of a Technical Theater course, I fully embrace these errors and forgive with all my heart. I was there once, and I know how challenging it could be. What matters to me is the bravery to re-stage such genre with the conscious effort to make it great, presentable and accessible, even to the FB generation. Do they suceed? Oh, yes.
PAGLAYA is not just about the historic battles and our fight for our independence. Though de Jesus makes use of these themes as his background, what he highlights are the various dimensions of revolutions and our varying definitions of rebellion. Mauricio and Alodia continue to fight for their love, Carmela fought for her place in Mauricio, and it is in these personal strifes do they begin to transform and achieve their freedom in the end.
In one way, or another, PAGLAYANG MINAMAHAL continues to pierce even our own personal revolutions. In our generation of passive social involvement, we remain to prove that we are Filipinos and our love for our country still prevails. It’s just a matter of really looking back and celebrating what completes our own cultural identities.
Photos by Mr. Erickson dela Cruz