Monday, May 9, 2011
'Wanting light so badly'
Sister Emily cries in desperation and self-doubt when she cannot meet the demands of the pilgrims who have trekked to the mountain to see her talk to the Virgin Mary. But she herself cannot tell when the Virgin will appear, if she will ever appear again at all.
The supposed visionary from the Mountain of Revelation has been the subject of documentaries the world over. The blind, the crippled, the curious all make the tedious trip to get healed—or at least get convinced. George, for instance, a retired English teacher from New Jersey, has flown to the Philippines with his wife and her entire family. He has gone up the mountain even if it meant hobbling his way up there with a painful, swollen leg. No doctor has been able to tell him what was wrong. Unable to believe in anything else, he is convinced that only the Lady could heal him.
Lobo drapes himself with leaves, like the stone-age-like Tasadays he and his fellow farmers were made out to be instead of the farmers they actually were. He believes that the world has written him off as a bad guy, only finding consolation that the Virgin does not think so.
Lobo’s friend, the 42-year-old Miguel, challenges Emily and nearly breaks her spirit when he takes her to task for her supposed visions. He keeps alluding to a bitter experience of believing in the past. And just as Emily nearly crumbles under Miguel’s pointed questions, no longer knowing whether she is real or fake, she is seized anew by an apparition. The smell of roses permeates the air. Rose petals descend on her. A flower appears from between her breasts. She speaks in tongues, sees the Virgin and then collapses.
Lobo becomes convinced that the Virgin loves him no matter what. George is healed and throws away his cane. Miguel flees. Darkness.
Miguel is back in Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, kissing the hand of Concepcion who welcomes him home as though he were her son. The nervous-looking Concepcion has not touched her late husband’s study since that fateful day 25 years ago. She dares ask Miguel whether he, like her, has been somewhat ruined by the man they both believed in.
Jose Marco is Concepcion’s husband, and 25 years ago, Miguel’s mentor. Jose is credited for the discovery of the Code of Kalantiaw and the original manuscript of the La Loba Negra, supposed to have been written by the martyred priest Jose Burgos. The antiquarian Jose is intoxicated by his own greatness and exhorts the young Miguel to dig up old stationery and other old treasures from his relatives’ chests. He tells the boy to be proud of being a Filipino despite the country’s centuries-old colonization.
One day, William Henry Scott, a professor of history from the University of Santo Tomas, arrives from Manila to interview Jose about the apparent inconsistencies in the Code, which Filipino students were being asked to memorize in school. Why are the years inconsistent, why must the punishments be so arbitrarily barbaric, and why is honey an alternative to gold? Scott, well-schooled in the methods of research and fact-checking, exposes Jose Marco for what he is—a fake. Concepcion and the young Miguel are broken.
This is not to say that both acts of Fake—the first involving Sister Emily and the second Jose Marco— are seamless. Miguel’s wearing of a soldier’s vest, for instance, is confusing. He might be taken for a soldier or a communist hiding in the mountains. The first act also ends rather more inconclusively than the second, leading one to wonder whether the other way around would have been more effective. If the audience must be left hanging (what now happens to the grown Miguel?) to figure out a few things for themselves, they should at least take that uncertainty away when they leave the theater, instead of casting it aside to make room for the more defined and more historically based second act. Alya Honasan (alternating with Ces Quesada) as Concepcion comes across as simple, nervous and gracious indeed—but she could have been made to age since she appears both in the present and in the flashback. Of course, it could mean that everything has become frozen in time from the day the hoax was exposed. Finally, we do not know what Miguel’s objective was in coming back to Negros, and whether or not this objective was met.
Overall, Fake is perhaps the most moving performance among the season’s presentation of the university theater company. It might be the intimate setting—the Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan at the Faculty Center, UP Diliman was set up like a runway with the small audience seated at either side of a long, narrow strip. The actors, who have to move along the strip, consciously make the effort to address both sides of the audience; neither side feels as though it has missed out or seen only the backs of the actors.
It might be the acting—especially by Shamaine Centenera Buencamino as the conflicted Sister Emily and by Joel Lamangan (alternating with Leo Rialp) as the proud but defeated Jose Marco. Centenera-Buencamino’s portrayal of a conflicted woman of faith, whose father beat her mother and then sexually abused her, could bring tears into one’s eyes. On the other hand, Lamangan’s booming voice and commanding presence does not hide the character’s frailty, either. The irony was overwhelming enough to call forth goosebumps on one’s skin despite the sweltering heat in the small theater on that Saturday afternoon.
Or it might be the language. Most of the riveting dialogue was in English but with occasional Filipino or Ilonggo phrases thrown in. Any which way, it is impossible not to get involved in Fake, produced by the UP Playwrights’ Theater to kick off its 25th year, written by Floy Quintos and directed by Dulaang UP founder Antonio Mabesa.
Both acts challenge faith—in something bigger than ourselves, in another human being, a noble cause. It is a human need without which there would be only cynicism, negativity, lack of joy and purpose. But in as much as the play cautions us about seeing only smoke and mirrors, it gives us the choice of whether to believe—or to have reasonable expectations of everything around us.
Jose says that truth is likened to light, but in the face of darkness, even a flicker will be mistaken for light. Granted that we are desperate for light, how then do we avoid the extremes of believing mindlessly and risking great disappointment on one hand, and being joyless, jaded and dispirited on the other? There are no answers offered; only questions raised.
Viewers only have until this weekend to catch Fake. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Interested parties may get in touch with Cherry at 0917-7500107 or the Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349 or 981-8500 local 2449 or 433-7840.