The Philippine Center of the International PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) held a book-club discussion on writer-director Lito Casaje’s collection of stage plays, “Mga Premyadong Dula,” yesterday, October 26, 2013, at 5 p.m. This was held in the Solidaridad Bookstore, along Padre Faura St. in Ermita, Manila. It was also a re-launching of sorts for this award-winning book of award-winning scripts for the theater.
“Mga Premyadong Dula” was first published by De La Salle University Press back in 2006. Five of Casaje’s award-winning plays are featured in this book. These are: 1. “Juan de la Cruz, New York” - This play is about Filipino living in New York, amid the HIV-AIDS outbreak and rallies against Marcos in 1984. This play won Second Prize in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1986. This is first play Casaje wrote. 2. “Editoryal” - This play is set in Tagum, Davao in 1985. It dealt with crusading journalists and their fate during the Martial Law era. It also won Second Prize in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Playwriting Contest in 1986. 3. “Separasyon” - This is a feminist play. Its original production starred Eugene Domingo. It won First Prize in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1993. 4. “Matrimonyal” - This play is about an estranged married couple. This also won the First Prize in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1995. 5. “Padre de Familia” - This was an experimental play within a play. This won the Third Prize in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1998. This published anthology itself won the National Book Award in 2007. This award is given every year by the National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) to the best books written, designed, and published in the Philippines.
This is the first time I have attended an event like this. I have been inside the Solidaridad Bookstore before, but I never knew that they had a meeting room on the third floor where the country's premiere organization of writers, the Philippine PEN meets regularly. This group was born in 1958, founded by F. Sionil Jose, who later became a National Artist for Literature. Other PEN members who also became National artists were Francisco Arcellana, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Bienvenido Lumbera, Alejandro Roces and Edith Tiempo. It was heartening to be in the same room with Sionil Jose and Lumbera, who were actually in attendance at the event yesterday.
During the event, Lito Casaje talked about himself and his brush with Stage 4 Burkitt's Lymphoma this year, recently just receiving his last dose of chemotherapy. He looked very good yesterday, his body not showing evidence of his ordeal, except maybe for the bald pate. He talked about his fascination about the relationships between men and women. He talked about his favorite playwrights, especially Strindberg. He talked about his forte, that of writing realistic dialogues. Of course, he talked about his book and the plays therein. He invited some young actor friends and students to read selected excerpts from these plays. Here are a couple of readings which I was able to record: This is a monologue from "Juan de la Cruz: New York":
This is an impromptu reading of a scene from "Matrimonyal": This was a new experience for me, to be watching actors read plays and listening to the playwright himself discuss his work. I was also happy to be seated with Lito Casaje's father, Dr. Louie Casaje, during this occasion. Listening to the plays yesterday, they are as vital and pertinent now as they were back when they were first staged. I think it is high time for the new generation to rediscover the work of Mr. Lito Casaje. .