Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review of Dulaang UP's BAGONG CRISTO: Welfare for the Workers!

November 12, 2017

The theme of this 42nd Theater Season of Dulaang UP is "Honoring Defiance." With this 1907 play by the controversial writer Aurelio Tolentino, things simply do not get any more defiant. We just learned from the recent play by Tanghalang Pilipino how defiant Tolentino could be, hence his rather unflattering nickname "Aurelio Sedisyoso"given American authorities of his time. Dulaang UP chose a Tolentino play also to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary this year of this steadfastly patriotic man. 

Like his namesake Jesus Christ, the charismatic Jesus Gatbiaya goes around the countryside boldly and eloquently preaching his message of worker emancipation from the oppression of the opportunistic capitalists. Of course, the "Bagong Cristo" (New Christ) earned the enmity of rich businessmen, like Magdangal and Capitang Berto. They hated Jesus to the point of having him abducted and tortured, not even sparing the women who followed to help him -- Magdangal's ex love Neneng (Rachel Jacob), her friend Biheng (Elaiza Toledo), even his old mother Dolores. 

I salute Boo Gabunada for his mesmerizingly intense delivery of Jesus Gatbiaya's lengthy declamatory speeches. There was even a scene in Act II where Jesus had a 15-20 minute-long monologue all by himself on an empty stage. It was only Gabunada's impassioned voice that kept viewers at constant attention. This actor was able to capture the fascinating personality of his character that drew him his loyal followers. 

Rica Nepomuceno played Jesus' long-suffering mother Dolores. While her portrayal of this tragic maternal figure (Mater Dolorosa) was generally effective, the over-all impact was diminished by the weakness of her voice whenever she would start to sing. I frankly did not hear nor understand anything she was singing. This problem ruined the moment for her symbolically-loaded "Pieta" and "Crucifixion" scenes, which was truly unfortunate. I do not know if it was her microphone which was not working well, or was her soprano voice not in top condition. 

In plays like this, the more hateful the antagonists, the more heroic our hero. The coolly sinister performance of Nino Mendoza as cruel industrialist Magdangal was really seething with pure malice. On the other hand, Vincent Macapobre's haciendero Capitang Berto and Joseph Nabong's kidnapper Limbas were both played with hammy exaggeration, with loud voices and even fits of evil laughter. These over-the-top moments do serve well to distract us momentarily from the very serious tone of the play, and these were not completely unwelcome for me.

On the technical front, the rustic set design by Io Balanon, rich turn of the century period costume design by Mitoy Sta. Ana, and original music by Krina Cayabyab were the most remarkable. These elements brought us back to those seemingly idyllic times at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, yet there were also heinous elements that lurk insidiously.

Director Alexander Cortez was also able to give us some visually dramatic executions of certain key scenes, like the murder of Neneng's father Cabesang Andoy (Greg de Leon) or those powerful flag waving scenes at the end in response to the ardent exhortations of wealthy Jesus supporter Dona Salud (Gel Basa). His decision to use masks (Moriones and Venetian) to keep Jesus' many tormentors anonymous was wise because these bad guys could literally be anyone or even everyone. 

The events of this play may have happened more than a century ago. However, poor workers continue to be oppressed under the thumb of rich capitalists. As their plight continues to exist, the message of this play remains essential and current. When Jesus Gatbiaya speaks, it was as if he was talking in the here and now. 


"Bagong Cristo" runs from November 8 to December 3, 2017 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2nd Floor Palma Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Show times are Fridays at 7PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 10AM and 3PM.

For ticket, show-buying, and sponsorship inquiries, you may contact Camille Guevara (0917 823 9531), the Dulaang UP Office (Tel. No. : 926-1349 / 981-8500 local / ), or you may drop by the Dulaang UP Office at Palma Hall Room 136, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.

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