I arrived a good four hours before the scheduled performance – it was the day after Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary and SM City Baguio has put together a tribute that involved the following: An exhibit on the life and works of Rizal, a parade of 150 boys and men dressed as Rizal, a performance of a play on Rizal, and the screening of Gerry de Leon’s film, “Noli Me Tangere.” Our part was the performance of the play by Malou Jacob, “Pepe.”
The play begins with the Rizal monument in Luneta coming to life in present day Manila – he compares the Manila of his time to what it has become, or what we have allowed it to become, over a century since. He segues to a narration of relevant anecdotes about his life, including his bitter experiences with the guardia civil. The play then takes on a more serious tone as “Pepe” questions present-day ideas about him such as the notion that he was an “American-made” national hero. He asks the audience, “ako ng ba ang Ronald Mcdonald ng 19th Century?” After pointing out that nothing much has changed in the last one hundred years – “nilulunod tayo sa utang ng mga prayle noon, sa World Bank naman ngayon,” in the end, taking from Padre Florentino’s soliloquy at the end of “El Filibusterismo,” he challenges the audience, and in the case of last Monday’s performance, 150 modern-day Rizal’s, with “nasaan ang mga kabinataan na magtataglay ng lakas ng buhay na tumanan sa aming mga ugat, ng kalinisan ng pagkukuro na nadungisan na sa aming mga isip, at ng lagablab ng sigabo na namatay na sa aming mga puso? Nasaan kayo, kayo’y aming hinihintay?”
Never mind that we didn’t get to do a proper curtain call – we may have performed a play but we were in a mall after all, and the emcee probably wasn’t familiar with the theater s.o.p. of bowing after a performance. It was a wonderful experience and as I’ve said before – while other theater artists might not view performing a play in a mall favorably, for me it’s a unique opportunity to reach audiences that would otherwise not go to a theater to experience a play.
After the performance, a government official approached me to say, and this would have been creepy if I didn’t know the guy, that some of the lines may have been too subversive and that I should be careful when performing that play. Whew! I understand, one of lines in the play go, “Nasaan ang mga makabayang opisyal ng gobyerno, ang mga intelektuwal, ang mga makabayang mangangalakal?”
I have performed this role countless times over the years, and I must say that this particular performance was a very unique experience: I was performing the role of Rizal to an audience full of people dressed as Rizal.
The next day, I caught a local news channel’s feature on the event which labeled it as “pakulo.” A gimmick. Pakana? Pearls to swine.
The play closes with “Ako Rizal, may dugong Indio, may dugong Intsik. Taga-Calamba. Naging repormista. Naging rebolusyonaryo. Ngayo’y bayani, ngunit bihag pa rin. Kayo, bihag pa rin ba?”
Sabay buntong hininga.