By Angela Casco
Images by NOEL PABALETE
Theater, more often than not, sheds light on issues bigger than its stages. And for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas’ upcoming season, it’s about time to address one of these issues and go beyond bringing awareness on current social and political grievances.
“We must put an end to what is not good in society. Oppression is one of those,” Dulaang UP director Alexander Cortez tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle in an interview, following a dress rehearsal run at the Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater of University of the Philippines-Diliman.
This resistance will be the driving force of the institution’s 44th season. Dulaang UP labels it as Daluhong, which is the Filipino word for assault.
“When the theater thought of daluhong, it’s an attack or movement forward to fight against the tyrannical, oppressive rule in government, in schools, [and even] in families,” Cortez explains. “That’s primarily what the season is going to be about.”
Opening the season is The House of Bernarda Alba/Ang Tahanan ni Bernarda Alba, a play written by Buenos Aires-born Federico Garcia Lorca in 1939. It follows the eight-year mourning period imposed by a domineering matriarch named Bernarda Alba, to be played by veteran film, television and theater actress Gigi Escalante, on her household in the wake of her second husband’s death and in accordance to her family tradition.
Years of isolation builds tension within the household “where no air could even get in,” according to Cortez, as Alba’s five daughters—Angustias (Opaline Santos), 39; Magdalena (Iris Montesclaros and Gel Basa), 30; Amelia (Camille Abaya and Mikaela Coruna), 27; Martirio (Sarina Sasaki), 24; and Adela (Pauline Maxine Ignacio and Mariella Laurel), 20—rival against each other on marrying a young and attractive suitor in town named Pepe El Romano, inheriting the money of Angustias’ late father, and commanding their own lives according to their choices. Also under this solitude is Alba’s deranged elderly mother, Maria Josefa.
“The situation heats up when the youngest daughter, Adela, fights for a love that Angustias sort of already owns, and that is Pepe,” Cortez adds.
Though the play was originally Lorca’s response to the injustices of Francisco Franco’s regime, the underlying themes tackled like oppression, religious hypocrisy, familial obligation, indifference, and apathy were still applicable in the context of Ilocos Norte during the Spanish occupation, and even more so in the present times.
“But I think the one big issue that is central to the play is control,” Cortez adds. “You have to really allow people to fly, to go where they want to go, because the moment you suppress this independence or this freedom, you will have problems, which I think is very apparent in our society today.”
In accordance to Dulaang UP’s policy, the play will be staged in both English and Filipino, following versions of the play translated by Daisy Lopez and Cortez, respectively. The production will also feature an all-female cast, which Cortez considers as “the beauty of the play.” It’s also why he has chosen the play to be the season opener.
“No gentleman is seen or talked about most of the time and you don’t see them,” the director says. “I also believe that the strength of the theater arts program at UP is the women, the actresses.”
The play is described by the cast as “intense.” Escalante considers it as her “most difficult production yet.” In preparing for her role, the veteran actress admits it took more than just constant practice, but understanding the play’s context as well.
“It may seem like the approach to Bernarda would be easy but it’s not. It’s a very difficult play, it has layers that are not expressed in the script,” she says. “You have to research because in the first place, their culture is different. We’re freer, for one. Lorca was Spanish and he suffered under a very restrictive regime—his play aimed to express that. So we really have to work hard.”
Also coming to the Dulaang UP stage are Fuente Ovejuna, which, as Cortez simply puts it, is a play about “a corrupt ruler who had somebody killed,” as well as a repeat production from last season, Nana Rosa, which discusses the exploitation of women during the Japanese occupation.
All three plays represent the group’s “response to social iniquities with strength and aggression.”
“Theater is trying very much to affect the minds and lives of many. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s hard,” Cortez says. “But theater is an important and potent tool in affecting the minds of many and probably changing lives too. It’s been done before, so with hope we can do it [this season].”
The House of Bernarda Alba/Ang Tahanan ni Bernarda Alba will run from Sept. 6 to 29 at the Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2nd floor, Palma Hall in UP Diliman.
Tags: Alexander Cortez, Angela Casco, Camille Abaya, Daluhong On Stage, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gigi Escalante, Iris Montesclaros and Gel Basa, Mariella Laurel, Mikaela Coruna, Noel Pabalete, Opaline Santos, Pauline Maxine Ignacio, Sarina Sasaki