Tony Perez–why he’d rather write a play on the Filipino psyche than one tackling ‘ephemeral’ social issues

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PLAYWRIGHT Tony Perez in his Cubao home. AMADÍS MA. GUERRERO

Growing up in San Fernando, Pampanga, where his father, an army colonel, was based, Tony Perez tended to be reclusive, although he was happy enough with his toys.

“My being reclusive led me to expand and rely on my imagination, speculating on a lot of things on what could be the present, the future and even the past,” he recalls. “I think that’s what every writer does.”

The Ateneo de Manila grade school “was a big culture shock” for him because there were hundreds of pupils his age and, according to him, the teachers could not give everyone individual attention.

“Grade school was traumatic for me in that sense because I was forced to socialize, but of course it was necessary and again I turned to books.”

Nevertheless, a paragraph he had written had impressed one teacher, who said he should be a writer someday. That set the future playwright (and visual artist and shaman) on his course. Perez believes that one should study grade school at the Ateneo, high school at De La Salle, and college at the University of the Philippines.

This is ironic because it was at the Ateneo high school that he bloomed. His first staged play was the now classic “Hoy Boyet…” This led to many other plays during and after school, and later to his collected works, and books on fiction and nonfiction.

Excellent teachers

“I had excellent teachers,” Perez says. “One was Onofre Pagsanhan (every Ateneo boy’s “Mr. Pagsi”). He influenced me and I must give him credit for that. And then there was (National Artist) Rolando Tinio. He was very a controversial person, but I learned so much from him. I must mention Nonon Padilla. He was my classmate, we worked together… he directed many of my plays. I look forward to working with Nonon again, except that it’s very hard to find producers.”

Perez has an MA in Clinical Psychology, a background which has served him well in his plays, which tend to be dark and moody, focusing on often tense relationships between men and women.

“Most of my plays draw out or portray the Filipino psyche which no other playwright, I think, has really succeeded in,” he observes. “Other playwrights—this is not a criticism but an observation—are very concerned about social issues, which is good because theater must change or effect some change in people. But I find such issues ephemeral.”

As for him, he “would rather write a play remembered and restaged a 100 years from now because it addressed the psyche of the Filipinos rather than current issues.”

Major change

“An old man of 62” now, Perez has learned that “a person is very much a product of his religion, his education, his family, his friends, and nothing can ever change that.”

But he adds: “Of course a person can also reach out and do a major change, like Mother Teresa. She changed a lot of people. I can actually do that—not that I’m Mother Teresa!—but as a clinical investigator, with my MA in psychology, I can change people.”

The playwright concludes: “There’s no such thing as the road not taken because the road can always be taken whenever one wishes. It’s a question of having the time, but one will always have the talent and resources to be able to take that road.”

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