Father Modesto de Castro was an author from Biñan, Laguna, who wrote several religious works, including “Platicas Doctrinales,” “Exposicion de las Siete Palabras en Tagalo” and “Novena a San Isidro en Tagalo.” But his most famous work was “Urbana at Feliza” (1864).
This classic may be called an epistolary novel as it is an exchange of letters between two siblings, the Urbana and Feliza of the title. The names are most likely symbolic—Urbana coming from urbanidad which denotes proper, genteel behavior, while Feliz in Spanish means happy, as in felicidad (happiness), a name given to many daughters by their parents.
Urbana is the older sister while Feliza, 22, is attending a convent school in Manila. Happiness is attained by being obedient, Urbana tells Feliza. She warns the younger sibling about the many temptations and dangers facing the youth today, and emphasizes correct behavior.
In one letter, Urbana upbraids Feliza for mentioning their parents but not even indicating if they are well or sick: “Ang una’y nabanggit mo si ama’t si ina ay di mo sinabi kung sila’y may sakit o wala.” In another letter, Urbana rails against the aggressive behavior of young girls even when going to confession: “Diyata’t hanggang sa kumpisal’y dadalhin ang kapangahasan di nagpipitagang itanyag ang mukha sa Sacerdote?”
“Urbana at Feliza” may be read as a critique of late-19th-century Philippine society, from a clerical (as opposed to secular) point of view. Father De Castro himself said he hoped that the lessons being imparted in the book would benefit the people. It was quite influential in its time.
And now, the Far Eastern University Theater Guild, on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, will stage an adaptation of “Urbana at Feliza” with a present-day setting. The show, directed by Dudz Teraña and rewritten from a concept by Crispulo S. Alarde Jr. and Emmanuel Gonzales, will be at the FEU Auditorium in Manila on Sept. 12-13 and 15-16, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Alternating in the role of Urbana are Ejhey Gonzales, Anton Katigbak and Dennise Concepcion. Urbana will be played by Feleen Santos and Toni Ann Aricheta. Others in the cast are Ervin Hachero as Honesto, Anna Quasay as Nanay and Jamil Salazar as Tatay.
“This is a reboot of the timeless literary composition of one of the era’s eloquent writers,” said Teraña. “It is a timely reminder that our values as Fi1ipinos, whether in the traditional or modern spheres, have relevance to this very day.”
The performance is open to the public. Call the FEU President’s Committee on Culture at tel. 7364897.