The dearth of theater in Naga City gave a few Bikolista culture vultures among us a reason to travel to Legazpi City, not for the expensive unhealthy colonizer’s donuts and coffee some crow make that city the “most exciting,” but for their theater par excellence.
We missed a workday to watch “1900: Mga Bangguing Bulanon,” a musical produced by community-based multi-arts organization Sining Banwa of Albay, at Bicol University College of Arts and Letters Amphitheater.
The play “1900” dramatizes the Battle of Legazpi on Jan. 21, 1900, when the Bikolnon faced a new foreign invader, the US, barely on the heels of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. The heroes of the play were not generals such as Simeon Ola or Jose Ignacio Paua, but the simplest of our people, barefoot fisherfolk among them, who resisted the American forces.
These 200 Bikol “bolomen” would have been forgotten even at their landmark, the former Puente de San Rafael, now simply called “Legazpi Rotonda,” were it not for this excellent drama, truly the best play I have seen in over a decade.
Luna worries about her husband Gregorio going off to war yet again, while their son Nardo’s foremost concern is marrying sweetheart Felomina. Felomina’s father objects to Nardo, of course, preferring that she marry a white man or mestizo instead. This may sound all too familiar to those among us who have watched zarzuelas such as “Walang Sugat,” or still remember the “Noli.”
But wait, this is a Bikol play. Daragang Magayon, Kakay and Pulang Angge, legendary figures for Mayon Volcano, Bacacay, and Polangui, formed the chorus to annotate the events. Leafing through a gargantuan Book of Legends, they sought to rewrite their own stories and history. They also provided the comic relief via contemporary language (e.g. hugot, pak ganern!) to appeal to the millennial-high school audience. A wonderful rondalla from Ligao National High School provided original music, with two superb percussionists limning the war scenes.
The set on a small stage drew appreciative sighs from the young audience, especially when Christmas lights twinkled as night stars. A box on wheels served as banca in the background and a fog machine provided a smokescreen for its mechanics. Most marvelous of all were three slatted wooden boxes which metamorphosed into hillocks, benches, luggage, a door, military fortification, stalls, a hut.
The climax was a stunning battle dance, with the revolutionists wielding and twirling their tabak. The dance ended in the warriors being pulled into Pulang Angge’s bloody embrace. Only then did I realize that the function of her long voluminous skirt was more than just fashion. That scene wrenched tears, and still does now in remembering it, tempting me to sing Luna’s song, also our song in these trying times:
Punduhon an tagdo kan mga luha sa mata
Punduhon an kurahaw sa daghan kan mga ina.
Bulungon an lugad sa satuyang puso
Ilubong bako an lawas kundi an mundo.
(Dry your tears/ Stop the screams in the mothers’ breasts./ Heal the wounds in our hearts/ Bury not the body but the world.) —CONTRIBUTED