“Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major,” Andoy Ranay’s restaging of Chris Millado’s incisive 1985 play on the plight of martial law victims, is supposedly aimed at millennials who did not live through that era.
To that end, it offers a stark presentation of what it meant to live under a brutal dictatorship, summoning the martial law years through the stories of representative men and women of that period who took a stand and paid a heavy price for it.
Spare and character-driven, the play is enhanced by video clips that show real-life events during the First Quarter Storm, which serve as a prelude to the performances of the actors who form the heart and core of the drama.
From the moment the actors appear, attention is riveted to the characters they bare onstage, either through a monologue or a dialogue.
Millado keeps his interplay minimal: A maximum of two characters act and/or talk out their dilemma in the five scenes.
The suffering these representative Filipinos go through under the Marcos regime is not the only point. Will the young priest return to his safe parish, or continue to fight for the indigenous tribes being harassed by the military? Will the socialite wife retreat to the comforts of her walled subdivision, or persist in joining rallies? How will an isolated widow cope with the death of her guerilla husband?
What could have been hours of repetitive monologue is elevated by Millado’s rich embellishment of his script with the details of the era. Idioms and expressions, description of locations, proverbs and songs, etc. succeed in bringing those emblematic years back to life.
Neither does Millado’s prose skimp on the realism. The methods of torture, the violence visited on the Itawis woman, the priest’s incarceration, the yellow confetti raining down on protesters—all of them are created powerfully in the audience’s mind.
The huge burden of creating the necessary emotional connection between character and audience falls more crucially on the actors’ shoulders.
The opening scene of the farmers (Danny Mandia and Cris Pineda) marching to Mendiola acts as an exposition and a bookend, laying out the great divide between rich and poor.
JC Santos lends a haunting frailty to the disillusioned priest trying to find the last of his strength to comfort the Itawis woman (Angeli Bayani) thrown out of her land. Bayani, meanwhile, speaking entirely in the native tongue of her character, powerfully conveys the Itawis woman’s ordeal.
The epiphany of Jackie Lou Blanco’s socialite wife pinballs from colegiala condescension to a tentative middle-class realization of class inequality, to an acceptance of the cost her belated activism might exact on her and her family.
Cherry Pie Picache’s NPA widow is a melancholic soul torn between taking on her husband’s cause or retreating into fear and silence.
Finally, the cat-and-mouse game between an activist student (Ross Pesigan) and a cop (Paolo O’Hara) covers potent ground: the capricious nature of state violence; the thrill of wielding power; the promised security in embracing acquiescence and pragmatism.
Sometimes, the actors play moments for laughs, but this occasional self-indulgence also serves to break up the overall bleakness of the material.
Millado also knows when to juggle his dark and light elements. The socialite wife’s awakening, with its lighthearted digs at the elite lifestyle, ends the first act.
The intense cop-and-student face-off, with never a dull moment in it, ends the second.
The last image is of Picache’s grieving widow—a reminder of the grievances still unaddressed, and the larger unfinished business of martial law. —CONTRIBUTED
Sugid Productions’ “Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major” runs until Feb. 12 at the Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco Auditorium, Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Center, Diliman, Quezon City. Call 09178456200.