Soxie Topacio, a stalwart of the Philippine performing arts with a prolific, decades-long career as an esteemed actor, director, writer and teacher-mentor across theater, film and television, passed away tonight at around 9 o’clock, his home theater group the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) said.
Topacio died of lung cancer while confined at the De Los Santos Medical Center in Quezon City. He was 65 years old.
This was Topacio’s second hospital confinement; the first was in March this year, when his illness was first detected. But after undergoing chemotherapy, he was well enough to participate in Peta’s 50th-anniversary concert in April, where he was his usual zany self as one of the hosts-presentors. But on Thursday evening (July 20), he was rushed to the hospital for pneumonia; he expired the following day.
Topacio, born on June 19, 1952 in Manila, joined Peta in 1969, two years after its founding. As a resident artist of the pioneering theater group, he became one of its leading creative lights during the company’s crucible years in the ‘70s and early ‘80s when Peta’s theater-making became a preeminent articulator of social issues and the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
His original college course was Chemical Engineering at the University of the Philippines, before he shifted to Architecture and Mass Communication; later on, he also enrolled at the Philippine Institute of Interior Design, but eventually dropped out of school altogether to focus on working in theater, film and TV.
On stage, he acted in and collaborated with other Peta artists on many of its seminal productions, among them founder Cecile Guidote Alvarez as well as fellow pioneer Peta members Lutgardo Labad, Lino Brocka, Nonon Padilla Jr., Orlando Nadres, Jonas Sebastian, Joel Lamangan, etc.
Many of his contemporaries would also become leading figures in contemporary Filipino cinema. When he received this year’s Natatanging Gawad Buhay for Lifetime Achievement, given by the the group of professional theater companies Philstage at its annual Gawad Buhay ceremonies, Topacio credited Brocka for bringing him to TV and film and forcing him to learn the ropes of directing in another medium.
He would also thrive in them, acting in film, directing and writing a succession of TV shows, even earning a nomination for production design in the 1977 Famas Awards for the movie “Mortal.” As an actor, he became primarily known as a comedian; the last film he directed, 2009’s “Ded na si Lolo,” was also a comedy.
But his output was impressively versatile. Among the landmark Peta dramas he appeared in were “Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio,” “Kabesang Tales,” “Hatol ng Guhit na Bilog,” “Flores Para Los Muertos” (a Filipino adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” directed by Brocka), “Bombita” and “Panunuluyan.”
As stage director, he helmed “Indarapatra,” “Joe Hill,” “Canuplin,” Pilipinas Circa 1906,” “Macli-ing,” “Halik ng Tarantula” (an adaptation of Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”), “Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo” (a stage adaptation of the classic film, also starring Nora Aunor), “Hanggang Dito na Lamang at Maraming Salamat,” “Ang Palasyo ni Valentin” and “Bona” (adapted from the Nora Aunor movie and starring Eugene Domingo), among others.
And on TV, his work ranged from drama anthologies to sitcoms to variety shows—among them “Dear Diary,” “Pira-pirasong Pangarap,” “Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin,” “Nuts Entertainment,” “Marinara,” “Impostora,” “Takeshi’s Castle,” “Family Zoo” and more.
His last directorial work for Peta was “Noli Fili Dekada 2000,” a reworking of Rizal’s novels into a contemporary portrait of a fractured Philippine society.
Professor, theater actor and playwright Arthur Casanova says of Topacio: “Isang malaking kawalan sa Dulaang Pilipino ang pagyao ni Soxie Topacio. Isa siya sa mga naging guro ko sa Acting, Directing and Integrated Arts noong dumayo ang Peta sa Mindanao State University kasama sina Frank G. Rivera, Brenda Fajardo, Gardy Labad, at Len Santos (RIP). Naging guro ko rin siya sa Peta-CITASA Summer Acting, Directing & Integrated Arts. Paalam, katotong Soxie!”
Friend and fellow actor, playwright Rody Vera, recalls: “Nakilala kasi ng marami si Soxie bilang komedyante sa TV. Pero para sa akin, isa siya sa haligi ng Peta. Mahusay na direktor, mabuting kaibigan. Ang daming alaala ngayong nag-uunahang sumulpot mula pa noong dekada 80. Pamilya niya rin ang Peta hanggang sa mga huling araw.”
Peta member Norbs Portales, who portrayed Topacio in a tribute piece at this year’s Gawad Buhay, says: “Isa si Mother [how Topacio was lovingly called by colleagues] sa naging unang direktor ko sa Peta. Malaki ang tiwala nya sa mga baguhang artista-guro ng Peta. Ni minsan ay hindi niya pinaramdam na hindi kami kabilang. Wala kaming sobrang lalim na relasyon tulad ng sa mga nakatatandang miyembro ng Peta, pero isang karangalan ang magampanan ang buhay nya sa tanghalan.”
“Sa paggabay ni Kuya Phil (Noble) na isa sa mga matalik nyang kaibigan sa Peta, lalong lumalim ang pagkilala ko at paghanga sa kanya. Nagsimula sya sa Peta nung bata pa sya, tulad ng karamihan sa amin. higit sa lahat ay nanatili at nagsilbi hanggang sa huli. Isa syang huwaran sa amin.”
Adds playwright Liza Magtoto: “Nagdadalamhati ngayon ang buong Peta lalo’t sunud sunod din ang pagpanaw ng aming mga minamahal na artista-guro. Mother Soxie, salamat sa lahat ng mga kwento, sa mga tinuro mo, sa buhay mo na inalay mo sa sining.”
—By Gibbs Cadiz and Totel V. De Jesus