In 2016, Guelan Luarca directed “Desaparesidos” for the campus theater company Ateneo Entablado. The play was adapted from Lualhati Bautista’s novel of the same title, about activists and families swept up in the tumult and violence of the martial law years.
This year Luarca is restaging “Desaparesidos” with a mix of original cast members (among them Brian Sy, Maxine Ignacio, Gigi Escalante, Xander Soriano) and new actors, and a rewritten third act.
“When we had a preview last March, I found that the third act of my adaptation ended on a very cynical, lamenting, jaded tone,” said Luarca. “I just realized that when I adapted it in 2016, it was right after Bongbong Marcos’ almost winning as vice president (and Duterte’s winning as president), and so the anger and the dread and the fear and the hopelessness were so pronounced.”
Change in spirit
“I thought, no! The play cannot end the way it did in 2016,” he added. “Now is not the time for gnashing of teeth and despair and staring at the horizon, wondering where we all went wrong. Now is the time for optimism, for putting up a fight, for organizing, for going out in the streets, for licking our personal wounds to take on bigger public wounds for the nation. So, I really hope my rewriting of the third act, while still being faithful to Bautista’s plot, can reflect this change in emphasis and spirit.”
Bautista, he found out, was a joy to work with. “She allows you to do your thing, she entrusts the material to you, and when she gives comments on your drafts, they’re straight to the point. She is quick to point out when she sees something problematic. But she leaves it to you how you’ll solve it.”
“Adaptation is fun work,” he added. “Because I’m a translator, there’s something about passing one original work through the sieve of something else that I’ve always been fascinated with. Adaptation seems to be the next, more complicated level after translation. To be honest, if I passed my script on to another director, he or she would think it’s ridiculous and all over the place. All I had was pure confidence. But sometimes I myself did not know how. I just trusted the rehearsal process and my collaborators.”
He’s setting a high bar for “Desaparesidos” and its performers: “I need them to be activists in their own right. I wanted impressive performances to come not from a place of technique or craft, but from political engagement and a commitment to purge and exorcise the lies of the dictator from our history.”
The 2018 staging of “Desaparesidos” is produced by Luarca’s fellow theater artists Kalil Almonte, Jenny Jamora and Renan Bustamante.
The son of stage and film actor Ward Luarca, Guelan said it was his parents who set him on the path to theater. “Dad would bring me to his plays in Tanghalang Pilipino during the ’90s when I was growing up. He’d let me watch him rehearse alone at home, he’d lend me scripts of productions he was in, he’d introduce me to his theater friends at a tender age of
5 or 6—artists I admire like Mario O’Hara and Irma Adlawan and George de Jesus and Dennis Marasigan and Spanky Manikan and Herbie Go and Ricky Abad. It’s safe to say I was programmed to do theater.”
“Desaparesidos” runs Aug. 17-Sept. 2, at The Doreen Black Box, Areté, Ateneo de Manila University. Call Kalil Almonte at 09173278613 or Joshua Ceasar Chan at 09176775141.