When two of the country’s most prolific playwrights premiere new work within days of each other, one simply must pay attention, especially in this age of fake news and rampant historical revisionism.
Last night, Guelan Luarca’s Filipino-language adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”—now “Coriolano”—opened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines under Tanghalang Pilipino. On Feb. 27, Rody Vera’s latest original piece, “Nana Rosa,” will begin performances at the University of the Philippines Diliman as the final season offering of UP Playwrights’ Theatre (UPPT).
“It’s the perfect antidote to the oversimplifications in terms of politics,” says Luarca of “Coriolano,” whose titular character makes the jump from war general to Roman statesman—and unwittingly sets himself up for a fatal downfall.
“All the characters [in ‘Coriolano’] are problematic, with individual agenda. And that’s politics: not black and white, but always about agenda and patronage. Everything is a compromise. That’s the saddening and absurd political despair we must learn to live with.”
Luarca cites the upcoming midterm elections as a prime illustration: “As much as I vow not to vote for any candidate from Duterte’s camp, there are also those super ‘Dilawan’ candidates [strongly identified with the opposing Liberal Party] that made me go, ‘Are these the only choices we have?’
“The world is not divided between ‘DDS’ [rabid Duterte supporters] and ‘Dilawan’ [opposition fanatics]. That’s the false dichotomy and egoism and unnuanced political imagination that Shakespeare critiques in this play. Imagine if he wrote this in 2019!”
Vera’s piece, on the other hand, seeks to fight a much older battle—one that dates all the way back to the last World War.
“Nana Rosa” dramatizes the life of Rosa Henson, the first Filipino woman to publicly come out as a comfort woman during World War II. Henson “inspired other former comfort women to come out as well and tell their stories, which up to now are being denied by the Japanese government,” Vera said.
In April of last year, the Duterte administration removed a memorial—one that commemorated the struggles and heroism of the Filipino comfort women—on Roxas Boulevard in Manila, “in response to Japanese Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda’s ‘displeasure’ over the established statue.” The government later stated that the removal was executed to give way to some drainage improvement project in the area.
“The struggle of the Filipino comfort woman needed closure and affirmation. And this taking down of the statue was obviously a terrible way to leave the issue open,” says Vera, whose play actually started out as a screenplay commissioned by Star Cinema.
“The main point is to consistently remind us that [the abuse of comfort women] happened, even as the Japanese government keeps erasing it from its history books. Our collective memories are too malleable. We not only easily forget, but are also easily swayed by distorted versions of our past—be it about the Marcos dictatorship or a more distant era.”
Despite its historical content, “‘Nana Rosa’ is inevitably a political play,” says Vera. “It tackles almost all the issues related to war, colonial invasion and oppression.”
Then again, Vera affirms: “Theater and politics are inseparable, not only in content but also in form. When I do write for theater and film, the first thing that sparks my interest are stories that are naturally political; that is what I mostly look for in any play I attend.
“All the greatest plays are political. I cannot imagine any theater piece that does not tackle anything political.” —CONTRIBUTED
“Coriolano” runs until March 17 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines, with performances on Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday at 3 p.m. Tel. 8919999, ticketworld.com.ph
“Nana Rosa” runs Feb. 27-March 17 at Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman, with performances on Tuesday-Sunday.
Call Nico at 09175198879, UPPT at 9261349 or 9818500 loc. 2449, or e-mail upptnanarosa.marketing @gmail.com.