How long can a couple’s marriage last if they can’t talk to each other? If one partner keeps repeating the error of his ways, should his long-suffering wife keep forgiving and taking him back? How can reconciliation happen if communication does not even exist?
These are the questions addressed by Suzue Toshiro’s “If He Doesn’t See Your Face” in a production by Arete, the Ateneo de Manila University’s Creative and Innovation Hub, with the Japan Foundation Manila.
Directed by Arete artistic director Ricky Abad, the two-hour play will run from Aug. 2 to 4 at the Doreen Black Box, Arete complex.
Toshiro’s layered material requires of the audience a lot of listening and thoughtful contemplation. Despite the emotional baggage carried by the couple, played by Brian Sy and Delphine Buencamino, the play will have none of the usual weepy and/or angry confrontations associated with an impending marital break-up.
Abad describes the playwright’s approach, “The communication between the husband and wife is very indirect. The husband cannot express his feelings nor explain why he keeps doing the bad things that get him in trouble. The wife wants to draw those feelings out, but she has her own insecurities to deal with.”
Adding to the pressure is a claustrophobic environment which places the characters in the visiting room of a prison. No other individual is around to sympathize with them or act as bridge. The glass wall separating them also serves as an emotional barrier.
Abad says, “For two hours, the audience will watch if these two characters who come from humble, even poor, background, can finally connect.”
Isolation, alienation and connection are persistent themes in the Toshiro plays that have been performed in the Philippines.
His “My Friend Has Come” in 2014 touched on a teenage boy’s reaction to his best friend’s suicide. “Fireflies” in 2012 explored the emotional breakdown that can tear relationships apart.
Both plays were produced by Ateneo’s Fine Arts and Tanghalang Ateneo; Abad directed “My Friend Has Come” and co-directed “Fireflies” with BJ Crisostomo, who was also associated with the university back then.
For the characters to convey the words and emotions that they have a hard time expressing, Abad says he tapped two actors “who can say what is not being said.”
Sy, fresh from his triumph as the charismatic rebel in Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) “Coriolano,” plays the husband who lands in jail for the fourth time. Playing his persevering, if frustrated, wife is Buencamino, who won raves a few years ago for her gender-bending portrayal of Apolinario Mabini in TP’s “Mabining Mandirigma.”
According to Abad, the audience can relate to the couple’s personal struggle while seeing in them a reflection of a much bigger societal picture.
“This is not a political piece but it addresses a lot of the polarization that is happening in the country right now,” he says. “We need to search for a way to do dialogue. But how can we move ahead if we don’t even connect?” —CONTRIBUTED
Arete’s “If He Doesn’t See Your Face” runs Aug. 2-4 at the Doreen Black Box, Arete complex, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Ticket2me.net