The great Spanish dramatists are in vogue again, perhaps a coincidence or because of the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines.
Dulaang UP has just presented “The House of a Bernarda Alba” by Federico Garcia Lorca, and will mount Lope de Vega’s “Fuente Ovejuna.” And now De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s Theater Arts Batch 116 is presenting Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s “Ang Dakilang Teatro ng Daigdig (The Great Theater of the World).”
Like many writers, Lorca sided with the violently anti-Catholic leftists supported by Stalin during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and was slain by Franco’s storm troopers backed up by Hitler.
De Vega (1562-1635) was an interesting personality, being a priest, ladies’ man and adventurer who took part in the ill-advised invasion by the Spanish Armada of Elizabethan England, which saw the decline of Spain as a world power.
In fame, De Vega was succeeded by Jesuit-educated Calderón (1600-1681), who idolized him. Calderón was also a soldier, later priest and author but led a more tranquil life. As one critic said, “He was thoughtful and pious,” and, like De Vega, wrote many plays. Those known to modern readers include “Life is a Dream” and “The Prodigious Magician.”
Play within a play
“El Gran Teatro del Mundo,” as it is known in the original Spanish, is a play within a play with philosophical and biblical overtones. A group of actors, representing various social strata, are brought together following the greatest performances of their lives, to see what fate is in store for them. They are judged by their previous actions and decisions.
They may not agree with what is in store for them, and here lies the tension.
The play is directed by Nonon Padilla, and was translated into Filipino by George de Jesus III.
In a casting coup, there are two guest artists in lead roles: playwright Frank Rivera as May Akda (God) and Manny Castañeda as Tagapamahala ng Entablado (Stage Manager). Both are distinguished alumni of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta).
The rest of the cast are Padilla’s student talents. Jannah Baniasia plays Daigdig (The World) and there is a Hari (King), Mayaman (Rich Man), Hinahon (Virtue), Kagandahan (Beauty), Kamatayan (Death) and Manggagawa (Peasants).
The play is a fusion of Calderón with Tony Perez’s “Hoy Boyet,” which Padilla directed 50 years ago during his Ateneo de Manila high school days.
“‘Hoy Boyet’ is in three monologues, all about death,” says the director. “So that’s how we begin. I didn’t take out anything from Calderón, except a character who was in limbo.”
He adds: “It has to do with celebrating 500 years of Spanish culture, and Filipino culture. I wanted to connect the two sensibilities.”
As the director sees it, the first part is about the creation of man, then the law of Moses, and the final part is “the law of mercy and love, which celebrates the Eucharist.”
“The play is a reflection of life,” says Baniasia.
For the young production manager Rica Roxas and her batch, the play is meaningful because “we have an identity crisis. People my age, sometimes we forget to enjoy life. We are too dependent on technology. So the play is an allegorical tale, you see the reflections of every day, the little stories, thoughts.” —CONTRIBUTED
“Ang Dakilang Teatro ng Daigdig” runs Oct. 17-19 and Oct. 23-26 (1 p.m. and 7 p.m.) at the Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts Theater on Vito Cruz, Manila; tel. 0977-8272349