A masterclass in storytelling, Floy Quintos’ ‘Grace’ is both veneration and scrutiny of faith | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

grace floy quintos play
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Dubbed the great playwright’s final masterpiece, “Grace” unravels the complex tapestry of the 1948 Lipa apparitions



How does one begin to talk about an experience as profound as what one has witnessed at “Grace?” 

Coming from clearly politically charged works like “The Reconciliation Dinner” and “The Kundiman Party,” Floy Quintos’ final masterpiece, “Grace,” seems, on the surface, to steer in a different direction.

Instead of the sociopolitical scene, it delves into an issue of more mystical roots: The controversy surrounding the Lipa apparitions in 1948. The late playwright clearly states it is a fictional narrative based on the true story but created independently from the figures and institutions around which the story revolves. 

[READ: ‘Lipa apparition’ decree publicly released after 72 years via Inquirer.net]

But despite its ecclesiastical setting, the play progresses to show us its political undertones—telling of how it is not only the personal that is political, but in this case, the religious, too.

The first act of “Grace” sets the scene: How Teresita Castillo (played by Stella Cañete-Mendoza) entered Lipa Carmel, and how, as a postulant at the contemplative order, she was subjected to spiritual torment by the devil. It was also during this ordeal that she began to see visions of the Blessed Mary, who introduced herself as “Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace.” 


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These apparitions, accompanied by “unexplained showers of rose petals, some of which [bearing] holy images” first spread throughout the convent, and later on, upon the conversion of Lipa’s bishop, Monsignor Alfredo (played by Jojo Cayabyab), soon became a national—then global—phenomenon. The sudden spotlight on this small town, and the popularity of a religious order that was once quiet and shrouded in mystery (it was said that tens of thousands of followers would flock to the convent for a glimpse of Mary’s image, or to witness the miraculous shower of petals), brought Lipa to the attention of the political and religious capital, Manila.

The growing feverish interest in this small-town miracle and the seeming defiance of Lipa Carmel to submit to Manila’s summons led church leaders to view it with skepticism (if not envy at how this veneration of a local apparition of the Blessed Mother threatens to overturn devotion to more traditional images and teachings of the Church). Investigations were then launched against Lipa Carmel, in desperate efforts to disprove the miracle, and (or!) to tarnish the credibility of the order. 

Then begins the underhanded, multipronged smear campaign against the order, involving claims against the Mother Superior’s (Shamaine Buencamino) virtue and adherence to her vows, accusations of misuse of public funds, and even questions on the visionary Teresita’s sanity. 

While the context-setting has been engaging at best—introducing its curious range of characters, from the purely devout Teresita, the candid Sister Agatha (played by Frances Makil-Ignacio), and discreet but resentful Sister Lucia (played by Missy Maramara) to the level-headed Fr. Angel de Blas (Nelsito Gomez) and sly Monsignor Egidio Vagnozzi (Leo Rialp), it is during the investigations into the truth behind the apparitions that we see the true depth of “Grace” as a story and as a piece of theater.


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The brilliance of this play is that while on the surface it may seem to solely revolve around the religious controversy in Lipa, it is so layered yet balanced. It is not just about the mystery of the divine; “Grace” is more about our limited human experience and capacity. “Grace” isn’t just about the wonders of a higher being, it’s about the complexity of human nature and the different ways we respond when faced with something we don’t understand. Some will find ways to justify it or make sense of it using logic, while others will vilify anything that doesn’t conform to their fixed worldview.

“Grace” impressively shows us this great irony, that the very people who are supposed to guide people and bring them closer to God are the ones who are too proud, to let a different experience or point of view change the system. It shows us seemingly virtuous people—people of the Church, people we’d expect to be respectable, who live with honor and adherence to the highest values—displaying the flaws of humanity. It is a lush, meticulous piece that touches on social issues, such as the prejudice between Western or urban points of view, versus what they deem is primitive or less sophisticated, from the rural areas.

It also makes a strong point on the double standards on men and women, even within the Church. “Grace,” even with its plot revolving around faith, also substantially touches on mental health, specifically the state of one’s sanity, proper diagnoses, and even the accuracy in reporting results of investigations.

It is evident how much care was given to this work, by the playwright, its actors, and their director. In retrospect, it is a delicate piece in that it both venerates and scrutinizes its subject. Only someone who truly believes and understands the subject—in this case, the faith—can be successful in questioning it, in extracting truth (and lies) in it, and transforming it into an intriguing and engrossing narrative. Quintos has nothing to prove at this point being a long-established writer, director, and artist himself, but with “Grace” as a swan song, he has given us a masterclass in storytelling.

It is no surprise perhaps that Quintos has constant collaborators, for anything, it may be because they already speak the Quintosian language well—enough to meaningfully translate his words on the page to scenes on the stage. 

Cañete-Mendoza was especially noteworthy (and dare I say maybe the true miracle on that stage), for transforming into the different ages of Teresita Castillo, capturing in her expressions and mannerisms the key emotions of each stage. Gomez, meanwhile, as the young and accomplished priest and psychologist Fr. Angel de Blas, is the play’s voice of reason, the one character who appeared like we could clearly trust, with such a powerful lead-up to his own character arc’s dilemma and resolution. 

Rialp’s depiction of the apostolic nuncio Monsignor Vagnozzi was also among the most impressive, as he convincingly portrayed the Italian religious authority. Makil-Ignacio’s Sister Agatha is the unexpected comic relief with her candid, no-nonsense quips and responses, adding a dash of lightness to the otherwise serious story. 

The set and lights also add to the storytelling. The sparseness of the stage, accented only by dramatic, dynamic lighting and projections on the wall allow us to focus on the figures on stage. And the audience being unable to see the visions or the petals the characters speak of adds to the internal debate—is it real or just a hoax? If we are unable to witness what the characters said happened, do we “suspend disbelief” as we usually do in theater, and take their word for it? Or are they actually unreliable narrators? This staging gets the audience involved even without them realizing. 

It’s just tragic that Quintos passed away before seeing his swan song open to sold-out audiences. And while the production calls it Quintos’ final masterpiece, I’d like to think of it also as his final act of generosity, for not just the arts scene but also for the Filipino. To leave us with this story, so deeply intertwined with our identity as Filipinos—a nation of faith, that also grapples with our own expressions of truth and our relationship with authority—“Grace” isn’t just an artful interpretation of historic events. The history is a mere tool, as in other Quintosian works, to shake us up and wake us up to certain social truths. 


“Grace” by Floy Quintos runs until June 23 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Black Box Theater, Circuit Makati. Directed by Dexter M. Santos, with production design by Mitoy Sta. Ana, lighting design by John Batalla, music and sound design by Arvy Dimaculangan. Starring by Stella Cañete-Mendoza, Samhain Centenera-Buencamino, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Missy Maramara, Matel Patayon, Leo Rialp, Dennis Marasigan, Nelsito Gomez, Jojo Cayabyab, and Raphne Catorce.

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