Onofre Pagsanghan's cadre of high school actors have grown into their roles (especially young Josef Machuca as Don Juan--affecting acting, stronger voice) and the kids' transparent passion for what they were doing on stage translated to the best kind of amateur theater. Mr. Pagsanghan has just undergone angioplasty and missed a week of teaching and mentoring his boys, something he fretted about constantly. He was back tonight, but with orders to take things easy. Overlords of culture and the arts in this country, give this man his due now before we regret the egregious oversight later on.
From "Theater of Eternal Spring," my published review of "Adarna" last February--a bit long, but do read until the end...
"IN THE LATE '80s, the senior high-school class of a minor seminary in Bicol staged Paul Dumol's 'Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio,' under the direction of a young priest-formator who also taught the class Filipino.
"The priest was a true child of theater. He could sing, act, write and direct material, and he shared that boundless enthusiasm for the stage with his young wards. He regaled them with stories of how, as a young seminarian in Manila, he spent many enthralled afternoons watching the plays of Dulaang Sibol, the Ateneo de Manila high-school theater troupe led by Onofre Pagsanghan. ('Serapio' won first prize in a Sibol playwriting contest.)
"Like Sibol, the local senior class had no money for a show with first-class production values. So they improvised. For a scene that required gouging out Serapio's eyes as punishment, they used gobs of cheap red dye for blood (it made for a spectacular Kurosawa-like spray that left the audience cringing).
"The play's prosecutors wore Moriones masks, while the beggars' makeup ranged from charcoal to mud. 'Just like Dulaang Sibol' was how the priest encouraged the class to approach their show with a sense of adventure and learning.
"Mr. Pagsi (as Pagsanghan is fondly called) and his evergreen theater group recently celebrated their 50th anniversary by restaging 'Ibong Adarna,' another Sibol staple. That kind of longevity has attracted tributes from everyone, but perhaps it's fair to say that Dulaang Sibol's true legacy is the love for theater it has inspired in countless young people--even those in a quiet, drowsy Bicol town.
"'Ibong Adarna' was a spirited note that Sibol is here to stay for another 50 years or more. Already an institution in Philippine theater, it remains spry, fun and resourceful, if its latest offering was any indication.
"This oft-retold tale of three princes who search for a magical bird to cure their ailing father sparkled with the strengths that have defined the troupe: its buoyant, sung-through music was written by a committee of six Sibolistas--Bianong Labiano, Oliver Quintana, Mik Afable, Kenneth Dacanay, Gian Abrahan and Enzo Araullo. (The 'labaha, dayap, sintas' ditty--about the three things Don Juan needed to survive the Adarna's magic droppings--was particularly inventive.)
"The ensemble also did their costumes, built around the lives of fishermen. So the royal capes were fishnets sprinkled with sequins, and the king's crown was a miniature buslo trimmed with beads and sparklers. When the princes sallied forth to look for the bird, they slung native woven backpacks on their shoulders. To suggest a brook after a parched journey, the chorus splashed themselves with imaginary water, sheer bliss on their faces, while murmuring, 'tubig, tubig.'
"That last scene was among the play's highlights, a distillation of the purity and joy that amateur theater can summon. What 'Ibong Adarna's' boyish leads lacked in stage presence, they made up for with heart and, in the case of Arjay Cansana as Don Diego, a resonant voice. (Niño Venida was Don Pedro, Josef Machuca was Don Juan.)
"Chris Aronson was a visual standout as the mythical Adarna. Dressed in flowing white strips of garment, a Moorish turban preening on his head, the guy looked like a young Nijinsky. [His alternate, a lithe dancer, played the part in this performance.]
"The collective ardor of this youthful company was hard to fake--impossible, in fact, in an intimate, 156-seat theater. Dulaang Sibol's actors, musicians and stagehands were nothing if not fervent, their pride evident in the overall polish of their modest but stout-hearted production.
"It's the kind of artistry that travels distances and affects lives, as with those scrawny high school seminarians of long ago. We know. We were part of that class."
[photos: Chris Lagman]