Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Landmark play Pagsambang Bayan to be restaged

In August 1977, a play that said everything against martial law was performed in UP Diliman. Being already on its fifth year, the dictator Marcos had become cocksure that his military regime would last forever. Now here was this unlikely play, defying its might.

“Even before opening night,” wrote Dr. Doreen Fernandez in “Palabas: Essays on Philippine Theater History” (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996), “people whispered that the play was ‘matapang,’ and should be seen immediately, because it might be closed down by the military. The first night was palpable with thrill--the thrill of danger, but even more, the thrill of saying almost outright that which had not been said directly for five years.”

Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater was jampacked, the air electric. Halfway through the performance, applause thundered, and cries of “Truth!,”“Justice!” and “Freedom!” resounded among a suddenly emboldened audience.

“Pagsambang Bayan” is acclaimed as the first play during martial law that challenged the military regime in a way that no theater piece had dared to do. Against all odds, it tackled issues that were forbidden to be talked about, such as the killing of freedom and democracy, wanton violations of human rights and loss of human dignity, government corruption and the insatiable greed of those who are in power.

Today, 32 years after “Pagsambang Bayan” was first produced by the UP Repertory Company--it was remounted in 1981 and 1984 also by UP Rep--it is again being restaged by the Tag-ani Performing Arts Society.

More than a mere reshowing of an old play, the restaging of “Pagsambang Bayan” aims to dramatize to the present generation how Philippine theater measured up to its social function during one of the darkest periods of our history. Its purpose is to reaffirm Philippine theater’s obligation not only to comment on the human condition but to realize the full human potential of our people.

Written by Bonifacio P. Ilagan right after his detention, “Pagsambang Bayan” won in the 1976 Palihang Aurelio V. Tolentino. It was first directed by Leo Rimando and performed in Hongkong in English. The original Philippine performances were directed by Behn Cervantes for the UP Repertory Company. Other productions were done outside Metro Manila. Until 1984, it had chalked up more than 100 performances by various theater groups.

Ilagan and Cervantes again team up to lend a classic play a new treatment in the 2009 production by the Tag-ani Performing Arts Society, in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts; and with the UP Repertory Company in the UP Diliman version, in conjunction with February Arts Month.

The play has been anthologized in various books here and abroad. It is featured in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art as a major work in Philippine theater and as an example of an art form made relevant by the crisis of society.

The national tour kicks off with two performances on February 25-26 February 2009, 7 p.m., at the Bahay ng Alumni, University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, in partnership with the UP Repertory Company. Its first provincial outing is hosted by the Workers’ Assistance Center, with performances on February 28, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., at the Emilio Aguinaldo College Auditorium in Dasmarinas, Cavite. Behn Cervantes directs.

For bookings, please call Tag-ani Performing Arts Society 0920-9461975/0922-8010792, fax 9305236 or e-mail tag_ani@yahoo.com.

1 comment:

FrRoy said...

Gibbs, this play was staged in Sorsogon at Colegio de la Milagrosa with Chito Jao as director in 1981. I got involved with the production because the blessed DC sisters had cold feet in taking the risk. Later, I offered the Cathedral to be the venue, but the sisters backed down. Go see it! I love its energy.

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