by Christine F. Godinez Ortega, Office of Publication & Information

“Dalawang Gabi” – Mark Clint Mermio and Aizel Yoyongco.

Intense passions and cultural factors ruled IPAG’s latest twin bill offering, Lipat Lapit featuring Rogelio ‘Roger’ Garcia’s “Maratabat” and Maynard Manansala’s “Dalawang Gabi”. The twin production had ten shows before SRO audiences. Re-runs are scheduled in October this year.

These two plays were ‘workshopped’ during the Iligan National Writers Workshop, romped with the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Literary Awards for best play, and subsequently produced by IPAG fielding its second line of youthful directors, John Michael Lagura for “Dalawang Gabi” and Trixcel Jan Emborong and Veniza Yamomo for “Maratabat”.

It is practical for beginning playwrights to have their plays submitted to workshops, and eventually produced by a theater group such as the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology’s Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG) – the most active theater sgroup with a regular, annual theater season outside the Metro Manila area.

 “Maratabat” and “Dalawang Gabi” are not the first plays submitted to the Iligan workshop produced by IPAG. Previously, IPAG produced two Balacuit awardees, “Makahiya” by Bonifacio Alfonso Javier III and ‘Banwa” by Sheryl Sumugat.

The Iligan workshop will now allow IPAG, with the consent of the playwrights, to produce accepted plays for IPAG’s In-lab productions.

Maratabat by Roger Garcia directed by Trixcel Jan Emborong and Veniza Yamomo. From left: Sean Preil de la Cruz, Swaitzel Zalsos, and Eleuterio Barinaga IV.

“Maratabat” (Maranao word for honor or pride) plunged into the action immediately as soon as the lights went out. The son of Edwin and Grace is recently killed and the couple plans to file a case and report this to the media, and because Grace is a faculty member of the university, the Faculty Union is supporting her too.

 Edwin, close-in bodyguard of Ahmad, the City Mayor, wants to kill the now-known killer of his son – the only language he knows and understands, eye for an eye within a culture he has grown up in. 

Eleuterio Barinaga IV who played Edwin gave his role a justifiably rugged and desperate face, and the play reaches an emotional high when Ahmad appears to tell the couple that blood money would be paid for Edwin’s only child.

Of course, this brought Grace into hysterics and the exchange between the three actors, in brisk dialog tackling cultural issues laced with the usual statements of Muslim versus Christian, we-are-not-Maranaos rang familiar with the audience, and moved the narrative forward, reaching such emotional high when Grace prevented Edwin from pulling the trigger that would have killed Ahmad but for the revelation that sent the audience gasping.

Life’s twists and turns hit everyone now and then and the play’s fictive narrative was no exception. But, the play turned “teleseryish” towards the end departing from the original script we have read. 

The surprising revelation of the produced play was not convincing enough since the theme is clear: cultural practices must prevail over the justice that non-Maranaos believe in and practice.  

The portrayal of Grace (played by Swaitzel Zalsos) proved a tearjerker with her copious tears and soft voice throughout the over 40-minute drama, her secret revealed to save the life of Ahmad. If it was the run of the mill Tagalog film, the obligatory background of the love affair between Grace and Ahmad would have been given but it would have been superfluous in the play before an intelligent audience, and could have destroyed the linguistic turns and whatever twists it had in store for them.

Her pleadings before a shocked Edwin was more often than not externally projected and the range of emotions stop at certain points that we could chalk up to her youth.   

Ahmad, the Mayor, played by Sean Preil de la Cruz put much dignity to an otherwise pained man behaving within the bounds of his culture. In the end, the politician with his persuasive words coupled with his authority overwhelmed a betrayed Edwin who had to let go of his gun.

Ahmad’s casually picking up the gun in the end symbolized the defeat of justice over a cultural practice that upholds ‘maratabat’ at all costs and that such must prevail in these parts because it defines a peoples’ community.

 It is the complexity of the values taken up in the play through the easy dialog between the actors that offered much color and texture to Garcia’s play.

Dalawang Gabi by Maynard Manansala directed by John Michael Lagura: Jasper Cabigon and Giftsy Marie Tapic.

 From this heightened and spent passions, “Dalawang Gabi” proved a hit with students simply because Debbie, the teacher had expressed her love for her student Lester who was interested in Trisha, a younger girl, better looking and readily available to him.

The well thought out multi-media projection gave a capsulized background of the courtship between Trixie and Lester juxtaposed with Lester’s dropping by Debbie’s office. But, unlike the original script, the presentation failed to suggest a connection between Lester and Debbie that would have prepared the audience for Lester’s return to Debbie’s office after two years.   

Aizel Yoyongco, who played the saucy Debbie, put much humor in her performance above her subsequent hurt over her unrequited feelings replete with cut out letters mounted on a moveable board for Lester (played by Mark Clint Mermio). Such was a nice touch – her declaration of love was no different from teaching aids meant for a self-absorbed Lester.

“Dalawang Gabi” is a play that made the women in the audience happy over Debbie’s decision. Although she still had feelings for Lester evidenced by her kissing him back, and you bet, the audience howling here, she kept her dignity intact by choosing a different path (“I’m getting married after all I’m 40 now”) to Lester’s realization that one cannot just pick up from where he had left off with her.

Debbie may have lied to Lester but, after the passage of two years, the audience was rewarded with her inner transformation but, outer change in wardrobe to go with that change failed to match the change, the same footwear worn ‘two years ago’ was especially visible to the audience in the play’s in-the-round setting despite the effectively spare stage design.

Manansala’s feminism is most admirable and our wish is for more playwrights to write about such simple situations whose lessons audiences learn from making them more human.   

Photos by: IPAG   

Topics : IPAG  Maratabat  Dalawang Gabi  INWW  Lagura  Emborong