These are the common themes resonating in Luna Sicat’s "Dalawa" and Maynard Manansala’s "Dalawang Gabi." Adapted by The Xavier Stage for the 10th anniversary of Panaghugpong, the twin-bill production, titled “Dalawa sa Dalawang Gabi,” premiered on Friday evening, February 23, within the XU Little Theater at the Xavier Ateneo campus.
Although the twin-bill production premiered in light of the National Arts Month, as encouraged by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), both one-act plays involve narratives that are far from celebratory.
Instead, they magnify controversial issues that are rarely talked about in Philippine society, thus, provoking the viewers to think about the existence of such cases and look beyond stereotypes by understanding the characters’ ordeals.
With the faithful adaptation for each play, directed by Hobart Savior, the production becomes an educational experience and a platform for advocacy more than just being staged as an entertainment for the viewers.
Pain is a curse
It takes a late-night conversation between two best friends huddled in a room to overcome a traumatic experience and use it to one’s own advantage. This was portrayed in Sicat’s Dalawa wherein two college girls, Jiji and Rita, whose friendship has been grounded in secrets and emotional support, exchange confessions that eventually broke their bond.
In the midst of their interaction as they share their encounter with boys, Jiji, a flamboyant lady who dresses in a skimpy nightdress (played by Xavier Ateneo’s School of Business and Management faculty member Tracy Dy), returns a question to the boyish and introverted Rita (played Aicy Soriano, a social media personality for the City Information Office of the Cagayan de Oro City Government) after the latter had asked it to her best friend. When Rita confessed the truth about her virginity and the assault that she had gone through, tinged with a shocking revelation, the best friends begin to explore their identity as the night deepens, with Jiji threatening to expose Rita’s darkest secret should she fail to do what she asks.
The play orbits around abuse in matters related to sexuality. But like many works of art, this has been justified as a reflection of reality. In this case, one which is occasionally unheard, overlooked and disregarded. A minor who is sexually abused by a family member bears this trauma as a curse that will determine her personality and the choices she takes in her life. For Rita, it becomes her cross to bear. For Jiji, it weighs into an anchor for dominance.
After the fourth wall was lifted following the audience’s applause, Savior pointed out that this play serves as an advocacy to spread awareness about sexual abuse and to inform the viewers that help is within reach for anyone who has undergone a similar devastating experience, referring to the guidance office as a refuge to report trauma.
The play also warns people about the disadvantages of disclosure, as secrets can be used against the person and they can become tools for threats.
However, not all matters concerning sexuality are involved with horror. Like many themes found in drama, the sexual experience becomes romantic when it involves a mutual desire shared between two individuals, whether they belong to the same or opposite sex.
Love, contrary to how Dalawa depicts it, is never a product of force and blackmail.
Rather, the intricacies of love are explored further in Manansala’s Dalawang Gabi, which followed Sicat’s play during the premiere.
Pain is pressure
Dalawang Gabi’s comedic take on a forbidden love between a teacher and a student has evoked relief to the audience after the trauma of Sicat’s play.
When Ma’am Deborah “Debbie” Santos (played by local singer and Xavier Ateneo alumna Muriel Lomadilla) attempts to confess her feelings for her student, Lester “Les” Quizon (played by Cagayan de Oro College Hotel and Restaurant Management student Chris Angelo Monserrat), she faces disappointment when Les admits that he is in love with someone else.
But tragedy inverts after two years when Les finds out that his chance for true love has been wasted by his choice.
The play takes place in two nights, both set within the same office where Ma’am Debbie works and where Les often visits to help her check her papers (with the second one involving his request for a recommendation letter for a job years after he graduated). But a May to December love affair, as tackled in Dalawang Gabi, has often become a stereotype in society, and much worse is seen of it in the school setting between a teacher and a student.
A fraction of this play takes on the pressures of life. For Debbie, her family expects her to get married at her age – a dawning of middle-aged adulthood. But her profession, as well as people’s judgment of her weight, becomes a formidable hindrance to her interest towards Les, which had developed since the pair got to know more of each other beyond classes. On the other hand, Les is overcome by his doubt to date a woman years older than him despite the happiness they used to share before he fell for his classmate.
As a faithful adaptation, its substance veers much towards humor, complemented by witty dialogues delivered exuberantly by Lomadilla who sang Faith Hill’s “If I’m Not in Love” when the lights brightened the stage during the first part. The transition from the first night to the next was paced smoothly with the same recorded song of Hill’s version playing on the radio.
As the set design was minimal but functional for the narratives, the acting has convinced the audience, majority of which gasped after Rita’s revelation to Jiji, and applauded for Debbie’s final response to Les.
The twin-bill production is also part of this year’s Tampok Mindanao Theater Convergence, a festival that celebrates plays by theater companies and organizations based in Mindanao. It also features alternate cast under TXS. Third-year Education major Queenie Roluma, who plays Rita for another playdate, shares her experience while preparing for her role.
“I studied the script and looked into the character [of Rita],” she said in an interview prior to the premiere. “But as she experiences more pain than I did, I had to understand the reason why she felt that way.” This led her to learn more about Rita’s trauma by research and internalization.
The rest of the alternate cast include International Studies major Kissie Anne Fudolin for Jiji in Dalawa, and Xavier Ateneo senior high school students, Charyll Jauculan for Dalawang Gabi’s Debbie and Jules Pamisa as Les.
Setting a new trend for theater as an advocacy to spread awareness about issues, in reality, might be one of this twin-bill’s essential production value. With pain as common ground for the two plays, viewers may have to experience it by witnessing the characters’ lives and their tragic circumstances, which, although rarely talked about, do not only happen onstage but also in the fringes of the real world. Pain, for this matter, strikes more than once.