MANILA, Philippines - The great Filipino writer Nicomedes “Nick” Marquez Joaquin celebrates his centenary this year, and to commemorate this milestone, it is fitting to remember his unforgettable heroines on this month reserved for women. His portraits of the Filipina torn between subservience and superciliousness are legends of their own. Who can forget his women — feisty and fragile, devilish and demure, arrogant and amiable — as in Candida and Paula, the embattled sisters of his Portrait of the Artist as Filipino?
Rustica “Rusty” Carpio is proud of the distinction of having played both these coveted Joaquin characters and admits to loving them all. Rusty (multi-awarded academician who obtained her PhD in Literature with highest honors at the UST Graduate School, performing artist of stage-television and film, writer, director, UNESCO fellow in Dramatic Arts at the National School of Drama and Asian Theatre Institute in India, dubbed as Doris Day of the Philippines and heroine of the Korean war as the youngest member and singer of the First Filipino Entertainment Troupe in war-torn Korea in 1951), remembers these women fondly, as they helped make her mark as thespian par excellence.
Her first encounter with Nick Joaquin’s Portrait was in 1968 during a staged reading by the Barangay Theatre Guild at the Philippine Columbian, directed by the film-stage director Lamberto Avellana, who founded this ensemble with wife Daisy Hontiveros. The original cast for Paula (Dolly Benavides) broke her leg, and Rusty was asked to do Paula without rehearsal. “It was a most welcome moment in my life, as Nick was a good friend who called me darling as far back as the ’60s,” she recalls with a smile.
The second stint to be Paula was with the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School Academic Theatre (USTGSAT), founded by Rev. Fr. Jose Antonio Aureada, OP, then dean. It was Fr. Tony who handpicked her to play Paula, and also requested her to conduct a workshop for the guild’s members for two Sundays, with UST faculty members like Dr. Irma Bustamente, Dr. Grace dela Calzada, Dr. Belen Lorezca-Tangco, Dr. Augusto Aguila and the late Dr. Milagros Tanlayco. In 1998, the group staged the Joaquin classic at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), sans technical rehearsal because of a bomb threat. “Nobody could hold a candle to Fr. Tony as far as fast memorization of lines was concerned,” Rusty affirms.
She also directed the play at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) where she founded Dulaang Pamantasan with a mixed cast of faculty members and students. It was during this time that they discovered Ray Malonzo, who was already making a name in Karate films, and who would later enter politics.
In December 2006, Rusty was chosen to be Candida in a one-woman show in Beijing and Xiamen, China by then president of the Cultural Planners of the Philippines (CPP), Prof. Zenas Reyes Lozada in observance of the 31st anniversary of the Philippine-China Diplomatic Relations. This was CPP’s joint undertaking with the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, The Chinese Ministry of Culture, The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, The Philippine Embassy in Beijing and the Far Eastern University. The one-act monologue which Rusty adapted, directed and performed in was attended by officials of China and the Philippines, and their faculty and students.
In 1993, Bienvenido Lumbera’s translation of Portrait, titled Larawan was staged at the CCP by its theater wing, Tanghalang Pilipino, with director Nonon Padilla. This time, Rusty played the part of Doña Loleng, with Celeste Legaspi as Candida and Noemi Manikan-Gomez as Paula. It had a long run with matinees and evening performances and was recorded for posterity by CCP but Rusty was not able to participate as she had to attend the International Women’s Theatre Conference in Tokyo, and her part went to Mads Nicolas.
As National Artist, Joaquin worked for intellectual freedom in society, an advocacy which alienated him from the Marcos regime. Dr. Rustica Carpio, honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Entertainment Press, has been tirelessly pushing for the same freedom, in particular for women. The writer and the actress sealed their pact in a canonical drama hinged on the fusion of the old and the new in the Filipino identity.