From Fathers and Sons to Mga Ama, Mga Anak
LIVE FEED - Bibsy M. Carballo (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2014 - 12:00am

If a choice would have to be made as to the best play ever written by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, his Fathers and Sons would be a probable winner. It is, however, also one of the most difficult to understand or even appreciate. It is a study of character, of what makes a person what he is today, for the audience to understand best.

On the surface, the three-act play Mga Ama, Mga Anak would appear simply as the story of an old man who must cling to past memories to save his dignity. This man known as Zacarias Monzon is a self-made man who by dint of hard work rose to the top of the carretela (horse-drawn vehicle) trade until he became known by the title of “Carretela King.” Like many others in his seat of glory, Zacarias chose to wallow in wealth, completely forgetting that time would catch up on him.

The play opens with Zacarias (Spanky Manikan) close to senility, his illnesses taking toll on his body; wheelchair-bound which further adds to his bad nature. He lives in a gigantic century-old Spanish mansion that has seen better days. All its accoutrements have been carted away as payment for the many debts brought about by an expensive lifestyle. He lives in the past, accompanied only by a devoted daughter Nena Monzon (Banaue Miclat), and a young caregiver Bessie (Cris Villonco) who knows exactly how to put him in the mood. She kisses him, caresses him and provides him with all the attention he has been searching for. After which Nena serves him his meal, and Bessie puts him to bed.

Hardly anyone visits the mansion, until one day, Zacarias’ son Celo Monzon (Nanding Josef) visits, with wife Sofia Monzon (Jackielou Blanco) and their son Chitong Monzon (Marco Viana), who wants to be a priest. Zacarias goes into a rage. Apparently a long-standing issue between father and son has never been resolved where Zacarias would punish Celo with a horsewhip. Oblivious to the situation, Sofia woos her father-in-law with Ginebra and memories of the olden times, and her son Chitong takes her side. Celo is surprised, demands that “the prostitute” Bessie leave the house. Zacarias’ illness worsens. Bessie is called back by Chitong until the old man dies peacefully in her arms.

It would have been a wonderful situation had Mga Ama, Mga Anak been produced some 30 to 40 years ago. During that time, director Joel Lamangan recalls having appeared in the very same play in a bit role in the finale, directed by Lino Brocka. Today, one has to contend with snickers from the audience, and loud bursts of laughter at Zacarias’ behavior, when they should be weeping at his tragedy. The situation facing the character of Spanky is the same one facing Joaquin, had he lived longer and witnessed the tyranny of social media over reality.

It is fortunate for director Joel that his cast is dedicated and made up of exceptional actors. It is not only difficult to portray characters from an era gone by, but to make them appear believable as one’s next-door neighbor is an even more daunting task.

At the end of the play, we are met by Spanky and director Joel who ask if we liked the play. How can we possibly answer in a few sentences what should take an entire generation to uncover?

Watch the play Mga Ama, Mga Anak at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, CCP, with last performance on March 9. Others who perform as alternates are Robert Arevalo as Zacarias, Celeste Legaspi, Madelyn Nicolas, Peewee O’Hara, Jonathan Tadioan, Nicolo Magno, Racquel Pareño, Doray Dayao and Lhorvie Ann Nuevo. We hope to watch them before the show ends.

(E-mail your comments to or text us at 0917-8991835.)

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