A mansyon-ful of memories

Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco - The Philippine Star
A mansyon-ful of memories
The Ruins Ancestral Home in Talisay, Negros Occidental. Author Dot Gancayco (fourth from right) with her fellow officers in the Association of Congressional Chiefs of Staff. From left: Tuts Corral, Marvin Segura, Noreen Gonzaga and husband Lloyd Gonzaga, Eric Silva, Patrixia Santos, Mon Peralta and Kelly Savellano. Known variously as the ‘Taj Mahal of Talisay,’ ‘Taj Mahal of Negros’ and ‘Taj Mahal of the Philippines,’ The Ruins is the remains of the ancestral home mansion of the family of Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson and Maria Braga Lacson.

MANILA, Philippines — I spent my early childhood with my maternal grandmother in an antique house that was transported part by part from Ilocos to Kamuning, Quezon City. I could still picture the grand, chocolate-colored furniture dotted with crocheted doilies my grandma herself painstakingly made; hear the creaking sounds of the old wooden stairs; feel the smooth silky lines of the narra bannisters; and experience the blast of cold air as my lola opens the shell windows by the ornately-grilled window panes. Memories of living in our heritage house came flooding my mind like never before as I watched the one-night showing of Mansyon — an exquisite original Filipino musical with a golden cast, a lovely story, beautiful music and valuable lessons on promoting and preserving our heritage and culture as Filipinos.

Aptly shown at the “deteriorating-but-needs-to-be-preserved” Abelardo Hall in my alma mater, the University of the Philippines, the story of Mansyon, Isang Musikal by Leon Mayo revolves around five central characters: the aging grandfather who was painfully dogged by what he should and could do with the much-treasured-but-about-to-be-foreclosed ancestral mansion which he wanted to pass on to his granddaughter; the young balikbayan granddaughter who desired an independent life in the US and was torn between following her heart and obeying her grandfather who insisted that she marry the son of a rich businessman to solve the family’s financial woes and eventually enable them to keep the family mansion; the old, trusted priest, who, because of his close ties with the family, was the perfect spiritual counselor for the clashing lolo and apo; the loyal family maid, who by a sudden twist of events, is revealed as an illegitimate heir; and the granddaughter’s boyfriend who, in spite of feeling unwelcome at first, stuck it out with her and provided the solution to the focal issue — what to do with the “much-loved-but-debt-ridden” ancestral house in the midst of a modernizing community that wanted to tear it down.

Other supporting but vital characters were the rich businessman who wooed the lolo and apo for their strategically-located properties; his son who would have been the ideal bait to merge the two families; the two household helps who turned up to be having an amorous affair; and the ancestors’ ghosts who each had his/her own story to tell.

Although there were many technical constraints, the actors were all extremely good and well-prepared for a one-night show. I did not expect the elaborate choreography, the meticulously-crafted sets, nor the remarkable musical arrangements. The use of ancient portraits coming to life was engaging as a technique for making the audience know the history of the family and effective as a tool for reinforcing and understanding the grandfather’s resolve to preserve the ancestral home.

Ina Salonga, who played the granddaughter, awed me with her natural acting and pure crystal voice. She had fantastic chemistry with both her balikbayan boyfriend (played by Kevin Posadas whose fake American accent I loved) and the swaggering businessman-suitor (performed by Vien Allen King whose haughtiness and exaggerated narcissism the audience found endearing). These two men were my personal favorites because of their remarkable stage presence and impressive comedic acting. The apo’s mother played by Christine Joy Mangahis was enigmatic on stage. My eyes followed her all those very few times that her ghost popped out of the picture frame. The lolo  (Brylle Mondejar) and the priest (Greg de Leon) acted well their difficult parts. Being the loyal maid was perfect for Melanie Dujunco. I only wish she was given more time to react to the life-altering and earth-shaking piece of news that she got near the end. 

The songs were beautiful and it is a wonder how such delightful music could have come out of the composer/writer Leon, who is neither a professional writer nor a trained musician, but a practicing architect. Kudos to musical director Lawrence Jatayna who, with his marvelous voice, I believe, should also be a member of the cast. Mansyon, after all, is a musical that requires excellent singers and not just good actors.



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