Arts and Culture

Joy de Castro is the controversial ‘Ina ni Aguinaldo’

- Llita T. Logarta -
Strong women with spines of steel are a specialty with stage actress Joy Soler de Castro, who likes nothing better than a juicy role she can sink her teeth in. Her latest, Doña Trinidad Famy-Aguinaldo, mother of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the Philippine Republic of 1898, is one.

Trinidad is one of the leading characters of Tanghalang Pilipino’s new historical musical entitled Ang Pagpatay kay Luna, written by multi-awarded playwright-historian Paul Dumol with music by Jesse Lucas. Ongoing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalan Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater) for the remaining weekends of February, the play details the machinations behind the scenes of Luna’s enemies to eliminate him politically and physically, for what they perceive as his overweening ambition and destructive actuations in the struggle for Filipino nationhood.

The play shows Doña Trinidad to be among those enemies. She is portrayed as an overprotective mother, convinced both by the arguments of Pedro Paterno, head of Aguinaldo’s Cabinet, and Cabinet member Felipe Buencamino, and by Luna’s own violent actions, that the latter is a threat not just to the presidency of her son but to his life. Joy plays her as a grim presence onstage, watching, listening, seldom speaking, but when she does, it is with intensity and meaning. In one major aria she pours forth her spite and anger against Luna, using powerful words. Joy sings-growls this song, projecting the image of a she-wolf protecting her threatened young cub.

Says Joy of her role, "I was intrigued by the character of Doña Trinidad, one reason I accepted the invitation of TP artistic director Nonon Padilla to join the cast. Aguinaldo’s mother was the most influential person in his life, counselling him not only in personal matters but in affairs of the State. And she is documented to have been present at the Cabanatuan convent when Luna was killed. She has this line, while Luna lies on the convent floor dying from 39 bolo and gunshot wounds inflicted by Aguinaldo’s presidential guards, ‘Ano ba? Nagalaw pa ba yan?’"

Dumol says his play follows closely a biography of Luna, published circa 1935, by Juan Villamor, who investigated Luna’s death in the ’20s. Villamor, in his book, blames Aguinaldo and Pedro Paterno for Luna’s death. Another source of Dumol was Vivencio R. Jose’s The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna, which interprets Luna’s death as the result of the fight between autonomistas, like Paterno, and independistas, like Luna. Dumol also painstakingly researched such tomes as John R. M. Taylor‘s five-volume The Philippine Insurrection against the United States and La Senda del Sacrificio by Jose Alejandrino.

Joy seems the perfect choice for the role of Doña Trinidad. She has been a familiar and prominent face in theater since 1967, when she joined the original Kalinangan Ensemble members of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). Her pursuit of a career in government service forced a hiatus in her acting career until 1985, when she played a feisty social climber of a wife in Biyaheng Timog, directed by Nonon Padilla. Since then, she ventured onstage only when the role was specially challenging and the artistic staff noteworthy.

She has had practice in performing strong women roles. In real life, Joy had to steel her own spine when her husband, director and critic Pio de Castro, suffered a third massive stroke that made him progressively vegetative. Faced with the responsibility of his care, she resigned from her high-profile job in tourism to set up Events Plus, an events management company. For seven years, Joy worked hard to build up the company, while at the same time lavishing her time and energy looking after Pio’s needs. Widowed a year ago, Joy is only now beginning to allow herself to unbend. "I suddenly realized only a few months ago that I am now alone and that the center of my world is gone," she muses. "It made me wonder: What else is the purpose of my life? Events Plus is niched as a specialist in larger-than-life events and my staff are among the best-trained in the business. I have no children. Do I still have to work this hard just to provide for myself? So I decided to take a year off to indulge in things I never got around to doing, like taking voice lessons, learning to cook, renovating the house. That’s another reason I accepted this role in Luna."

She hasn’t done a musical, she says, since her college days in St. Paul. "I’d always been told I could sing very well. But sometime in college, there was this one nun who, after I turned down a role in a musical, told me in pique, ‘You can’t really sing!’ I was so traumatized that I stopped singing onstage. Even now, I break out in a sweat each time I am asked to sing before a crowd. And then also, my late husband, the one whose opinion mattered the most to me, never ever told me that I sang well. Neither did he say I did not. So I lost all my confidence – although I managed to sing the demo of the song for the movie Soltero, which Basil Valdez later popularized as the film’s theme song. Now that I’m on my own, I decided it’s time I resolved this fear of singing in public."

Sharing the spotlight with Joy are Noni Buencamino and Eladio Pamaran, alternating as Gen. Antonio Luna, Miguel Vera as Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Ding Mercado as Pedro Paterno and Roeder as Felipe Buencamino. Direction is by Nonon Padilla, choreography by Agnes Locsin, production design by Salvador Bernal. Ang Pagpatay Kay Luna continues its run on the third and fourth weekends of February. Friday shows are at 8 p.m. on Feb. 15 and 22, with 2:30 p.m. matinee shows on Feb. 16, 17, 23 and 24. For ticket reservations, call 832-36-61. Tickets are also available at the gate and at all Ticketworld outlets, with tel. nos. 891-56-10 or 891-57-43.











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