Chic San Agustin-De Guzman plays Anna, a.k.a. Ka Leila, who entrusts her child to the wife of a fellow comrade as the camp where she resides is about to be raided by the military.
‘Desaparesidos’: Surfacing the body of our struggle
SUBLIMINAL - Carlomar Arcangel Daoana (The Philippine Star) - August 27, 2018 - 12:00am

‘Desaparesidos’ could not have been more appropriate; it puts front and center the savagery of state forces as well as the slow degradation of historical memory abetted by the revisionist few.

At the center of the theater is an elevated platform where boxes are located containing the odds and ends of lives of the characters who, throughout the entire duration of the play, will sit with the audience. It’s a subtle move to blur the line between the stage and the real life. After all, the desaparesidos (the disappeared), the subject of the play that lends its title, may or may not be moving among the living. Without the proof of a body, they remain unaccounted for.

Based on the novel of Lualhati Bautista (Bata Bata Paaano Ka Ginawa?, Dekada ’70) whose dramaturgy is penned by Joel Saracho, Desaparesidos is a telescopic investigation of a tight cluster of individuals who have devoted and sacrificed their lives to the revolutionary cause. They have lost loved ones, captured by government forces, and rejoined the mainstream, bearing the wounds and traumas of their past. Guelan Varela-Luarca, the director of the play, intertwines the weight of history with the claims of the personal. In this play, these two magnify each other, so much so that what the audience encounters is a history with a body and a body with a history.

At the center of this maelstrom is Anna, a.k.a. Ka Leila (Chic San Agustin-De Guzman) who, having lost her husband to the hands of the military, becomes more emboldened to propagate the revolutionary cause. Fearing that their camp will be raided next, she leaves behind her newborn daughter to the care of Karla (Teetin Villanueva), the wife of another comrade, Ka Jinky (Brian Arda). When Karla mentions to Ka Leila that she intends to name her child Malaya, the fates of these two children are inextricably linked. (The struggle for freedom is the tenuous thread that runs throughout the play: snapped, snagged, unraveled, but still unspooling as the next generation contends with the legacy of their parents who have been part of the people’s army.) 

When the village of Karla has been razed to the ground, Ka Leila and Ka Jinky leave their camp to search for their child and pregnant wife, respectively. It is at this point that the play achieves its moment of crisis, setting in motion a chain of events that will eventually lead to the capture of Ka Leila and the head of their unit, Ka Roy (Brian Sy) — a no-nonsense leader who is methodical in his strategies and never lets emotions get in the way. 

Captured by the military, the characters played by Brian Sy (Roy) and Jerome Dawis (Lito) reckon with their fate in one of the pivotal scenes of Desaparesidos. Photos courtesy of Roxan Cuacoy and Jaypee Maristaza

Based on the recollection of actual detainees, the separate torture of Ka Leila and Ka Roy unfolds, and we see the care with which Luerca renders it without losing the urgency of the violence. De Guzman and Sy physicalize the pain and suffering in wailing, coruscating energy. A vehicle of witness, Desaparesidos does not look away.

Along with the actions transpiring on the stage, whose design is conceptualized by Charles Yee, Luarca has interwoven into the play snippets from the martial law era (chiefly, the scenes of the children of the dictator partying, with nary a care in the world) to underscore the factual basis of the play. Voices — disembodied in some cases, full-throated in some — weave in and out of the dark theater, punctuated by gunfire and smoke, fully engaging the ear. Most of what we know of this period, after all, comes from testimonies constituting a veritable oral tradition, recorded for posterity and against forgetting.

Featuring a tight ensemble, most of the actors play multiple rules, but there is no mistaking which side they are on. Once they assume their identity, whose implements are located in the boxes they carry, they shift from government forces to revolutionary comrades, and vice versa. In this choice of a limited cast, the pared-down aesthetic of the play becomes more pronounced.

Produced by Jenny Jamora, Renante Bustamante and Kalil Almonte, the timing of Desaparesidos could not have been more appropriate; it puts front and center the savagery of state forces as well as the slow degradation of historical memory abetted by the revisionist few. Recently, the dictator’s daughter admonishes the nation to move on, devoid of any tone of repentance and commitment to justice. The only difference between then and now is that the bodies are displayed in full view, as a warning to others. While the demographic may have changed (the so-called nanlaban drug addicts), a war continues to rage on, and it’s a war against the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised. Desaparesidos surfaces the body of our perpetual struggle.

*   *   *

Desaparesidos will run until Sept. 2 at the Doreen Black Box Theater, Areté, Ateneo de Manila University. For ticket inquiries and reservations, call Kalil Almonte at 0917-3278613 or Camille Guevara at 0917-8239531.

DESAPARESIDOS LUALHATI BAUTISTA STRUGGLE
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