Ateneo’s Dulaang Sibol / lonesco play at FEU

When I started reviewing the performing arts, I wrote up many stage presentations of "Dulaang Sibol", the high school theater company of Ateneo founded and directed by Onofre Pagsanghan. His description of the group – here reproduced – came late, having been sent to the STAR office:

This year, Dulaang Sibol celebrates its 50th Anniversary, making it one of the oldest extant drama groups in the Philippines.

An old theater program dated 25 February 1955 heralds its inception as the Ateneo High School Dramatics Society. Soon it was drawing crowds with its steady stream of Shakespearean plays from Macbeth to Hamlet. Then from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

In 1966, with its first production of Filipino plays, the group gave itself a new name – Dulaang Sibol.

With the new name came new ventures. First translations, then "transplantations". Thus, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town emerged as Doon Po Sa Amin; J.M. Barrie’s Dear Brutus morphed as Wala Sa Ating Mga Bituin.

The year 1967 spawned our Paligsahang Pandulaan. We dared our high school students to write and produce their own plays. The challenge spurred the 16-year-old Paul Dumol to soar with his Ang Puting Timamanukin and to sear with his Ang Paglilitis Ni Mang Serapio. Days after the first "paligsahan", newspaper critics were hailing the winning plays as "a major breakthrough in the development of our national language."

If the young can write plays that can move critics to sit up and take notice, perhaps they can write songs that a nation will sing. Thus was born our Timpalak Awit in 1975. Four years later, a first year high school student wrote a song that would later be hailed as the best original Filipino composition of that year. The song – "Hindi Kita Malilimutan". The 14-year-old composer then is now the seasoned songwriter, Fr. Manoling Francisco, S.J.

In 1976, after 20 years of staging our plays in converted classrooms and borrowed halls, in slum clearings and convent parlors, the Ateneo gifted us with a theater home, small and intimate with 156 precious seats. We are grateful.

And this year, after an unbroken series of productions for 50 years, we celebrate our golden anniversary with Ani, a harvest of some six productions crowned by a Sibol-grown musical, Adarna.

Fifty years old and still, Dulaang Sibol is, in the words of Fr. Miguel Bernad S.J. "a theater forever young". And in many aspects, the description is apt. Sibolistas are high school students, as young as 12 and no older than 18.

Still Dulaang Sibol is high school theater with a difference. National Artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco describes it as "high school theater with a professional polish". Critic Bien Lumbera labels it as "a seminal force in the development of Philippine playwriting."

Dulaang Sibol is theater of the young, for the young and the young at heart.

It is a seedbed for Philippine theater, sprouting sprigs green with promise. It evokes the star-ward thrust of the Alpha, more than the full flowering of the Omega.

It is a brave beginning that can sometimes startle and stun, as only the young can – with that exciting brew of idealism and naivete, served with a daring dash of passionate vulnerability and the fumbling exuberance of birdlings in their first flight.

Come, celebrate with us!

Ibong Adarna is on its last day today, 8:30 p.m., Dulaang Sibol, Ateneo High School, Loyola Heights, QC.

About Adarna:

Ibong Adarna is one of the best loved Filipino folktales. It is about a kingdom that is dying because the king is deathly ill and only the song of the magic bird, the Adarna, can heal him and his kingdom.

Three sons go on a search for the magic bird; but only the youngest, who is selfless and is willing to sacrifice beyond the point of pain succeeds in bringing the cure.

The folktale is a beautiful allegory for lifting up nations mired in selfishness and greed.

The final stanza of the "korido’ styled verse captures the thrust of this Sibol musical:

"Ang Adarnang nakalipad,

Kung tunay mong hinahangad,

Sa duguan mong bukas-palad

Doon siya mamumugad."

The Adarna that has flown away,

If you truly want him back,

Only in your bleeding open hand

Can he find a home and nest."

About the Sibol production:

The libretto and the music of Adarna are the fruits of the team efforts of Sibolitas. Most of the set costumes and props are hand-crafted by Sibolistas too.

The folktale is told from the vantage point of fisherfolk. Thus the costumes and props are stylized bamboo poles and fishnets, "sagwan" and "salakab", "buslo" and "dikin" – familiar objects in fisherfolk’s village kingdoms.

"Halina’t sumama

Sa Kahariang Berbanya,

Magpusong-bata muli ka

Sa lupaing engkantada."

[Come, journey with us

To the Kingdom of Berbania

Once more be a child at heart

In the land of enchantment.]
* * *
Eugene Ionesco did not coin "Theater of the Absurd"; the critics did. But the term does apply to his stage creations as it does to those of Beckett, Genet and a few others because, as they argue, existence is absurd.

Ionesco’s play "The Bald Soprano" is a perfect example of absurdity. Characters come and go without apparent logic. The dialogue is absurd; the situations are equally so.

Theater of the Absurd is described as the "introspective drama of fantasy in which the author sees man as a puppet crushed by fate, destiny, death, and whose only possible rebellion is the cry of despair."

In adapting and translating Ionesco’s play which he re-names Ang Tatay Kong Kalbo, Isagani R. Cruz, himself an eminent playwright, retains its absurdity. Its three couples – one couple appearing after another – all mouth non sequiturs. While keeping the spirit and substance of the theater piece, Cruz occasionally saunters off on his own to render it relevant to the Philippine situation.

For instance, when the characters speak of priests, and of the non-conformist line they take, Cruz introduces a figure who obviously impersonates the activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes. Appearing in shorts, he jogs in front of viewers.

Collaboration between Cruz and director Frank Rivera of Kambayoka fame, was brilliant and innovative. Rivera’s exaggeratedly conceived movement, broad and stylized was likewise totally absurd – and amusing. In keeping with the absurdity, the characters engaged in a bit of vaudeville (Ionesco confessed he had a fondness for vaudeville), burlesque and even acrobatics.

The seductive cook, who is paired with the fireman, gave an outlandish example of exaggeration, driving the audience to gales of laughter. The rest of the FEU Theater Guild cast went through their roles with the same infectious zest, energy and vitality. All appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as the viewers.

The play was staged four times at the FEU auditorium expressly for the students whose educational program includes regular exposure to theater, music and dance presentations. The performance was under the auspices of the President’s Committee on Culture headed by executive director Dr. Rustica Carpio.

On Jan. 18 and 19, 2006, the musical "Anastasia" will be staged at the FEU auditorium under the direction of MassCom graduate and promising playwright-director Zenaia Sen Millo.











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