Starweek Magazine

Anatomiya in Bacolod

- Michele T. Logarta -
Legendary film director Peque Gallaga takes his craft to the stage in an experiment in theater that is the Ilonggo version of Malou Jacob’s ground-breaking play, Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon. The Cultural Center’s pioneering effort in touring this play has regional theater groups staging local translations, a novel but very successful outreach program that is part of the Center’s Arts for the People Program.

It’s the end of the school day at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City, but the students aren’t heading home just yet. Slowly they gravitate towards the school’s Gallaga Theater, named after Bacolod’s celebrated son, film director Peque. And today, he is as much the star of the show as the play he is directing.

Before the show begins, Peque goes onstage. Introductions to plays aren’t usually done, says Peque, but this is an exception: this is an experiment of sorts, he says. "When the CCP decided to support the President’s campaign against corruption, it did it in an inventive and useful way. They got Malou Jacob’s play. It’s a wonderful play. The CCP asked different artists from the different regions to translate it from Filipino to Ilonggo, Cebuano, Ilocano and to present it to places that mattered all over the Philippines. I think something like this works so much more effectively than lecturing to people and reminding them about what they should do."

Last February 26, the Maskara Theatre Ensemble staged a preview of the play for a select audience before going on tour from March 25 to April 5 in Silay City in Negros Occ., Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz and Antique. Maskara is one of the three theater groups featured in the Anatomiya Ng Korupsiyon Sa Rehiyon, a performance tour under the auspices of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Outreach Program with the support of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon sa Rehiyon
also features three other local theater groups: Tropang Paltok Inc. of Baguio will present and tour the Iluko version of the play in La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija and Isabela in April; the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation Inc. of Malolos, Bulacan which is doing the play in Balagtasan form, will go on tour Quezon, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Bataan and Zambales in May; and Davao-based Kaliwat Theater Collective which is mounting the play in Cebuano, is likewise touring the production in selected sites in Mindanao in August.

Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon sa Rehiyon
is part of CCP’s effort to help in the fight against government corruption. Anatomiya is the story of Cely, a lawyer who is newly employed at the family court. She finds out that some of her co-workers are on the take. She refuses to play the game and becomes an outcast in her office. In the end, she faces the dilemma of resigning or staying on. Anatomiya is a satire mirroring the petty everyday foibles in a government agency. First performed in 1991 by Tanghalang Pilipino, it was again done by TP last year and toured in different government agencies as part of the CCP’s Arts for the People Program, a cultural development program designed to bring the arts closer to the people.

"We are very sensitive in the province about the role of CCP as the bestower of gifts, money and grace," says Peque. "So it is wonderful that the CCP is putting its trust in the regional artists, on their counterparts everywhere else to do this play. I think this play is worth doing. It is not only a piece of art in terms of theater and literature. It’s also a confrontation, a piece of community interaction and it has gone way beyond my expectations."

The response to a call for artists to come and work for the play, reveals Peque, has been astounding. "I was just complaining a month ago that nobody has time for theater anymore…but so many people have come to me and said they want to be a part of this."

Peque, an alumnus of La Salle College Class of 65 and 1979 St. La Salle Awardee, is artist-in-residence of the University of St. La Salle, a title that was bestowed on him in the year 2000 by the University for his "exemplary commitment to serve his Alma Mater and contribute to the development of cultural and performing arts ."

What does the job artist-in-residence entail? "Well, they pay you to be an artist. It’s like an endowment so that you have a steady income in order for you to be able to pursue your art. At the same time, you can’t be selfish about it and you have to pay back also. I teach, and more importantly, I think, now, I lend my celebrityhood to a lot of community things. I go to a place. I sit down with people. I look at their work and I help. The fact that you’re a celebrity and you went there and worked with them gives them a sense of importance. I use my celebrityhood to validate people’s experiences and experiments."

He’s also been in a state of semi-retirement from showbiz, or so the papers say. But, Peque states, he never left showbiz. In fact, he just got back from Manila where he just did a cameo role as a goon opposite co-director and co-goon Celso Ad Castillo.

His epic film Oro, Plata, Mata was recently shown in Manila in celebration of its twentieth anniversary. The multi-awarded Oro, Plata, Mata was the film that made his name a directorial force to reckon with. Of course, people will not forget his Scorpio Nights, controversial for the sex-every-minute that filled the screen for a good two hours, and his Shake, Rattle and Roll horror series.

"I didn’t leave showbiz. I became more choosy. At the same time, I discharged my batteries somewhere along the way. I would go to theater and wala akong vitality. Wala akong inspiration. It was difficult for me. But lately, parang na-recharge ako. I don’t know how, I don’t know where," Peque tries to explain.

Life in Bacolod is definitely a world apart from the Manila showbiz world. His trademark dark tresses are now a salt-and pepper grey, with a tidy waist-long queue down his back giving a twist to his closely-cropped hair. It has been three years since he last directed a movie, but he has been occupied writing scripts. Is there going to be a sequel to Oro, Plata, Mata–the film which has been described as the Philippines’ answer to Gone with the Wind and likened to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now? Not exactly, Peque reveals. He has a script to the "plata" part of the movie, but when moviegoers will get to see it is a question that has no answer at the moment.

Peque’s been doing a lot of theater work in Bacolod. With the Maskara Theatre Ensemble, he recently did Original Grace by Dr. Elsie Cosculluela. "Elsie did the Ilonggo translation of Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon. You know, when you do the play in the vernacular, the play comes alive. The brain is not an interpreter. It goes directly to the heart."

We have done all kinds of plays, from traditional to satire to western plays and Filipino plays. We’re very strong on Ilonggo plays," Peque says about Maskara. Although he is the acknowledged founder of this 30-year-old company, Peque clarifies that he is just the most "dramatic" founder. By "dramatic", Peque refers to his celebrityhood, for certainly he is regarded by everyone in Bacolod–and specially in the USLS campus–as an icon. "But the truth is– before me there was Brother Alexis Gonzalez. I just continued it and stayed with them a long time," he insists. By the way, it was Brother Alexis who had the theater in USLS named after Peque.

The theater scene in Bacolod, Peque asserts, is very much alive. "It’s always been strong," he says, and is quick to add, "and we don’t have anything do with Manila." He and the members of Maskara Theatre Ensemble are all excited about taking Anatomiya out to the neighboring provinces. They might also be taking the play to other towns in Negros Occidental, places like Pontevedra, Kabangkalan, San Carlos City and possibly La Carlota. Maskara Theatre Ensemble, says Peque, has a tradition of touring. Something again that Brother Alexis started. "Brother Alexis believed that touring challenges the actors to go beyond boredom and beyond repetition. I believe this too."

The Anatomiya tour, Peque hopes, will change people’s lives. "I know plays can change people’s lives. I have seen it," says Peque, recalling a story told to him by award winning auteur Nick De Ocampo. "Nick told me he had seen us in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, one of the best plays we ever did. He said to me: ‘I walked home to Jaro for an hour and half because I wanted to process everything that I had seen. That changed my life and that’s why I’m in the movies now.’ That’s not the first time I heard something like that said about that same play. It was, as we say here, tigas or ang galing! In that same way, I think Anatomiya is going to change peoples’ lives."

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