Some political plays just do it better than others. By it, we mean tackling historical oppression, revisionism, and revolutionary optimism in the Philippines.
That’s not to say that we can’t appreciate plays that help us make sense of Philippine revolutions for their intent alone. However, there are plays and musicals that really drive the message that we’re not out of the woods yet and how we can only achieve change through collective action.
Here’s a list of our favorite political plays and musicals. If anyone’s starting a campaign to get these restaged, sign us up.
Ateneo Entablado’s “Desaparesidos” was playwright and director Guelan Luarca’s theater-in-the-round adaptation of the Lualhati Bautista novel of the same title. It follows the lives of Anna and Roy as rebels during martial law and as a couple trying to have normal family life post-Marcos dictatorship. While searching for Anna’s daughter from a first marriage, they contend with their daughter whom they estranged during their years in the New People’s Army.
The play is not only a testimony of human rights violations but also sheds light on the complex emotional tolls lived by martial law survivors years after. Survivors such as former congressman Neri Colmenares and the late Bien Lumbera were even invited onstage after one of its shows to share their personal experiences.
“Lean, A Filipino Musical”
Remembered by a lot of people for its iconic rock version of “UP Naming Mahal,” “Lean, A Filipino Musical” was first staged in September 1997 as a tribute to the titular martyr’s 10th death anniversary.
“Lean” traces activist Lean Alejandro’s time as a University Student Council chairperson at University of the Philippines – Diliman during the height of the Marcos dictatorship. It spotlights his attempts to help bring progressive politics to Congress before he was assassinated. The musical was penned by Gary Granada and first performed by OPM icons like Chikoy Pura, Cooky Chua, Bayang Barrios, and Noel Cabangon.
It was restaged by the UP Repertory Company in 2013 with a few tweaks to its musical arrangement and added video footage to show more recent parallels. It’s one of the best portraits of the power of local student activism.
“Sa Digma ng Halimaw”
Sining Kadamay’s theater arm Tanghalang Mulong Sandoval made the documentary play “Digma ng Halimaw” by interviewing the families of War on Drugs victims. The play is composed of a series of monologues based on the transcripts from interviews with “four mothers of slain sons, a daughter whose parents were both killed on the same day, two survivors, and a social worker.”
The subjects of the play were actively involved in the mounting of the production. Its 2018 run included shows across several urban poor communities in and out of the metro.
Tanghalang Ateneo’s “Kalantiaw” has a premise based on an alleged pre-colonial document but remains very timely today. Rene O. Villanueva’s Palanca-award winning play follows a young historian’s journey that leads to his discovery of historian Jose E. Marco’s infamously disputed Code of Kalantiaw. The play’s open ending asks the audience whether they want to believe the revelation or the hoax.
You can view the full show on YouTube to see director Charles Yee’s vision. Another Tanghalang Ateneo production we love is an adaptation of Jun Cruz Reyes’s “Utos ng Hari” which tackles the suffering of Filipinos under imperialist and fascist regimes through the story of a student.
“A Game of Trolls”
Speaking of revisionism, writer Liza Magtoto and director Maribel Legarda created “A Game of Trolls” in 2016 to educate the youth about the horrors of martial law in the era of fake news on social media.
The musical is about an indifferent troll named Heck who works at a call center running an online pro-martial law campaign. Ghosts of martial law victims start haunting Heck à la “A Christmas Carol,” fearing that people will forget their stories. The encounters force Heck to reflect on his own beliefs and his relationship with his former martial law activist mom.
“The Kundiman Party”
Dulaang UP’s “The Kundiman Party” is a rousing argument for the transformative power of the kundiman and asks us how we’re incorporating politics in our everyday lives. It revolves around retired singer Maestra Adela Dolores and her circle of tita friends who find themselves being challenged by a young activist on their form of protest. While we’re not fully sold on its conclusion, it’s inspiring to see kundimans like “Bituing Marikit” and “Madaling Araw” be used as tools for subversion.
Another Floy Quintos favorite of ours is “And St. Louis loves dem Filipinos” (which also has a musical version). It follows an American boy who catches drama unfolding between husband and wife Momayon and Datu Bulan while they’re on a ship towards the infamous 1904 St. Louis World Exposition where Indigenous Filipinos were paraded at a human zoo.