The Inbox

By Marilyn Mana-ay Robles,VERA Files

What biting wit!

Such is Walang Sugat, a sarswela written by the father of Tagalog sarswela, Severino Reyes, popularly known as Lola Basyang.   Walang Sugat was written in 1898 and first staged in 1902.  The play was considered subversive during the early years of American colonization.

The story line is very much relevant to this day.

A sarswela is a play which employs song, dance and poetry.   For many years, this genre was used by Filipinos to express their conflicts of the heart, political fervor and resentment towards a domineering foreign colonizer.  However, the advent of modern stage plays relegated sarswelas to the sidelines.   In the late '60s the sarswela Walang Sugat was revived and the writing of modern sarswelas was encouraged by the Zarzuela Foundation of the Philippines through a modern sarswela playwriting contest .

Walang Sugat is a love story woven within a love story.  It is the story about forbidden love, the love between a lovely and privileged lass Julia and a dashing young man from the proletariat named Tenyong. It is also the story of Tenyong's awakening towards his dormant love for his country which was then suffering from oppression by Spanish friars.  Tenyong sacrifices his love for Julia and joins the revolutionary force to topple the Spanish colonizers.  Believed to have died in battle Tenyong surprises everyone as he arrives at Julia's wedding, seriously wounded. He asks the officiating priest that he be wed with Julia as his dying wish.  All those present agreed and the priest proceeds to wed the sweethearts.  As soon as they were pronounced man and wife, Tenyong stands from the wooden sled where he was positioned, removes the bandages from his body while people gasped and cried out "Walang sugat!(Not wounded)".

Tenyong has outwitted everyone, including his love, Julia. The festivity continued. But such a happy scene soon changed when another flag, that of another colonizer, covered the landscape.  The Americans had arrived. The struggle continues.

The entire ensemble gathered on stage and sang with passion Bayan Ko, a song originally written as a poem to express opposition towards American occupation.  It was a dramatic and moving sight. Bayan Ko is considered, unofficially, the second national anthem of the Philippines.  It was first sung in 1928. It was used in Walang Sugat in the 1970 production directed by Daisy Avellana.

Cris Villonco as Julia and Noel Rayos as Tenyong are excellent stage actors. This is so because they are veterans in their own right.  They essayed their roles to the hilt. At the end of the play, their faces even transformed into poised and matured individuals reflecting the purity and beauty of the characters they played.

But it is the singing of Bayan Ko that pierces the heart and envelopes the soul.  Bayan Ko can and should rouse even the callous and apathetic.  As the song reverberated in a theater full of young students, a number coming from De La Salle Canlubang, some attendees, graduates of the First Quarter Storm could not help but recall the instance when they participated in demonstrations to denounce the abuse and exploitation of the country by a dictator.   One was seen raising a clenched fist. Deception continues. Some done by foreigners.  But often times by Filipinos themselves.  There seems to be no end to the pillage of Filipino ingenuity and resources.

Carlitos Siguion-Reyna deserves commendation for his excellent handling of a sensitive theme.  He established the conflicts, relationships and emotional beats of the characters clearly.  Even the play of lights was carefully executed.  The costumes were simple but telling of the Spanish era. The Actors' Company provided admirable support to the main cast.

A stage play ends only when the curtain is drawn. Otherwise, the scenes unfold one after the other, second after second; minute after minute. It is difficult to weave a love story within a love story especially when both stories involve the expression of intense emotion.  As his debut to the world of theater, Mr. Siguion-Reyna displayed sensitivity to even the slightest nuances of the story.

Walang Sugat opens Tanghalang Pilipino's 26th season under the theme "Truth and Consequence." Remaining performances  are on August 24, 25 and 26. On the 24 and 25th, there will be two shows; at 3:00 p.m. and 8 p.m.  On August 26, Sunday, the first show is at 10 a.m. The second at 3:00 p.m.

It is wise to rekindle lost patriotism once in a while.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")