Healing Wounds Through ‘Walang Sugat’

MANILA, Philippines - To open its 26th season, Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) presents a revitalized version of the subversive musical written by controversial writer Severino Reyes during the American colony between 1898 and 1946.

The resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) taps into the genius of director Carlos Siguion-Reyna to take the helm in the production of ''Walang Sugat,'' a sarswela about the love between Julia (to played by Cris Villonco) and Tenyong (alternately portrayed by Noel Rayos and Antonio Ferrer) as it affects their personal lives and interweaves with their national struggles.

The multi-awarded director shares that he has long wanted to direct an opera or a book musical on stage. So, when Tata Nanding approached him to do the sarswela for the theater company, he immediately took the leap and accepted the offer.

When asked why he accepted the project, director Siguion-Reyna enthuses: ''Aside from collaborating with accomplished artistic staff and working with highly-talented cast, 'Walang Sugat' allows me to work with longer dramatic arcs as well as explore the continuing struggle between change and tradition that lies at the heart of the sarswela.''

Aside from that, working with the medium provides director Siguion-Reyna a new challenge: to find his truth in the masterpiece's themes without necessarily being bound to the naturalism common and often expected in film. For Reyna, it is truth without being bound to a certain naturalism, which drives him to seek for the answer.

Regardless of what art form he uses, it has been his ambition and goal to seek and reveal the truth. ''Whether I succeed or not, the exploration of that challenge has been a rewarding journey for me,'' says the former director of ''Aawitan Kita,'' the musical TV program popular in the '70s through the '90s and hosted by his mom Armida Siguion-Reyna.

TP artistic director Fernando Josef adds: ''The sarswela reflects our two guiding principles: the essential unity of what is good, beautiful, and true as well as the belief that the theater artist is a prophet that imitates reality and makes a better copy of the truth.''

In fact, all the plays included in the season's line up, such as ''Walang Kukurap,'' ''Stageshow,'' and ''Ibalon,'' share the common theme of ''Truth and Consequence.''

In ''Walang Sugat,'' director Siguion-Reyna aims to broadly depict the injustices during the Spanish occupation in the Philippines through the agony of the young lovers. ''The relationship was functional at first, but was challenged to its breaking point by the intrusions of different factors in their lives, such as the government and the friars. It becomes so disheartening when Tenyong's family pushes him to rebel against those forces in the name of everything he loves and stands for,'' shares director Siguion-Reyna during the press conference at the National Commission on Culture and the Arts in Intramuros.

Meanwhile, Julia is torn between choosing Tenyong, the person she loves, and Miguel, the man her mother Juana (to be played by Noemi Manikan-Gomez) wants for her. Miguel (to be portrayed by Gino Ramirez) comes from a wealthy family who benefits from being powerful during that era.

''The premise of the story is all about how the young couple remains as lovers amidst the violent revolutionary period they live in as well as the sacrifices they have to make in the name of love and freedom,'' says the director. He adds that he wants to further explore it and find out if there is something more to it aside from the overlapping interests of the characters as well as its effect on the national consciousness and awareness of such similar issues.

He continues: ''I want to delve into the darker side of the material, exploring the human tendency for deception, manipulation to get what we want, and recognizing the manipulation people do to each other. The play is set during the revolutionary period, but we make it a little contemporary while sticking to the tradition of sarswela.''

''Walang Sugat'' will premiere on August 9, at 8 p.m., at the CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio V. Tolentino, and run until August 27, 2012.