humor, power, and intensity (or feather boas, high heels, and bare chests)

my cultural calendar was off to a hilarious start early this month when i scored tickets to the opening performance of a brand new musical called "caredivas", the bittersweet story of transgendered filipino caregivers working in israel and who double as female impersonators-slash-dancers-slash-singers after nightfall. together with my friends, we sat on the second row of the PETA center theater that was surprisingly packed. the surprise stems not so much from the fact that it was undeserving of a full house, but from the knowledge that it was opening night, the musical was an original and not based on any previous work (i.e., a famous comic book), had lesser-known (though no less talented) actors, and primarily because the present-generation of filipinos aren't really into theater, unless it's been hyped by viral marketing, a movie adaptation, a famous star, or something else. but i suppose PETA played its cards well: throw in musical numbers and cross-dressers into a pot, and you're sure to stir interest.

the musical is layered and rather succeeds in most of them. it entertains, evident from the applause that followed each riotous dance-and-song routine, or the laughter that came immediately after thalia opened her mouth to say something. but intelligently woven into the mirth was reality: the difficult lives of overseas filipino workers risking safety and security in a foreign land. the juxtaposition often results in irony and mixed feelings. in the scene where kyla was being arrested by israeli immigration police for being an illegal worker, i was completely affected and overcome by the powerful emotions of the actor who essayed the part of a person who was about to lose, not just a job, but so many other things. the plight of fellow filipinos abroad hiding from authorities and accepting abusive conditions just to be able to send some money home played in my mind. meanwhile, jason was laughing. while the police were breathing down her neck, kyla's fellow caregivers were singing and dancing in the background, dissing her for her stupidity.

there is another layer dealing on acceptance of the unconventional genders in a place of very conventional (if not radical) biases about gender roles. however, i think this wasn't fully developed -- i might even think it was unimportant -- because the issues on employment and migration were more deserving of the spotlight. the women involved in the play -- both the playwright and the director -- did not necessarily throw in a wrench into the already good mix of humor and sacrifice, by introducing identity crisis and gender angst into the brew, but i felt it unnecessary. why can't acceptance already be assumed in the premise of the play? i frankly quite find that there was nothing new in that aspect. nevertheless, i tremendously enjoyed the play, i was willing to look beyond the very average singing. i'm not sure if i would go out to buy a CD of the songs if one were available, since i didn't find myself humming any of the tunes. but most definitely, "caredivas" is a welcome treat. and at just P300, it was a steal.

two weeks later, i traveled more than 150 years back in time to watch "orosman at zafira" at the SM mall of asia centerstage theater. written by francisco balagtas, the komedya tells the story of feuding kingdoms and the love affair(s) formed and threatened by conflict, greed, and jealousy. the material is as archaic as one can imagine: anyone who uses kitil to mean kill or lirip to mean see runs the risk of sounding either sublime or stupid. so how do you make material this old appeal to a generation that cannot say paalam to mean goodbye because it sounds lame? go the way of baz luhrmann in his modern adaptation of "romeo and juliet". in this case, "orosman at zafira" took the material even further, putting both modern and traditional music into dialogue, and staging battles through dance.

dexter santos's take on this balagtas classic transformed an otherwise staid komedya into a sexy, riveting, and intense celebration of philippine theater. it was sexy not just because many of the actors had their shirts off, or that orosman's body has its own topographic map, but because it was sensual in so many ways that balagtas himself probably did not imagine. it was riveting because the stage movement was so furiously fast, there were scenes where i feared aldervesin or zelim would shoot off the spinning scaffolding. it was also extremely intense because of the powerful choreography that left the actors panting and sweating. the screaming and grunting also helped, although i agree with my friend princeton that zafira's yelping made her sound like a small dog. i was also extremely impressed by the lighting and the clever use of rolling props.

i will have to confess that i had difficulty understanding most of the things that was said. but i was held in suspense. it felt, at times, that the script was merely part of the background, and i learned the story of the marruecoses, the tedensts, the the duquelas, through visual movement. i also could not imagine how it was possible to stage a production of this magnitude in a smaller theater. so this iteration is not just a restaging, but a revolution, i cannot help but be proud of the fact that my friend and law school blockmate, darwin, produced the play. i remember darwin getting me tickets to "proof" and "rent", so i was all too happy to support him in his endeavor. also, between the two of us, neither is practicing law anymore. however, darwin told me that fridays were particularly thin, evident from a nearly empty theater. which is sad. despite the dated material, i think that "orosman at zafira" should be seen by more people, so they may realize the endless possibilities of theater.
i'll watch out for that small dog sound. thank you for watching the show :)

-- maita
oh. you found me. haha. you were a wonderful zafira miss maita. so fun to watch. it was my pleasure.