MANILA, Philippines - My introduction to Layeta Bucoy’s work came by way of PETA’s Bona 2012.
People watching that play sort of knew what they were getting into: popular comedic actress Eugene Domingo takes on the iconic role of Superstar Nora Aunor in a classic film by Lino Brocka. Everyone knew who Bona would fall in love with. And like the Titanic, everyone knew how it would end.
It is the writer’s job to surprise us with the journey of how we would get to that already predetermined end.
When I saw that Layeta Bucoy wrote this new Bona, all bets were suddenly off. Previous press for the play gave me the impression that it was written by another playwright known for comedy and high camp.
I was familiar with, but had not seen, Ms. Bucoy’s previous works that include Doc Resureccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan and Ellas Innocentes. From the various reviews I’ve seen, they were serious political plays.
Which does not mean that Ms. Bucoy was incapable of comedy.
On the other hand, she has proven herself a brilliant satirist, and understands quite well the obssessions that drive not just the Stars of Tomorrow but also the Politics of the Present.
And most likely, the Politics of the Future.
This is the battlefield that she lays out for Walang Kukurap, Tanghalang Pilipino’s second offering for the 2012 theater season. The play urges us not to blink, as so much happens in a single moment.
Set in an unnamed small town ruled by the same two clans for generations, it maps how such little fiefdoms are possible despite the presence of laws put in place specifically to prevent crimes like graft and corruption as aided by nepotism.
In the Philippines, politics is all about the family. There is no greater value in the Pinoy that taking care of family. Enterprises are passed on from parent to child: the family grocery store, underground numbers game, drugs, political position.
Once entrenched in power, the family does whatever it can to hold on to it. Threaten the enterprise or family member and you can be sure there will be retribution waiting. It is in this manner that dynasties are built and destroyed.
Ms. Bucoy, in her play’s two acts and 25 scenes, follows 5 families of varying power and position (or 6 if warring factions are considered separate families and if you count the pedicab driver whose son was accidentally killed in the beginning).
Here is how the families try to outwit, outlast and survive each other for a game of thrones:
1. Have a recognizable name
If you want a career in politics, you better have a hero in your family tree.
The Medinas were descended from revolutionaries. It is a good name that the public can remember easily during the election season. But two branches of the clan are fighting for the right to be the family’s torchbearers.
Melba (Mymy Davao) the accountant considers the name as the only inheritance her husband has bequeathed her, and thus urges her stiletto-wearing sushyalera daughter Rhoda (the effervescent Regina de Vera) to use it to their advantage. This puts them at odds with the other branch of the clan.
2. Everyone loves a widow
Just look at this country’s history for proof.
Widows are underdogs, especially when they are only continuing the legacy of their dead and/or asssasinated political husbands. Cristina Medina (played by Suzette Ranillo) is not a plain housewife. She’s a teacher. Widowhood has all but guaranteed her a shot at the mayoralty of her town.
Because she won on the ticket by the town’s other ruling family, there are dues to be paid and secrets to be kept. In the end, the widow becomes embroiled in her family’s problems. It’s a test of her will power. Will she choose politics over family?
3. Start them young
The Perezes know how to play the game.
Mulong has been mayor of the town long enough for the family to have a stake in virtually all the businesses in town. Politics is all about backdoor negotiations, and they prefer not to let their son Dino (Ralph Mateo) know this early how bloody the machine is.
Instead, they push their son to have a relationship with Cristina’s daughter Mirra. After all, it is a union that will ensure a future where the Medina-Perezes still rule the world.
In an early scene at a bar, Santiago Jr. takes a fancy to Mirra, but is warned that she is already spoken for, and by the mayor’s son at that. It sparks a brawl that accidentally kills Pong, the son of a poor pedicab driver. His death fuels the spiralling violence as each family tries to protect their own young.
Melba also terrifies the newbie lawyer Vic into testifying against his childhood friend Marky. But it’s a sweet exchange as Vic did get a plum job at a law firm and a new car for his betrayal.
There’s also the unbridled enthusiasm of the young SK official Gutierrez. While poor and mostly played for comic relief, it brings politics to the reachable level of providing uniforms and rings for the local basketball league, all the while providing Gutierrez with a tidy little savings for himself. After all, who notices the disappearance of a few coins?
4. Don’t be afraid of a little blood on your hands
Playing nice with political allies means Cristina must bear witness to a few bloody crimes, like the sawing off of Chinese drug lord Lu’s leg at her daughter’s graduation party.
It’s a crime that, though kept secret, can drive your ailing father (Lou Veloso) to stick a fork in his throat and her son Marky (Marco Viana) to hammer his cousin Rhoda just so she wouldn’t go campaigning in her stilettos.
But the real clever ones will never have blood on their hands. Why?
5. Seize opportunity when you see it
In order to expand his enterprise, Santiago Sr. must venture into uncharted territory. Except that he chose a town whose power players are already established.
Ever the clever businessman, he discovered a crack in the firmament. He learned of the riff between the two branches of the Medina clan.
He used Melba’s proclivity for underhanded dealings that implicated the incumbent Perezes, who then turned to pressure Cristina Medina, who is estranged from her relative Melba.
He sowed the seeds of discontent, and then sat back and watched the bloodshed bloom. His machinations were only revealed in the end.
All this time, he avowedly played the role of the outsider who is not allowed to dip his toes in the pool of power. The philantrophist who was only out to do good and maybe a bit of profit on the side.
When his machinations were revealed in the end, as a sort of lesson for Santiago Jr., he tells his son that he saw an opportunity and he seized it. He used the weaknesses of each clan against them: greed and distrust.
They were already divided, anyway. They were just waiting to be conquered by a new king.
Walang Kukurap is not a horror movie, but like the best kind, it makes us see everyday things in a different, scarier light.
Ms. Bucoy is billed as the "Tarantino of Philippine Theater," and by the end of the play, one almost agrees. Like Tarantino, she uses bursts of comic relief when the blood threatens to drown us. Laughs are provided by the tandem of SK Gutierrez (Nar Cabico) and his mother Doray, a professor also running for mayor.
Doray speaks the truth and yet no one believes her. She is booed away from her soapbox, dismissed as the crazy one, and eventually gifted the rather absurd death of falling down the stairs in her wheelchair. We laughed.
But what does it mean when we killed the only one with intent to speak the truth?
Ms. Bucoy paints a bleak picture. Almost all the characters are maimed, killed or lucky enough to escape in a wheelchair or hobble along on crutches. No one escapes unscathed.
Everyone has a little blood in their hands. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. - Rappler.com
"Walang Kukurap" plays Fridays (8pm), Saturdays (3pm and 8pm) and Sundays (3pm) until October 7, 2012 at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the CCP. Tickets are available at all Ticketworld outlets. Call 891-9999.