Philippine theater

REVIEW: ‘Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal’ proposes a better way to make sense of our fraught time

Lé Baltar

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REVIEW: ‘Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal’ proposes a better way to make sense of our fraught time
'Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal makes it clear that it intends to engage with this specific point in our history — this fraught transition from Duterte’s reign of terror to a regime helmed by another Marcos'

Spoilers ahead. 

At the center of the reception venue’s aisle is a long, sturdy table where sits a modest flower arrangement, a pitcher of water, tissue, and glasses. What seems to be a cheap chandelier overlooks the space. But one should not be deceived by this minimalist, almost-bare set design of Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal, UP Repertory Company’s latest staging, adapted from a work of the same title written by Bonifacio Ilagan.

Frustrated by how things have transpired on her most awaited day, Bea (Ma. Laurence Maynes), the bride, lets out a scream the moment she enters the old, cut-rate hotel, a substitute for what is supposed to be a luxurious reception area, and complains to her groom Justin (Simon Lomibao) about the incompetence of their godfather, the ex-governor Eustaquio, whose promise of a grand, sumptuous wedding is nowhere in sight.

Bea, for the most part, is politically forward, yet her convictions remain quite fragile, so much so that she refuses to entertain news about Duterte’s tokhang abuses, rampant in the barangay where the hotel is located, not because of how chilling the drug war is but because it overshadows her wedding day. Justin, meanwhile, is content with accepting things as they are, to which Bea firmly says: “Kaya hindi umuunlad ang Pilipinas eh, kasi accept na lang tayo nang accept.” 

This liberal, if not bourgeois, disposition of the couple is actively interrogated throughout the play. And director Ace Hernandez, in collaboration with dramaturg Bernadette Anne Morales, makes the wise decision of juxtaposing their status against the situation of hotel workers Sonia (Andrea Cabadsan) and Greg (Harvey Sallador) — the very characters through which the material projects its principal argument and insights. 

From the opening image, in fact, the show immediately places us into the problems that beset the likes of Sonia and Greg: how they tirelessly work at the hotel for years yet remain undercompensated, how they are denied their right to unionize, and how their dream wedding will always be at the mercy of their economic reality.

“Di pa uso ‘yung salitang endo, kontraktuwal na kami,” as Sonia aptly puts it. 

Hernandez has really put a lot of thought into the conditions that have shaped these characters, allowing us to deeply connect with and understand the world through their vantage points. And it works precisely because of the solid dynamic of Cabadsan and Sallador as Sonia and Greg, providing their characters with so much heart, playfulness, and sincerity. They are pretty hilarious, too, chief example of which is when Sonia, in a scene, demonstrates how the wedding guests have decided to stay put in the hotel due largely to the staggering traffic condition in the area – another social commentary the staging openly talks about.

Cabadsan is particularly transfixing in how she physicalizes the comedy in many inventive (at times sexual) ways, and how she takes advantage of the space, via its theater-in-the-round setup, to toy with her part, all while maintaining the emotional core that anchors her character. Cabadsan is, to put it simply, MVP material.

While there’s still the occasional running out of steam, especially in parts where the show invokes a tableau style or where a lot of waiting is happening, Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal makes it clear that it intends to engage with this specific point in our history — this fraught transition from Duterte’s reign of terror to a regime helmed by another Marcos that ultimately erodes the lives of many — unafraid to counter the moribund narratives that the state continues to rely on to uphold its violence and stifle dissent. The staging openly confronts issues such as the dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, enabled by the Supreme Court and Duterte himself; soaring sugar costs; the lack of legal unions for LGBTQ+ populations, limning the plight of the likes of Tony (Nicole Francis Antonio) and Techie (Ashé Reposo); and even American imperialism.

And despite the loaded discussions that the material is keen to crack open, Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal doesn’t overwhelm itself and confidently lays out its insights in equal weight: how material conditions largely mold, for better or worse, the lives of its characters; how class issues often spell the difference between them; and how women are always at the expense of social contracts and constructs such as marriage, especially in a macho-feudal country.

The final image bares it all with searing clarity: when Sonia and Greg, after a long, exhausting day, returns to clean all the mess, they are suddenly reminded of this systemic precarity that has long kept their bodies overworked yet heavily underpaid, and how it ultimately shatters their dream wedding and robs them of the time to even think of it.

For a moment, the lights have gone out, another reminder of their shitty working conditions. The ambulance sirens still loom in the background, telling us that terror is very much present at every turn. And we feel Sonia and Greg’s unease — two souls uncertain of the future that awaits them, but who choose to remain optimistic, hoping for a better life and better pay elsewhere. But for now, they make do with what they have. They carry on despite everything, for the alternative is simply unthinkable. –

‘Mabuhay ang Bagong Kasal’ runs until October 8. Tickets can be purchased via this form.

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Lé Baltar

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist and film critic for Rappler. Currently serving as secretary of the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR), Lé has also written for CNN Philippines Life, PhilSTAR Life, VICE Asia, Young STAR Philippines, among other publications. She is a fellow of the first QCinema International Film Festival Critics Lab.