'Pieta': A play for the family
MANILA, Philippines - In Literature, there is such a thing as a Catholic genre, the most famous of which are the novels of Graham Greene, whose book “The End of the Affair” movie lovers also know well.
The characters of such stories are propelled by guilt as they attempt to follow dogma amidst modernity despite their primal desires:
- There is the the paramour who cannot leave a loveless marriage where there is no divorce, even as the pangs of both desire and regret gnaw at her heart
- There is the hero who needs to do good deeds for redemption before his time comes because faith alone is not enough for salvation in the afterlife, even as every hour of reprieve is simply more opportunity to mire himself deeper in sin
- There are the protagonists who punish themselves as an act of penance, even as their self denial hurts others even more
- There are the characters beset by guilt about premarital sex, homosexuality, or single parenthood, even when others would celebrate these as love
- There are those who keep silent about the crimes they experience and witness out of shame even as their silence perpetuates injustice
Then there are the dramatis persona of “Pieta: Dulang Pampamilya” by Palanca Award-winning playwright Jay Crisostomo VI.
Staged at the Ateneo de Manila University's Institute of Social Order (ISO) by the Shaharazade Theatre Company, its characters include:
Josephina (played by Trency Caga-anan) who tortures her son Nino (Sky Abundo) for being mentally disabled. She blames her daughter Maria (Elora Espano) for being the victim of rape. There is her husband Angelo (Neil Tolentino) who allows her to blame her son for fathering a child out of wedlock and rapes his own daughter.
Rape, incest, torture, victim blaming, murder, genital mutilation, suicide, and infanticide — these are all crimes to the rational man. But for the Roman Catholic characters of this play, these are acts of penance, divine punishment to be endured in silence for the sake of family honor.
For these protagonists, these are sicknesses and sins to be prayed away with the droning chants of novenas and rosaries; and to be buried in the backyard. Needless to say, such atrocities are not exclusive to the Roman Catholic religion — abuse inevitably runs rampant in any milieu where unquestioning devotion is the norm.
But it is how these characters cope or fail to do so that makes this story Catholic.
It preaches its message with Gothic fervor, without the song and dance to be found in the worship of more charismatic Christian denominations. The stage is austere. There are neither intermissions nor interludes to break the constant assault of drama and tragedy.
Caga-anan, Abundo, Tolentino, and Espano all excel in essaying their roles. The challenge in any narrative tackling rape is how to portray it as the horrific crime that it is without being gratuitous and sexually titillating. Espano successfully communicates the severity of her character's experiences even as she bares herself.
Those who do not share their faith may find the characters irrational and, arguably, rightly so. Even those with similar experiences may struggle to find sympathy for characters for whom there is no redemption.
But poignancy is all about the right location, the right time, and the right audience: “Pieta” is being staged in a Jesuit-run university when many of the young and educated among the faithful feel conflicted about the Church's anti-Reproductive Health, anti-divorce, anti-gay rights stance as well as the chronic cases of pedophilia among the clergy.
With luck, this play might just preach to the converted. - Rappler.com
(Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.)
("Pieta" will run at Room 5 of Ateneo de Manila University's Institute of Social Order on February 13 to 15 at 7:30pm. Tickets are at Php 150 each. For information and ticket inquiries, contact 0917-8253067.)