Where Past and Present Meet
Review of the play Gabriela: Isang Oratoryo
Written by Joi Barrios and directed by Tony Mabesa
A production of Dulaang UP
Who says politics and art don't mix well? Gabriela: Isang Oratoryo (Gabriela: An Oratorio) succeeds in being political without being boring. The play deals with the question on the role of women in the revolution. In many history books and plays, men are almost always portrayed as heroes and women are always widowed.
BY EMILY VITAL
Who says politics and art don't mix well? Gabriela: Isang Oratoryo (Gabriela: An Oratorio) succeeds in being political without being boring.
Written by Joi Barrios and directed by Tony Mabesa, the play Gabriela: Isang Oratoryo is a rare production of Dulaang UP.
An oratorio is a sung drama with cohesive thematic content. Joi Marfil has magnificently put into music Barrios' lyrics. Marfil mainly used kundiman (old-fashioned love song) in most parts of the play.
Gabriela Silang (March 19, 1731-Sept. 29, 1763) was one of the first and most prominent Filipino women to lead a revolt during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. After the death of her husband Diego, Gabriela took on the leadership before she was captured and executed.
The first part goes beyond mere narration of chronology. Two singing groups on both sides of the stage engage in conversations on feminism and revolution, sometimes addressing the audience.
For instance, after the death of Gabriela's husband Diego Silang, Gabriela is seen weeping. The chorus says, “Ayaw ng mga peminista ng ganyan” (Feminists wouldn’t like that). The scene would be repeated with Gabriela calling on her compatriots to continue fighting the Spaniards.
The play deals with the question on the role of women in the revolution. In many history books and plays, men are almost always portrayed as heroes and women are always widowed.
The oratorio does not at all show Gabriela playing second fiddle to her husband. Gabriela logically debates with Diego regarding the British's offer of help. In the song “Hikayat ng Dayuhan” (Temptation by Foreigners), Gabriela warns Diego of foreign interests and insists on relying on the strength of the Filipino people in fighting for independence.
More than a love story between Gabriela and Diego, the first part highlights Gabriela's courage and love for country.
Gabriela is not, however, limited to Gabriela Silang's life. The second part has Gabby, a human rights activist in the modern times, as the main protagonist. She strives to emulate Gabriela.
In the song “Buhay Langgam” (Life of the Ant), the lifestyle of political activists is encapsulated. Tasks never run out, from morning until night.
Here, political repression is also stressed. The killings of Hacienda Luisita supporters were particularly mentioned. There were also scenes of violent dispersals of peaceful rallies.
Choreography makes these otherwise serious parts amusing. Members of the UP Filipiniana Dance Group are graceful yet also militant in their movements. Choreographer Von Manalo would have been interested to know that some of the dance movements are actually similar to Sinagbayan's. Sinagbayan is an activist cultural group.
The play includes funny real-life situations in the lives of activists. An example is the rally in front of the PLDT building in Makati. Protesters ended up condemning the Hacienda Luisita massacre in front of a building not owned by the Cojuangcos.
Another is the scene with D.G. (Gabby's boyfriend) practicing his speech for a mass demonstration. Leaders of militant organizations often deliver their speeches the G & D way (grim and determined). Here, Gabby trains D.G. how to be innovative and effective in public speaking.
Although the play generally favors political activists, Barrios logically refused to make Gabby a perfect activist. Gabby's boyfriend D.G. is a married man and human rights lawyer.
In the song “Awit ng Pagbabaliktanaw” (Song of Reminiscence), Gabby mourns over the death of D.G. who has become another victim of political killing. Barrios and Marfil capture the agony of the widows of slain Hacienda Luisita workers and of many other victims of human rights violations.
Gabby goes on with the struggle for human rights and later on gets killed, too.
The song “Awit Digma” (War Song)links the two parts of the play: “Ang awit ng digma ay awit ng pag-ibig/Bawat taong nanandata ay taong nagmahal” (The song of war is a song of love/Each one who bore arms is one who loved).
Gabriela: Isang Oratoryo is an effective “agit-prop” material. It agitates every patriotic Filipino to do something and enlightens everyone on the need to continue fighting for our rights. The audience at the Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero proved it that day with their resounding applause.