The wheel of (mis)fortune
■ Jose Martin V. Singh
There is a succession of events called history, and the cycle just goes on. History, however, does not repeat itself; it rolls on like a wheel trampling on the surface of our rough existence in hopes of smoothening it. It happens within us, in our families, and in our society.
In celebration of the Birth Centennial of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, Fathers and Sons / Mga Ama, Mga Anak (Filipino translation by Virgilio Almario and Jose Lacaba) is staged by the UP Playwright’s Theatre (UPPT). During the Marcos dictatorship, he came up with the manuscript for the play Fathers and Sons—which is adapted from his short story “Three Generations.”
“Honoring Defiance” this theater season, UPPT trains renewed light on the Joaquin classic. It finds significance today as the patriarchal cycle continues to thrive in Philippine society. The play is under the direction of Dulaang UP founder Antonio “Tony” Mabesa.
Crossroads of history
Lights out, the stage is set, and one is transported into an old mansion of a once famous Caritela King named Zacarias Monzon (played by Menggie Cobarrubias). In the weary household arise issues stirred by the unrelenting search for the true dignity and identity that eludes the three generations of Monzons: Zacarias, Celo (played by Rody De Vera), and Chitong (played by Carlo Tarobal).
Zacarias is the typical patriarch, and as such, he manifested his power through the whip, the table, and the bed. Sitting on his wheel chair, he is awakened from his sleep by the hysteric nurse Mrs. Paulo (played by Olive Nieto). He asks Nena (played by Banaue-Jansen Miclat), his spinster daughter, for the whip that hung on his bedroom door. Nena refused to give it but Bessie (played by Candy Pangilinan), the helper / go go dancer, gave it to him anyway.
After a menacing hold and stare at it, he smashes the carpeted floor. He screams about what he was before, what he desires to be, and everything else that he could blurt out of his fuming face. Times have changed and the old man is stuck in the crossroads of history.
He banged his chest in front of the wooden table where the elites and politicians used to convene and ask for his support. A long table for long conversations and provocations, it was Zacarias’ seat of power. He was powerful indeed as many politicos asked for his clan’s and people’s votes. His power extended to all the ends of his hacienda and city. But, now he is old and almost powerless.
A question of whether attitudes and values are inherited is picked upon by Celo and Chitong. Celo dwells on the manifestations of his father’s character in him. Chitong, a novice for the priesthood, is determined to find the meaning which he seeks in life. Throughout the process, he proves that character is not hereditary, that it is we who choose what course to take in life. But, that is not to say, without the influence of our predecessors.
The whip is eventually wielded by Zacarias’s son Celo. As Zacarias grows frail, Celo who was once afraid of him finds the confidence to wield the whip like he owned it. He drives out Bessie, who Zacarias needed by his side. Hence the whip, what things one can do with it, and what things it stirs in one’s mind.
How to stay the whip? Give the old man a nip. Sophia (played by Issa Liton) visits his father-in-law Zacarias while Chitong and Nena go around flustered about the elder Monzon’s orders. He wanted—needed—to have Bessie back. As Zacarias is brought out of his room again, the Archangel’s presence might have quelled the evils stirred in his dry throat. Sophia brought out a bottle of San Miguel gin and toasted with her old man, bringing about a series of fond reminiscences to the laughter of the family and the audience. Sophia was the positive force that neutralized the sway of demise.
Chitong, a novice for the priesthood, is confronted by the course his life is taking. At the same time, he is struck by a dilemma: the decision whether to bring Bessie back to help his tormented grandfather. He goes to the club where Bessie worked and brought her back to the elder Monzon’s house. At the knowledge of this, Celo is infuriated and gets hold of the whip again, running after and hitting his son in the face, where his father had hit him as a boy.
Breaking the cycle
There comes a regression. His unbecoming and replicating his father’s deeds spurred Celo’s uncouth cries. He was disappointed with himself for becoming like his own father, the oppressive force that made him coarse. Both Zacarias and Celo had some things yet to be reconciled. Nevertheless, the undertones of such inherent influence are uncanny. As such, it reflects our behavior towards those we scorn so much that we end up becoming like them, sometimes even worse than them. In the end, the whip has been the symbol of the perpetuation of violence.
The bed, where Zacarias rested and vested on desires is where he spent his last hours with Bessie. She was his only comfort in all the tumult contained in the household. Despite the inconvenience Celo perceived her to be, she was considered as part of the family. Celo’s heart was softened, changing his ways and the cycle that had kept their family constricted. He had the whip, the table, and the bed done away with after his father died. Thus, ending what has plagued them.
It is indeed that history does not repeat itself, but human experience. The wheel of (mis)fortune was wrought by evil, and it ought to be destroyed by good. This, the story of Fathers and Sons ought to tell us.
Fathers and Sons / Mga Ama, Mga Anak runs from September 6 to 24 at Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theatre. ■
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