A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Killing The Issue

REVIEW: Killing The Issue
Performances at the Gaspar Hall, Teatro sa Calle of TheBau Haus, Davao City
Written by Karlo Antonio Galay David
Directed by Frank Lloyd dela Cruz

A few days from now, the Christian world will recall the events that took place on what is now celebrated as Holy Thursday.  In the evening of this day, Jesus prayed at the garden of  Gethsemane in the company of a few trusted followers. Then Judas along with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs sent by the chief priests and elders entered the scene. We all know what happened next:  one of those who were with Jesus drew his sword and struck at the High Priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him: “Put your sword back in its place. All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52).

All who take the sword will die by the sword.  These words came to mind as the play – Killing the Issue – ended in a most frightening scene which highlighted the power of the play’s denouement.  There is indeed a killing that ends this play which highlights how dirty politics has become normal in our political landscape for some years.

Staging this play then becomes very timely as the election fever for 2022 is starting to heat up.

The Teatro sa Calle of TheBau Haus is to be commended for braving the onslaught of this pandemic that has practically paralyzed cultural initiatives in urban centers across the globe. Despite the restrictions posed by COVID-19, TheBau Haus management bravely opened the Gaspar Hall, a black box theatre space in downtown Davao City; perhaps the first of its kind in Mindanao.  While still honoring the pandemic’s protocols (of demanding that audiences wear face masks and practice social distancing); the theatre provides adequate space so that theatrical productions could still be mounted.

By asserting their right to take initiatives in spite of the restrictions, the artists and cultural workers behind Teatro sa Calle are making a statement: theatre is alive once more in Davao City. Such an initiative offers theatre writers, directors and actors the chance to hone their talents and provides the audience hungry for theatrical productions with the opportunity to see live performances. Killing the Issue is first of its offerings, and even as the pandemic persists, Teatro sa Calle hopes to  stage more productions written by Mindanawon playwrights.

Karlo  Antonio Galay David wrote the script of this play a few years ago, submitted it to the Palanca awards and won.  Now, he is delighted that he can watch his play being performed on stage. And based  on the premier performance mounted on Thursday, March 25, the playwright has reasons to take pride in his work. As directed by Frank Lloyd dela Cruz, Killing the Issue becomes a riveting theatrical experience because of its being immersive. That this play is staged in a black box stage makes it even more compelling, as the audience and the cast are only an arm’s length from each other, thus eliminating what would be the distance created through a proscenium.

The story of this play is truly based on true events and as one watches  the interaction of the actors on stage, one is actually reminded of their counterparts in real life. The plot follows a storyline already very familiar to Filipinos and perhaps other Third World countries with weak States constituted by corrupt governments and dirty politics. This narrative has been used as story lines by many films and teleseryes, but despite being so familiar the play is so written that the audience can still be shocked and awed.

It opens with an overture of a chorus – played out by student-actors under the mentorship of the play’s director – that introduces the world of propaganda which with today’s fake news and disinformation sets the tone of the play. One by one the main characters enter the scene; first the two brothers who are the scions a political clan. Reymond Reyes, the elder son (played by Rigel John Marino who serves as the SK Chairperson) and Arthur, his younger brother (acted by Giovanni Raňesis) are talking politics as this is the election season. In the course of their conversation, the playwrights pokes fun on how political parties use tourism and cultural activities as milking cow for raising funds.

Their parents, Governor Manny Reyes, Jr. (Ariel Tubang) and Vice-Governor Ruth Beuanflor-Reyes (Dubai Muňoz)  arrive on the scene and join in their sons’ conversations. There is first the parents’ admonition to the younger son to get his act together and join politics. Eventually the family’s animosity with a rival politician who was formerly a journalist is revealed. They are later on joined by the family’s patriarch, Congressman Manny Reyes, Sr. (Edmar Dalire)  whose violent past provides the impetus for how this political dynasty will deal with the issue perpetuated by the rival journalist-politician.

The play’s locale is Kidapawan City and the nearby towns of Magpet and Matalam where the Reyes family has political clout. This explains why the play’s dialogue combines Cebuano, Ilongo, Tagalog and English – the playwright’s assertion to allowing Mindanao’s multi-lingual reality reflected in his art. But this is also part of Cotabato;  a territory that has been the locale of violent eruptions in the past (think Baracuda-Ilaga skirmishes, the Ampatuan Massacre, etc.). The past (as embedded in the patriarch’s life story) catches up with the present when the political dynasty has to protect its wealth and power interests. Holding on to their political posts in the next election, they could not tolerate having a rival that could seize power from them.  We already know what is going to happen next.

But predictability is not what we would expect as the intended massacre of a rival politician ends in a tragedy that can haunt this political family for the rest of their lifetime.

Trust the playwright – and how the director decides to stage this scene – to end this play in a manner that can be so dramatic as to stupefy the astonished audience.  This scene closes the play, and usually as a play closes, the audience erupts with a loud applause. But in this  case, it is hard to clap at the end of this scene, for to clap one’s hands would be to be complicit to a crime so heinous that the heavens will find it hard to forgive the perpetrators!

Killing the Issue is a play that all of us should watch as the election fever is bound to rise as the months lead to October, when candidates are to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections. One question Filipinos have to face is this: how long are we going to tolerate political dynasties and the dirty politics of this country? The 1987 Constitution already indicated its desire to ban political dynasties, but 34 years later, Congress still has to pass a law banning dynasties. But of course, how can they when practically all those in Congress belong to dynasties?  Scan the entire Philippine landscape and chances are these dynasties are alive and well!

Congratulations to Mr. Jon Traya, Eva and EJ Fernandez and the rest of the Teatro Calle administration for having undertaken this initiative to make theatre alive again in Davao City. Congratulations to Karlo A.G. David, Floyd dela Cruz and the cast (to include Rustan Catarina as KCPO Pol. Capt. John Paul and Jane Alferez as Bing, the maid) and the crew that took care of the background band, lights and sound.  A few more performances are being mounted for Killing the Issue at the Gaspar Hall. Check TheBau Haus FB page for announcements as to the dates of performances and how to secure tickets.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]