pop goes the world: the relevance of rizal

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 November 2010, Thursday

The Relevance of Rizal

I’ve always been a fan of Dulaang UP, which puts on entertaining and thought-provoking productions at the University of the Philippines’ Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Their latest offering, Isang Panaginip na Fili, promises to be another visual and intellectual feast.

This production is Dulaang UP’s prelude to the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, who was born 19 June 1861.

Says UP professor Amella Bersalona, “Isang Panaginip na Fili is a radical reworking of Rizal’s El Filibusterismo. For one, Jose Rizal himself is a central character in the musical.” The play is set in 1891, and revolves around the concept of Rizal “writing El Filibusterismo in a seedy hotel room in Paris.”

“The play is about the idea of transformation,” says Bersalona, a concept linked to the theme of “Ibarra’s transformation from reformist to filibuster” which constitutes “the very crux of the novel.”

The idea of taking a work familiar to all educated Filipinos and remixing its themes and narratives to create something different will have the effect of making viewers become more attentive to the unfolding of the play. Of course, an assessment of the production values would be an integral part of the experience. These are the first things people notice – the quality of the actors’ performances; music; lighting, sound, and direction; and so on.

Yet there are other levels of analysis that would enable viewers to have a deeper enjoyment of the work. The first level would involve comparison, spotting the differences between what is in the novel and what is in the play, a tracking of the latter’s narrative structure and how far it departs from the original.

The second level requires a revisitation of themes on a conceptual dimension. What are they – transformation? The political environment and social change? Communication, and the success or failure thereof? What are the parallels of these ideas in the present time, and how would these concepts be relevant to us now?

Spectacles like plays can be viewed on a surface level, but there is more useful takeaway if one asks questions and challenges what one is seeing and experiencing.

Another question that the prospect of seeing this play raises is, is Rizal still relevant? Are his works dated, helpful only to high school and college students who are required to study his novels? Or do his ideas as embedded in his works still hold validity, his works being historical records of the social and political issues of his time?

A large part of Fili and Rizal’s first novel, Noli Me Tangere, deals with the social injustices suffered by Filipinos in circa 1880s Philippines, principally Manila.  With Filipinos of the time crushed under the colonial Spanish regime, laboring under the abuses of the Roman Catholic friars who controlled much of politics and society, Rizal was consumed with exposing these societal ills to find a cure for them. In Fili and Noli, he explored different methods for achieving social justice and equality of political status with the colonists.

While the details of the situation back then may be radically different from today, the themes in Rizal’s novels and other works are universal and timeless. Present-day Philippines is still suffering from abuses – not from a colonial master (though the vestiges of that trauma still pervade the Filipino psyche), but from corrupt government officials. The Roman Catholic Church still holds an inordinate amount of power and influence – look at how some prelates recently advocated civil disobedience should the Reproductive Health bill be passed.

It has been over a hundred years since Rizal died, yet no answers have been found to the questions he posed. Will we as a nation ever learn from the past? When will we rectify mistakes that are still being perpetuated?

Rizal is such an iconic figure that he is a stock character in popular culture. Image from here.

There is so much of value in Rizal. Whatever you feel about him being named as “national hero” by the American colonial regime, it is undeniable that his works were influential during his time and made significant contributions to the Philippine revolutionary effort.

But why do we continue to disregard the more significant and profound aspects of Rizal’s legacy, focusing instead on imposing a shallow appreciation of his seminal works upon high school and college students who often read them out of context?

Knowing us as a race, I can only quote the national hero’s own words: “Adios, patria adorada…”

This Dulaang UP play should help us view Rizal and his works in a fresh light. Written by Floy Quintos, Isang Panaginip na Fili’s original music was composed by Ceejay Manuel Javier. Reprising the role of Pepe Rizal is Franco Laurel, for which he won an Aliw Award in 2009. Alternating for the role is Red Concepcion, who was last seen in Repertory Philippines’ “Equus”.

Fili will run from November 24-28 and December 1-5 and 8-12, at 7pm from Wednesdays to Fridays, and at 10am and 3pm on weekends. For tickets, call Cherry at (0917)750-0107, or the Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349 or 433-7840. ***

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1 Comment on pop goes the world: the relevance of rizal

  1. Bea
    11 November 2010 at 10:13 pm (3528 days ago)

    I still haven’t sent Prof Bersalona our availability…one of the actors is actually Cris’s friend and she wants to watch HIM. I haven’t gotten his schedule yet. XD

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