By Meeko Angela Camba
The world is not simply split between good and evil.
There in the vast in-between are intricate points of intersection, neither black nor white, truth nor lie; harmless intentions turned harmful outcomes as well as cruel means that led to happy ends.
Such is the story of Faust, a discontented philosopher who sold his soul to the devil, Mephisto, in exchange for attaining knowledge, and hence happiness, beyond his wildest imagination.
Originally from Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s “Faust,” the play tackles the complexity of morality, the value of innocence, the purpose and art of knowledge and finally, the role of religion in perpetuating the evil binding communities together.
Adapted to Filipino by renowned playwright Rody Vera, Dulaang UP’s (DUP) production localized such themes in the context of contemporary Philippines.
Under the direction of Josè Estrella, “Faust” made overt references to the Marcoses and other corrupt “public servants,” and even the proliferating culture of hate and impunity in the ongoing drug war.
The story begins with the devil Mephisto (Paolo O’Hara) mocking God (Jojo Cayabyab) of how the latter’s decision of giving humans free will would not only unearth their natural tendencies of evil, but would eventually lead to their own destruction. To prove his theory, Mephisto entices Faust (Neil Ryan Sese), who was considered a good man in their little town, into a world of sin and pleasure.
Through Mephisto’s guidance, Faust falls in love with young and innocent Gretchen (Ina Azarcon-Bolivar), whose life took tragic turns due to their love affair.
Each scene was so carefully crafted and restructured through impeccable use of language to become more understandable, if not natural to the Filipino experience.
The set design of Ed Lacson, Jr. was arguably the star of the show. Every set piece was strategically placed in a way that helped the story smoothly transition from one scene to another.
Together with the lights design of Barbie Tan-Tiongco, it successfully transported the audience from one photographic scene to another, breathtaking by themselves, yet perfectly in sync with the rest of the narrative.
Also particularly noteworthy in the production was the undeniable chemistry between the two leads. With comfortable interactions onstage, Sese and O’Hara made it easier to understand the dynamics of the relationship between Faust and Mephisto.
All of this, of course, would not have come together into one coherent, thought-provoking story if not for a clear vision on the part of the director.
But more than its high level of storytelling, DUP’s “Faust” is a statement—a message of sorts to the audience to ask themselves: what does it really mean to be good?
Gretchen’s downfall played a crucial element in the story, from being the epitome of purity and goodness—a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, if you will—into being branded as a whore after engaging into a love affair with an older man that left her pregnant.
The young girl is then ostracized by her community and imprisoned for her “crimes” that drove her to madness.
She served merely as a device instead of a character capable of deciding her own narrative. Ironically, the only decisions she was allowed to make were those which led to tragic ends—a commentary on how women are valued and controlled by society, no less.
Being the only female lead character, and the most powerless at that compared to her two male counterparts, Gretchen’s character only proves how sexism persists in our time.
The production, of course, cannot be faulted for portraying gender as such (it is, after all, a mere adaptation) but instead confronts its audience with a harsh truth, thereby challenging them into doing something about it.
Platform for discourse
“Faust” proves successful in being able to take a foreign piece of material and transforming it not only culturally, but also periodically into something more relevant to its audience.
The production became a platform for discourse—a safe space to question which values we should safeguard and which ones to abandon.
It confronts its audience, quite literally, in saying the real stories are out there—beyond the hundred or so pages of our textbooks, and the four walls of our classrooms. Engage the evils of the world and strive to find the good in it through the stories that we tell.
As Mephisto himself explained: “Bahagi lang ako sa dilim na nagbunga sa liwanag.”
Light cannot exist without darkness.
In a time where our country is overwhelmed with so many complex issues and dissonant ideas that further blur the lines separating good and evil, it is here that we find our purpose: to sort through these complicated points of intersection and help our community come out with a more sound concept of what is truly good.
(Photo grabbed from Dulaang UP)
“Faust” is the third in four plays of DUP’s 41st season and is part of the celebration of this year’s Diliman Month. It will have its closing show Feb. 28, 7 p.m. at the Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman.