In every house, a master always reigns. For most, it is a patriarch. For some, it is a matriarch. For the theatre, it is always the director.
Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (DUP) opens its 44th season with an enthralling adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba, translated to English by Daisy Lopez and to Filipino by Alexander Cortez. Cortez also serves as the production’s director. But unbeknownst to most, Cortez also brought with him during the show’s premiere a personality that would draw the ire of the UP community.
The House of Bernarda Alba / Ang Tahanan ni Bernarda Alba is a taut ensemble drama depicting how individual tragedies affect close-knit families. Five daughters are shut off from the world, only to remain within the confines of their house as their mother imposes on them an eight-year mourning period for her second husband. This matriarch is Bernarda Alba, a conservative old woman more concerned with what her neighbors think of her and her household than what her own daughters feel.
Every character feels whole with the fiery anguish that the actresses paint their personas. The enclosed set design heightens the onstage tension. When two characters interact, passion fills the stage, getting more heated as another character enters. In this play, two is a crowd, and three is an insurrection.
The play deals with hidden secrets, forlorn feelings and aching frustrations as members of the family lash out at each other. In the bleakest attempt to escape the household, the daughters fight among themselves for a shot to be with an unseen bachelor. In here, the production has twisted the typical imaginings of a patriarchal tyrant, showing instead how tyranny comes from any place, personified by anyone.
So imagine the surprise of both production crew and audience as an icon of tyranny appeared during the show’s gala night. Irene Marcos-Araneta, the third child of conjugal dictators Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos, has reportedly attended the show after being invited by Cortez. Not long after, students flocked directly outside of the Wilfredo Guerrero Theatre, demanding that she leave the university, after showing up just two weeks before UP’s Day of Remembrance, a day dedicated in commemoration of those at the forefront of resistance during the 1972 martial law. It also wasn’t the first time this year that the late dictator’s third child appeared unannounced on campus grounds – she was invited last April to the opening of Ateneo de Manila University’s (ADMU) Areté outdoor art installation program.
But while Ateneo’s incident resulted in the resignation of the university’s Executive Director for the Center for Creativity and Arts, the incident with DUP resulted in Director Alex Cortez condemning the student protesters, citing how ‘UP is a democratic society’ in defense of Irene’s appearance. Cortez also probed the protesters to respect the play, who actually protested only during the intermission and after it was finished.
Moreover, it is ironic for the director of The House of Bernarda Alba / Ang Tahanan ni Bernarda Alba to invite a non-apologetic Marcos and to include her in his acknowledgements in the program, as this disrespects the legacy of the original play’s writer, who was a desaparecido and victim himself of Spanish tyrants during the country’s Civil War.
Criticism against DUP emerged because of the incident. On their Facebook page, the theater organization released a statement of apology quoting how DUP ‘have not forgotten the atrocities of Martial Law and are one with the community in protest against human rights violations’, but also mentioned how they will merely be ‘more discerning in its actions in the future’ because ‘individuals in DUP may have differences in political leanings’.
A rift within the company has inadvertently surfaced due to the incident. Student staffers have since expressed discontent as to how the situation was handled. Through individual statements posted on their Facebook accounts, they mentioned how directors and alumni have always controlled and regulated their actions up to the point of abuse. They have always remained silent for fear of incurring failing grades and offending higher-ups. With this, a history of silencing and abuse within the country’s premiere academic theater organization has been exposed.
Tradition and culture reinforce power dynamics that installs and holds masters of the house. Like Bernarda Alba who holds authority over her daughters’ wills, the director in the theatre always has the final say. Thus, it does not ring true anymore that our priorities lie in keeping traditions alive; instead, our task is to hold those who propagate tyranny accountable.
It is indeed the task of art to raise questions and to enliven discourse. To democratize art is to gauge every idea under equal scrutiny. However, to criticize something, one must first clean his own backyard. The bravery of the five daughters saw themselves stepping up to their matriarch and to each other; similarly, the conviction of these student staffers to finally voice out their grievances may result in a new start for internal change in DUP.
Individuals must answer to consequences, but it does not mean that everyone in the company has to suffer – Irene Marcos is reported to have bought her ticket, and is not a sponsor for the production. To mount a production, multiple personalities have to work tirelessly who may be kept in the dark regarding the issue. To call for a boycott of DUP is to shrug off the hardships of those sincere in pulling off a theatrical piece that condemns tyranny like Bernarda Alba.
But still, those accountable do have to be accounted for. With enough bravery and conviction, we may one day run a house without a master.
Tinig ng Plaridel has exhausted all efforts to contact some of the student and alumni staffers who worked for the production and was present at the incident but they refrained from giving out additional information past their public statements as they wish to resolve the situation internally.