Nanay Mameng, Isang Dula tells the life story of renowned urban poor leader Carmen ‘Mameng’ Deunida.

Key moments in her life is told through a series of flashbacks, with the young Mameng occupying the stage alongside the geriatric Nanay Mameng. The fresh take on the storytelling breaks the traditional approach to biographical drama: a linear path on a chronological timeline.

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The play is not just about her life, it tells of the context how the leader known as Mameng emerged: against a backdrop of brewing social conflict between the dispossessed and the ruling elite. In our current context, mass media portrays the urban poor as ‘eyesores’, likened to vermin that needs to be driven away to pave the way for development projects, or when foreign dignitaries arrive for a visit, as best exemplified by the recent Papal visit when dwellers of Roxas boulevard were hidden from the Pope’s view. The urban poor portrayed in the play are not cardboard characters, nor are they caricatured stereotypes. They are living, breathing human beings with difficult decisions to make in order to survive. Even Nanay Mameng is portrayed as a person who faces great challenges in the course of her life. But the challenges she faced and overcame are what tempered the Nanay Mameng we now know.

[quote_center]The urban poor portrayed in the play are not cardboard characters, nor are they caricatured stereotypes. They are living, breathing human beings with difficult decisions to make in order to survive.[/quote_center]

Present in every scene is a foreboding character alternately portrayed by actors Eshei Mesina and Jennifer Dabu. This being remains without a name for the entire duration of the show. It is only in the final sequence that Nanay Mameng figures out the enigma’s identity and gives it a name: ‘Sakit’.

 

Eshei Mesina as 'Sakit'
Eshei Mesina as ‘Sakit’

‘Sakit’ is the embodiment of all the ills prevalent in Philippine society. An invisible being that could only be seen by the play’s protagonist. Although both actors portray ‘Sakit’ excellently, it is Eshei Mesina’s take on ‘Sakit’ that makes the character more menacing. He renders an ominous creature in the scene when Nanay Mameng becomes victim of domestic abuse. To bear witness to her simulated beating is an unsettling, voyeuristic experience. In a society that is essentially male-dominated, Mesina’s portrayal of Sakit makes it more logical, if not essential to the play.

As the old version of Nanay Mameng, Tess Dioquino captures the essence of the real life Carmen Deunida: feisty and fierce, despite her seemingly frail appearance. Alongside Tao Aves who portrayed the young Mameng, their chemistry onstage is electrifying. They complement each other for the entire duration of the play. Tao Aves’ singing prowess is highlighted in the lullabye ‘Awit kay Virgilio’, a scene where the young Mameng comforts her sibling Virgilio during the Japanese occupation. One could only wish for more songs, but this is not a full-blown musical play.

The play subjects the viewer to feel a variety of emotions throughout its duration: the pain of loss and betrayal, the difficulty in having to choose between self and community, the joy in overcoming these odds through firm personal resolve and collective action. And this is where it shines best.

The success of the play lies on the foundation it is built upon–the script. According to scriptwriter Amanda Echanis, the script itself is a product of collective effort, having gone through changes during workshops and rehearsals. Having immersed with the urban poor for years, the scriptwriter captures the psyche of her subjects well. Upon viewing the play, a resident of an urban poor community along the outskirts of Katipunan attests to this, saying ‘ganyan din sa amin'[The same thing is happening in our community’].

[quote_center]The use of all these [multimedia]elements, when combined with the powerful onstage performance, results in tearjerking consequences in the final act.[/quote_center]

The play’s set design is akin to lego blocks: pieces that could be put together to resemble new props. A hospital bed transforms suddenly into wooden crates; the stage’s shanty backdrop folds into a makeshift projector screen. Lights aren’t switched off in between scenes, which is the norm in traditional theater. Transitions between scenes become a performative act, including ‘Sakit’s on-stage costume changes. There are no interruptions, no awkward pauses. The play seamlessly unfolds like a movie. The videos projected on the makeshift screen help propel the story by providing context. The lighting and sound design further enhances the mood of the story. The use of all these elements, when combined with the powerful onstage performance, results in tearjerking consequences in the final act.

There is much potential for the play. It is a testament of what people’s theater should be. It need not be as grandiose as a Broadway production. Nor should its cast consist purely of accomplished theater professionals (lead actress Tess Dioquino is a union organizer).

It would be best that it be performed in bigger venues and catered to wider audiences such as university auditoriums so that sheltered college students would be awakened to realities outside the campus walls. Yet, it is scalable enough to be performed in cramped, smaller venues such as urban poor communities where residents live in constant threat of demolition. In both settings, theater becomes weapon. A weapon against the real ‘Sakit’ prevalent in society.

 

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Watch the play on February  27 and 28,  3pm and 7pm at Dr. Paz Adriano Hall (Little Theater) of Miriam College in Quezon City. For tickets and other inquiries, you may contact 09475874497 or 09772039710. Proceeds of the play will go to Nanay Mameng’s medication.

The play is co-presented by the Council for Health and Development (CHD), Confederation for Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Philhealth.

Nanay Mameng, Isang Dula is directed by Edwin Quinsayas and Noel Taylo with a script written by Amanda Lacaba Echanis. 

 

To learn more about the play, click here

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To view more photos of the play, click here

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