Text and photos by Sanafe Marcelo
I was transported back in time as I sat mesmerized in the darkened theater, melodic voices enveloping my body, stirring my soul. I did not want to miss every single line by Nicanor Tiongson in this Chris Mallado-directed musical. Veteran stage actor and activist Monique Wilson enthralling me and the rest of the audience as Apolinario Mabini.
Scenes narrated the political intrigues in the time of Mabini, the main protagonist and one of the most important figures in Philippine history. As the “brains of the revolution against Spain,” the play showed how Mabini struggled to uphold the revolution and defend our Inang Bayan (nation).
Mabining Mandrigma means “The Gentle Warrior.” The play is a precise presentation of who Mabini was, a gentle, revolutionary warrior despite his disability.
Monique Wilson is remarkable in her portrayal of the hero. Her heart and sincerity reverberates throughout the play, cloaking the audience like a thick fog in the early morn. What is exceptional is, she portrays a male character and ably carries it off. Such is her versatility, no doubt infused with the same fervor for national liberation as the hero she portrays. Her powerful voice rises among her co-actors, entertaining, teaching, imploring, as Mabini did during the years when a reasoned voice was most needed.
The play’s anachronistic costumes were brilliantly designed by James Reyes, powerful messages in themselves. The cog wheels and the big classic clock as vital parts of the stage design help audience visualize the past’s connection with the present. The play also reminds the enthralled audience that young men and women answered the clarion sounded, a reminder so apt these days when young activists are vilified by their elders who, it seems, have forgotten this.
The songs marked the play’s progression. Their line evoked deep meaning, such that when the closing song begged, ‘Mahalin mo ang Pilipinas nang higit sa iyong sarili,’ there could have been no one that did not fight back tears. Indeed, some gave in and cried at Mabini’s tragedy, our history’s failure, our nation’s sorrow.
The play reminds us that history does repeat itself. What Mabini confronted in his day confronts us in ours. It begs the question, “Whatever our heroes sacrificed their lives for when, more than a hundred years after their mortal bodies have rejoined their beloved soil, we are still battling the very same demons?”
Mabining Mandirigma, an award-winning musical by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) resident theater group Tanghalang Pilipino, is being staged for the fourth time at the CCP. It runs until September 1. #