The Female Heart
Presented by The UP Playwright’s Theater
Ongoing until July 10
Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, University
of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City
SET in the late 1980s, Linda Faigao-Hall’s The Female Heart has a certain familiarity, with plot twists similar to Pinoy teleseryes, and is relevant to today’s reality.
The UP Playwrights’ Theater returns on stage after a three-year hiatus with a tale that tackles sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, migration, and poverty.
The story revolves around Adelfa (Chase Salazar) and her older brother Anghel (Al Gatmaitan) who want to escape poverty stricken Smokey Mountain for a better life. Anghel opts to work at gay night clubs to support his sister’s college education, but falls sick, leaving to Adelfa the burden of working for the family. She then agrees to become a mail-order bride in the United States, where most of the conflict in the story follows.
The play was originally meant to be presented at the Tanghalang Hermogenes Ylagan (THY) which burned down recently along with the rest of the faculty center, home to UP Playwrights and Dulaang UP. “This was supposed to be staged there. But because of the fire, I wanted to honor THY by still maintaining the concept,” director Banaue Miclat-Janssen said. An exhibit of photos, old posters and memorabilia of the UP Playwrights Theater and Dulaang UP is set up just outside the theater.
For her directorial debut, Ms. Miclat-Janssen chose Filipino-American playwright Ms. Faigao-Hall’s The Female Heart as she felt it was fitting for the times.
“Originally I was going to do two short plays, one of which was hers, Sparrow. But the second play didn’t work out so I had to look for something [as it was] crunch time,” she said. “Some works may not be relatable to people here, so this one just fits. We Filipinized the whole thing, and Linda, who is 68 years old, was hands-on in helping us out.”
She then approached Ms. Salazar and Mr. Gatmaitan, and asked them to portray the leads. Mr. Gatmaitan — regular on the ABS-CBN soap opera The Story of Us — said the biggest challenge was that he had to go on a strict diet, because there are scenes in the play that require him to show off his body. “It was difficult because ang sarap kasi kumain (eating is so enjoyable).”
There were other challenges. “I had a hard time getting into the character, to the point I want to tell [Banaue] to go look for a replacement,” he said. “But for the love of THY, where I started 20 years ago, I did it. It was to honor where I began.”
Ms. Salazar said the importance of her character is what she finds difficult. “The characters here [symbolize] real people, which makes it more difficult to portray,” she said.
Mark McKeown, who plays Roger, the American who places an order for a mail-order bride, relishes the challenge.
“At first, I received an e-mail and I thought it was ‘joke lang,’ [as it said] ‘Hey, there’s a role for an angry American and he’s sexually abusive! Join us!’” he quipped.
Mr. McKeown took the opportunity to explore this stereotype in the Philippines and add complexity to it.
“There was some real anxiety, but since I teach here in the UP Film Institute and do production work sometimes, I thought, I can do this and be the angry American who’s sexually abusive. Galing!” he said.
Also in the cast are Philstage Gawad Buhay 2008 awardee Peewee O’ Hara, veteran actress Sheryll Ceasico, and UP Diliman Theater Arts alumna Ina Azarcon-Bolivar. — Camille Anne M. Arcilla