Theater Review
Balag at Angud
Tanghalang Pilipino
Aug. 31 to Sept. 16
Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino
CCP Little Theater, Roxas Blvd.,
Pasay City
BALAG AT ANGUD is a chronicle of love based on the life of protest artist Luis Lee Jr., better known as Junyee.
In brief, here is a partial trajectory of Junyee’s life: he was born in 1942; he pursued Fine Arts instead of Commerce against the wishes of his well-intentioned father, who only wanted Junyee make enough to feed himself; he left Agusan del Norte and moved to Cebu, choosing to be a makeup artist in a funeral parlor over a comfortable job at their family-owned hotel.
Giving life to the dead gave him peace and pride, Junyee said of his gig as a makeup artist.
Tanghalang Pilipino’s Balag at Angud doesn’t romanticize the starving-artist trope. It is satisfied with laying out Junyee’s choices as they are and juxtaposing them against his father’s opposing beliefs—to wit, that art should only be a hobby because it will never put food on the table, much less lead to a prosperous and luxurious life.
Playwright Rody Vera leads the cast while Dune Michael Garcia and Paw Castillo play Junyee’s younger selves. They are joined by Jonathan Tadioan as Junyee’s father, Luis; and Bayang Barrios as Junyee’s Musa, the artist’s muse whose presence becomes less pronounced as the years go by. With or without her, Junyee powers through his protest art.
Many artists today, at least the ones I know, aren’t exactly starving. They do commercial art; they have day jobs; they sell works abroad; or they have businesses. Balag at Angud—about a Filipino artist whose lifestyle and philosophy is anchored by his passion, soul, and love for art—is, perhaps, a rarer story today than it was decades ago.
There is a scene in the musical wherein Junyee decides to throw away all his material possessions—save for his art, a few pairs of jeans, and toiletries. It encapsulates the appeal of the musical: it’s a reminder that we have free will, that we can shun society’s expectations and pursue what we want in life. And, perhaps, succeed. It takes guts to live like Junyee and Balag at Angud shows us that it can be done.
Written by Palanca Award-winner Layeta Bucoy, Balag at Angud is titled after a pair of notable installations by Junyee. Balag, which means trellis or a bamboo framework, is the artist’s first outdoor installation. It was constructed in the ’70s, when he was a student in the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and apprenticed to Napoleon Abueva (who wasn’t a National Artist yet at that time).
Angud, as explained in the musical, is what’s left after a tree dies from illegal logging. In 2007, Junyee made an outdoor art installation called Angud: A Forest Once, which was shown at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s front lawn. The point, he explained, was to make audiences feel guilty, sad, and mad; and to make them aware of what was happening. A pioneer of site-specific art, Junyee’s propensity for using discarded natural and found objects like angud in his works has led to an environmentalist bent.
Artist Toym Imao, with the help of Marco Viaña, did the set design. And it is apparent that Junyee’s titular installations provided major inspiration. Audie Gemora helmed the production, while Dodjie Fernandez and Upeng Fernandez arranged and composed the music.
Mr. Junyee, who was sick and couldn’t attend the opening on Aug. 30, left a love letter to the audience that read: “I never dreamt of this. I’ve never been greedy in my life, and this musical is enough with me, around or not.” His wife, Tess, attended the opening night. Her character, played by Astarte Abraham, was depicted as strong, understanding, patient, and kind. Tess supported Junyee’s passion through pangs of hunger—their married life nourished by a meal of one fish, shared and cut in half. Junyee would eat the head while Tess took the tail.
Someone loaded with responsibilities—earning decent money, feeding a family, sending kids to good schools—would probably take a more practical route through life. And most of us, one thinks, would choose comfort and assurance. When watching Balag at Angud, we can only praise and admire Junyee’s less-traveled road. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman