By Giselle P. Kasilag

Theater Review
The Kundiman Party
By Floy Quintos
Directed by Dexter M. Santos
May 31-June 2
PETA Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive,
New Manila, Quezon City

AMONG A slew of big-budget productions, a not-so-quiet little play emerged with one of the boldest and loudest, yet sweetest, voice that many have not heard in a very long time. The Kundiman Party, a play by Floy Quintos and directed by Dexter M. Santos, is currently being restaged at the Peta Theater Center.

Originally set prior to the 2019 midterm elections in the Philippines, the second run underwent very minor updates and is now set after the elections (the play opened a week after the midterm elections). That the same material worked as intensely both before and after this particular and pivotal moment is a testament to Mr. Quintos’ gift in moving something so specific to the realm of the timeless, which is also one of the underlying themes of the play.

Maestra Adela (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) is a gifted opera singer. Traumatized by the events before, during, and the immediate aftermath of the 1986 People Power Revolution, she has chosen to retire from the stage in favor of teaching young singers the art of kundiman.

Apart from her students — including the young Antoinette (Miah Canton) and the professional kundiman singer Melissa (Rica Nepomuceno) — and her pianist Ludwig (Gabriel Paguirigan), her world is mostly limited to her three girl friends: the activist Tita Mayen (Frances Makil-Ignacio), the motherly Helen (Stella Cañete-Mendoza), and the worldly Mitch (Missy Maramara).

After the senatorial elections where the opposition suffered heavy losses, Mayen, Helen, and Mitch share the fear of a government that is growing more oppressive. They have been joining rallies and protest movements but feel that they are hardly making a dent.

Through it all, Maestra Adela has remained distant to the political grumblings — until she is dragged from her comfort zone by Bobbie (Boo Gabunada), Antoinette’s boyfriend. The rebellious son of a controversial and corrupt senator, he takes an interest in the maestra upon learning of her background. Seems that Maestra Adela lent her voice to the revolution and is no longer able to sing because of it.

It was exactly the heart-tugging story that Bobbie’s millennial generation needed to wake them up to the issues confronting society today. Convincing the maestra to emerge from her “retirement,” she agrees to be filmed talking about her passion for the kundiman and its relevance in modern society while teaching her students to sing the masterpieces of Nicanor Abelardo and Francisco Santiago, Jr.

With Bobbie’s social media expertise, Adela becomes a YouTube sensation, racking up millions of views per video post. But social media has a dark side. And with the views and likes come the bashers as well. Never having to step out of her house, Adela is shielded from the negativity until that day when her views attract real-world consequences.

They say that people should not judge a book by its cover. And The Kundiman Party’s cover make it easy to be dismissed as another “anti-administration” and “pro-opposition” piece. While it criticizes the administration and warns of the dangers ahead with the outcome of the senatorial elections, The Kundiman Party is not a simple “opposition” piece. It is a challenge to everyone from every political leaning to reflect on why the country found itself in the deep hole it is in right now. Because whether we are for or against this government, everyone from all sides has legitimate grievances that need to be addressed, and we are all to be blamed for it.

Except for a brief projection showing likes, emoticons, and viewership on social media, The Kundiman Party has no stunning special effects, revolving platforms, and elaborate choreography. Those elements, while fitting for other productions, have no place in The Kundiman Party which emphasizes simplicity, clarity, and intensity without extraneous matters.

The kundiman as an art form has a singular purpose which is to convey intense passion — whether for a loved one, country, or God. And that singular purpose can be seen in every aspect of the production -— from the sets to the lighting design. But it is most clear in the dialogue where every word has a reason to be uttered and every song a motive to be sung.

Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino shines as Maestra Adela — a woman who has seen too much; a woman who sacrificed everything; a woman, like the kudiman she loves, struggling to be relevant again in a world she believed has already left her behind.

That particular scene when Bobbie questions the value of her sacrifice given that she only lost her voice while many others lost their lives summarizes how most artists — often at the forefront of the fight against oppression — feel about the loss of their gifts. It may have been a little sacrifice but it was her sacrifice. Her voice was not taken away from her. She gave it up freely, knowing what it would cost her. That is the nature of a true sacrifice.

And should everyone sacrifice for this cause, who will remain to enjoy the victory?

The generosity of Makil-Ignacio, Cañete-Mendoza, and Maramara makes this production a dream cast. It was very clear that the three ladies were there to support Ms. Centenera-Buencamino in the same way that Mayen, Helen, and Mitch were there to support Adela. They did so and more. The nuanced performances allowed Ms. Centenera-Buencamino to thrive and conquer. The snappy back-and-forth between the so-called Titas of Manila made the audience feel welcomed into the home, and truly part of the discussion.

We can all relate to the three. At some point, we have felt defiant, afraid, and jaded — sometimes all at the same time. But in a world of uncertainty, we dig deep within us and keep going.

It is interesting to note the role that women play in nation-building. It is the women who plan, who keep things going, and ensure that people are fed in the process. And in the end, it is the women who stay and handle the fall-out.

The Kundiman Party is the post-election discussion we all need to have as families, as friends, and as a nation. And if we try to listen to understand rather than to respond, maybe, just like the music, our lives will be given a chance to be enriched by it.

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