Clashes between old and new cultural norms

Community Opinion & Analysis Mar 24, 2017 at 3:02 pm
Photo: Bo Fajardo

Photo: Bo Fajardo

Carlos Bulosan Theatre’s play ANAK: Review

By Lui Queaño

The recent staging of the play ANAK by Carlos Bulosan Theatre (CBT) at the St. Paul’s United Church in Scarborough, without doubt, opened up a discourse on the impact of migration on the Filipino family.

The play, the audience finds out, depicts the struggle of the Tomas and Villanueva families against what these families probably see as modern Filipino Canadian norms. There are apparently two groups of norms tackled. One is around the unexpected pregnancy of Carmen’s (portrayed by Belinda Corpuz) daughter Irene (Isabel Kanaan); the other, around the gender issue of Connie’s (Alia Rasul) son Peter (Anthony Raymond Yu).

Carmen and Connie, we gradually realize, are sisters, which explains the closeness of the two families, and lets us know that this traditional custom of above-all, family-first, to the apparent exclusion of other Filipinos, is being followed. There are focal scenes, accordingly, that we know we can look forward to in this breaking-tradition plot – first, how Irene finally tells her mother Carmen about her pregnancy and how the mother responds. Likewise we look forward to a second scene where Peter tries, like Irene, to tell both his parents the truth about him – his true sexuality- but it is a focal scene which never fully materializes in the play. Why this is so is not very clearly answered by the play, and the audience is left mulling: is the gender issue more difficult than the first? Or is it because the mother is more vehemently “traditional”?

Photo: Bo Fajardo

Photo: Bo Fajardo

If we backtracked a little, because we have observed that Carmen and Connie seem to have opposing characters in the first half of the play, we also look forward to another focal scene, between the sisters. Carmen, despite her tense and emotional personality, is herself more open to adjusting to change than Connie is, who is controlling and always expects things to go her way.
Certainly, the play gives a close-up chronicle of the lives and struggles of two Filipino families through the lens of the children (mga Anak), Irene and Peter, and this makes the stories interesting because they are the ones primarily suffering from the quandary of not wanting to hurt their parents but needing to accept themselves, at the same time wanting the acceptance of their parents.

There is one facet that however was much overlooked – one that would have made the plot more interesting: the story of Carmen, the mother who had taken unconventional means to make way for her daughter’s future. Had the story of Carmen been given more attention the play would have then developed into the narratives of the migrant struggles reflective of the collective experience of the Filipino community in Canada. In the play, Carmen lost a job and this would have been a good provocation to dramatize her plight as a domestic migrant worker who is actually a nurse by profession.

In her confrontation with her sister Connie, their respective backgrounds as migrants could have been developed further, and the story could then have blossomed into a full testimonial play about Filipino migration in Canada.

The play for all its worth did succeed in its presentation of how the two Filipino families overcame the clash of culture breaking away from the traditional to modern familial culture in a foreign land. In a way, the play presented the realities by which families are ambushed by migration that has impacted their traditions and culture. The question however remains unanswered: whether the dialogues and narratives in the play are believable and are legitimate as the suffering of most migrant families at least within the context of labor migration.
If there was even a conscious effort to relate the play to the plight of struggling migrant families, the plot of the story could have been expanded to serious issues facing migrants while living and working in Canada. Narrowing the play into the stories of pregnancy and the issue of sexuality proved to be lacking in comprehensive analysis of the social realities into which the migrant families are subjected to. The power of the narratives in the play could then be a source of critique to the Philippine government’s Labour Export Policy that has devastated Filipino families even after migration to Canada.

The play showcased excellent talents that got them connected to the audience. The portrayal of Belinda Corpuz as Carmen was excellent and could reach a level comparable to the much-respected stage actress in the Philippines, the late Adul de Leon. Corpuz came out the best actress on stage with her in-depth dramatization and intelligent execution of her character. Corpuz’s range of emotions manifest the hope, aspiration, frustration, despair and anger that dwells in the tone and substance the play tries to convey.

The other actors also gave commanding performances, like Connie’s natural acting on stage in a confrontational scene with Carmen and Derrick’s comedic performance while singing ‘Strangers in the Night’ complete with dancing. Both Irene and Peter, on the other hand, acting-wise are way ahead of their generation – cognizant of the complexity of their characters on stage. They not only told their stories but affected the audience and moved them.

In the end what matters most is that the audience believed what they were seeing on stage. And as Leon B. Aureus said , “Our collective efforts and experiences have produced a wealth of stories with purpose and meaning – stories of love, generation gaps, communication barriers, inequality, struggle and triumph.”

Director Aureus used various creative devices which are derivatives of the western culture/discipline that not only helped capture the dramatization of the play but further enhanced the innate creativity of his actors. Both the dramatic mode as well as the narrative mode of the play helped the audience grasp the story which the play represented – including the voices of women, as apprehended through the action, narrative and emotion that his actors gave under his direction.

And indeed, who knows – maybe one day a legitimate theatre like CBT could become a real venue and avenue of people’s theatre that stages not just a mimesis of a human experience borne out of workshop exercises, but one that truly represents the aspirations and dreams, struggles and victories of our land and our people.