It took this pandemic, this government, and a fundraiser by Full House Theater Company and ABS-CBN to release a Filipino play made accessible just for about anyone with an internet connection to revel at the wonders of a full production set on-stage.
Much as we all want for art, specially in this form, to be available to everyone, it is with a somber tone we reluctantly accept that this medium is only accessible to those who can afford it.
It is refreshing then to witness literally almost anyone in any and all aspects of society create online discourse of what the message the play was trying to convey. Considering how binary the country is when it comes to politics, we get a glimpse of what its like when normal humans are given the opportunity to openly ‘review’ a play based on varying degrees of schools of thought as well as based on their own personal takes and backgrounds.
On that note, fair warning, SPOILERS AHEAD of some scenes, characters, and plot of Ang Huling El Bimbo by Full House Theater.
On the surface, most online reviews on personal social media timelines simply use the term “nakakaiyak” (tearjerker) that it was moving, austere, and somber to find Joy to not be able to live through that ordeal. Some simply just enjoyed how the musical arrangements were done and that the choices of tempo, intensity, among other things was properly placed unto the scene or act, or that they chose the right songs throughout the play.
Others, scoff at the use of Ligaya only as a device left with nothing but a promise from the uncles that vow to be there for her. On top of shallowness of the literal use of song titles and lyrics that forced names and settings of the play to coincide with the song, where they could have been more tongue-in-cheek with how a song played into the story rather than literally be flashed with underscore and neon lights.
There are those that sneered at the narrative of how there was injustice towards Joy who went through hell and back only to provide for her daughter, Ligaya, only then to perish at the hands of inaction in the part of AJ, Emman, Hector as well as through the abuse of power of the politician.
Perhaps the most heavy-handed was that the play utilized rape to be able to contrast the privilege of the three boys who was able to discuss among themselves about that fateful night in act one and how Joy only had herself to carry the burden. How Joy was not allowed to deal with what happened to her, personally, and was forced to shrug it off to survive in the harsh climate of Philippine society where she has to earn a living, feed her daughter, and provide for the family all the while suppressing the trauma throughout act two. The narrative, which stood true for many, is to survive first and forget it ever happened.
The male characters’ attempt at redemption and absolution by making a promise to Ligaya in act three all the while literally ignoring Joy for 20 years only for the three to somehow “succeed” in life or have a semblance of success plays well to a narrative that shows how much privilege can play into literally fast-tracking you in life compared to how the poor and oppressed aren’t even allowed to recognize psychological fears, mental health, among many others that are discourses of the elite and the privileged.
There are aspects of the play that have begged for more creativity in portraying a message of how if you removed the musical score there remains tired tropes and lack an engaging story, how there was injustice through and through, how the division of classes tell contrasting stories, and how you are literally left to wonder if it was a good play or not afterwards.
Are any of these valid points to take away after seeing Ang Huling El Bimbo?
Yes, that was the point of the play, of the arts, in this medium. But only now can this play actually be fully realized because the audience, prior to being released to the masses, literally composed of the middle-class and above. Everyone else who would have wanted to watch this could either not afford it or wouldn’t have the time or luxury to dress up and ride a cab towards Resorts World.
The play focused to much time on the boys yet leaves Joy to fend for herself romanticizing the life and times she spent with the boys for all of 20 years. They were brought in for questioning the entirety of act 1 simply because they all missed a call from Joy before her death and that there was a photo of them together aged in her purse.
It then resolves nothing in the end. It leaves everything to the audience to be able to find it in themselves to fight for those that cannot and cannot afford to. It leaves to the audience the responsibility of calling out injustices and act upon them. It’s telling the audience that you, yes you, can make a difference.
In the end it literally was “tindig balahibo” (hair raising) at how the play chose this narrative of how men are trash at either acknowledging their feelings and emotions and how Joy was nothing but steadfast towards her former friends and lover at the same time being ignored throughout the story only to find herself leaving her daughter orphaned at the hands of her mother and absolves the boys of accountability all the while exploits the innocence of a child as a device for resolution and nothing more.
What’s left then after this discourse is to realize how we are all so far disconnected in a country that boasts “bayanihan” (spirit of community, work and cooperation) yet allows for a Joy to happen time and time again, how the upper echelons use the concept of rape and exploitation and how insensitive and irresponsible we all are about the use of children and rape in media.
What did you think of Ang Huling El Bimbo?