This was a review of Her Son, Jose Rizal performed by a local Filipino community theatre group. This piece went through a lot of revision, but it didn’t quite suit the publication I was aiming for.
The sold-out gala performance of Her Son, Jose Rizal, written by renowned Filipino artist Leonor Orosa-Goquingco, was an extravaganza of music, colour and emotion. Goquingcos one-act play is a brief but powerful look at key moments in the life of Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ most celebrated patriot. Four scenes are linked by soliloquies of an older Rizal (Manny Diel) in prison and show various stages of Rizal’s life as a boy (Elijah Merjudio) and a young man (RJ Rosales).
A sense of expectation hung in the air as the lights dimmed at the Tom Mann Theatre in Surry Hills. Diel opened the play from one corner of the stage, an anguished Rizal on the brink of martyrdom. Although director Armando Reyes seemed heavy-handed with these speeches, the spectre of Rizal’s prison cell, ever present downstage, remained a deliciously foreboding presence.
The first things that struck me with the opening scene at Rizal’s childhood home were the gorgeous costumes — in particular, the Maria Clara gowns — designed by Claudio Javellana. The set was spare but not sparse, and props were unobtrusive. Reyes did a commendable job of eliciting some good performances. Angelo Refuerzo, as Rizal’s elder brother, Paciano, turned out a well-rounded performance overall. Isabelle Montillano was charming as younger sister Soledad and could cry like a pro.
The second scene, set at a fiesta in which Soledad impresses the Governor-General with a dance, brought some fun to the night. Divine Montillano made fabulous work of her minor role as a snooty Filipina, and the musicians made me want to dance. However, the stage felt out of balance, with most of the action at stage left and the actors squashed against the wings. Isabelle Montillano’s skirt hindered her movement, and the dance choreography was a huge disappointment given playwright Goquingco’s achievements in dance.
Ala Paredes shone as the older Soledad. The audience perked up as she hummed her way across the stage in the opening of the third scene, her every movement natural but nuanced. Later, in the background, the haunting sound of Rachel Zararte’s soprano voice in a brief but gutsy a capella sent chills down my spine — the highlight of the play for me. The lighting was well managed, ensuring we could see every emotion on Soledad’s face even as the stage dimmed to reflect the darker times ahead.
Rosales gave an outstanding performance, although I was disappointed he did not sport Rizal’s distinctive hairstyle. His chemistry with Paredes was a joy to watch. In the final scene, his zeal was infectious and his torment heartbreaking. Kate Andres as Doña Teodora was all heart — it was clearly an emotional experience for her — although her interpretation of the role did not quite match what I was expecting.
The play ended awkwardly with a musical number. Rosales’s voice was flawless, but I would have preferred an echo of Zararte’s solo to emphasise the solemness and beauty and triumph of Rizal’s — and his mother’s — ultimate sacrifice.
Her Son, Jose Rizal was a valiant effort for the newly formed theatre group, Fine Artists Collaboration, but some crucial roles needed stronger actors to do justice to Goquingco’s work. Many of the largely amateur cast lacked elocution training, and so much of the play’s meaning was lost through poor enunciation. The $60 ticket price was steep, but it was worth supporting an area of the performing arts that has, until now, been overlooked by the Filipino community. The gala seemed well received by the local community, and indeed we had much to be proud of.
This review was based on the gala performance of the play on June 19, 2010. My original review of the play required substantial revision to get it to this point. The biggest issue was trying to write a balanced and fair review that recognised and lauded the efforts of the mostly amateur cast but also reflected my opinion of the performance. I found this an extremely difficult exercise, especially having been used to the no-holds-barred reviews I write for Book Thingo.
I wish I’d had a chance to see at least one of the other nights’ performances as well, just for comparison, because there were significant cast changes for each night. If you saw the play, I’d love to hear what you thought.