Today is Ash Wednesday. I am however tempted to go on the Ambrosian way, where Lent starts on the first Sunday of Lent, because Jesus fasted 40 days, Sundays included. (The reason Ash Wednesday happens is that Sundays and the Feast of the Annunciation are exempt from the Lent fast, but not this year.) I would love to celebrate Lent this year in a spirit of both humility and humor, because both are a consequence of our awareness of human frailty and both are needed on the pilgrim way.

This special edition of the Notebook is based on an article that has been published here, on the Ateneo de Manila website. (Incidentally, I am drawing Anglicans’ attention to the fact that I plugged St. Andrew’s there, so everyone knows it exists and certain people will have no excuse to sweep anything under a carpet!) However, for reasons that will instantly be obvious, this is a very different piece. This is a companion essay to the earlier one.


Dear Ren,

In your essay which was given the title “A dark and well-executed comedy,” you reviewed TA’s production of Hakbang sa Hakbang. You pointed out correctly that Measure for Measure was a difficult piece, and any effort to restage it would be considered fresh no matter the approach. I agree with you that the tenor of the piece is dead serious. In fact, even if the scene I would be watching was supposedly funny, I was trying hard to laugh. It was that serious. To quote my favorite television doctors, “Seriously.”

I also agree that in general this was well-executed. At least if the intent was precisely to disclose the political dimensions of this play, vis-a-vis the moral ones, it was. I think staging it during a time of political prostitution never before seen in my country is a brilliant idea. But… and this is with a heavy sigh, knowing that you and I will be both read by some of those who know those responsible, I wonder if the play could have done better if, like my friend George Francisco, I would see it at the Globe in period costume, or in Kenneth Branagh’s tasteful adaptations for the screen.

There is something about Ron Capinding’s production that comes together that, if one element of it is taken apart, the play would collapse. Yes, the language barrier is there, and it is an insurmountable barrier. I think it is indeed wise to read Capinding’s explanations of the moves he took, which are themselves worth buying and reading. My trouble with the play is really where I depart from your observations. I was just distracted at some points, and I thought some elements would need necessary excision.

One TA alumnus who I met last Saturday when we were watching the play, who will remain anonymous save to say that he studies law now, tells me that one difficulty that young actors have is to act out age. I perfectly understand. But I think they managed to act appropriately. That’s to their credit. However, I was distracted. Really. I mean, I really could not see why at some points, even if the dialogue was less than funny, I would otherwise have to laugh at the way that they accompanied it with dance moves. You were right. I formed my impressions just after the dance number that began the play, when they were first doing such a thing. Now I know why an acquaintance who is knowledgeable about these things shot down the concept of Hakbang from day one. Unfortunately, the most he could do was to have those bullets glance off the wings harmlessly.

To be fair to Ina Luna, herself a very graceful and gracious dancer, I think some of the movements were necessary and welcome. I liked how for instance a scene would move, literally, along all four corners of the stage, since it was needed in a “theater in the round.” However, I might remind Shakespeare’s stagers that the Bard has explicitly given advice on how to act his plays, in the play Hamlet. It is worth reading, because the poor man’s body has been rolling all over in his grave with the way many actors were ignoring his advice. At least the TA people got the part about “letting the speech trip lightly off the tongue” right!

And while we are not in some Suharto-style “guarded democracy,” yet, I am glad that no one from the administration, or anyone sympathetic, was watching when we did. I can imagine the eyebrow-raising, the head-shaking, and probably the few whispered words to Ricky Abad the Monday after. Of course, we are now in a guided democracy, so before I criticize the government and find myself branded a destabilizer standing in the way of the people’s progress, I will stop…

One last thing, however. I think the first thing that really caught me was how Ron Capinding translated the title. And I did not agree with it, even if I understood his decision. You were right when you reminded everyone that the title was a Scriptural reference. Shakespeare meant to remind people that standards, whatever they are, applied to those making them. I hope all involved in Hakbang would remember that.

Before I go, I think you forgot to put two or three words in the second paragraph: after the title of the play, you should insert the words “as part of.” I wish you all the best, and have a holy Lent!

Sincerely yours,

Renato V. Aguila


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