Within and Without
"Welcome, welcome to Manila!" grimaced the man wearing an elegant terno. Later we were offered sashes to wear as blindfolds. We all stood up quiet. Brace yourselves I thought, we're in for some surreal surprise. For a moment the black cloth made me feel I was to be executed at Bagumbayan. See, to be enveloped by a deliberate silence with vision occluded left me nowhere to go but within me, biological apps snapped to survival then to meditative mode where I grasped some Beta waves fading out into Alpha; and when it was about to hit a crescendo of Gamma the placid mind was rattled by "Quiapo! Quiapo! Sakay na kayo.." Then the roar of motor vehicles, pedicabs, trains and an ambient hum of a familiar street crowd.
The on-your-face darkness set out a mild nyctophobia, provided a mysterious but sweet sensation of being boxed in and boxed out, imaginatively peering out of a Fedex box only to find out I was inside a bigger box, while my body materialized in and out of an endless stack of Babushka dolls.
What madness to be instantly tele-transported to a distant geo-political state while escorted by an aural assault of MP3-formatted soundtracks of traffic noise and olfactory stimuli. I relished with gusto the atomizer aromas of beloved Manila, the sticky scent of sampaguita and ylang-ylang, the fragrance of roasted peanuts, a whiff here, a whiff there, a whisper in my right ear and then left alone to drown in a staccato of Miss Saigon's rotor blades that hovered pervasively like aromatic molecules.
It was a blitzkrieg of third eye visual assault..then woot! ..woot!..woot!..a panicking siren cued us to remove the blindfolds after which we were politely ushered into a bigger gallery and lo and behold..a miniature Manila landscape!
"What's this?" I asked myself with pupils still dilated. Have some gifted children finally grown up, those same creative kid savants who preferred playing with the boxes instead of toys contained within?
The garlicky smell of adobo meanwhile launched a tug-o-war between my gut and brain. Cool, after odor-ama we found ourselves in the middle of a huge diorama. I did realize the tremendous collective effort of people who gouged hundreds of windows out of buildings seemingly sculpted with disciplined abandon. There was even traffic monitored by a spycam behind the miniature jeepneys and relayed to a screen. Thank God there was no aroma of carbon monoxide from pretend car exhausts. The scene was an analog GoogleEarth, a bird's eye view of a human giant over a city from a distance of about a kilometer at a 35-degree angle in about 100:1 ratio.
This was the point of no return I thought, I was back in my old city of birth only this time the landmarks were made of cardboard cut-outs, Pandora's corrugated boxes hollowed out with passion and determination of a Jules Verne. Manila for a moment was the center of the earth viewed from down under.
The vista reminded me of the last frames of the Raiders of the Lost Ark that gloomily showed a warehouse full of cobwebby boxes that were to be joined by the Ark of the Covenant.
Then a scaled-down Black Nazarene slowly wheeled in front of me as the crowd (us) screamed Viva, Viva, Viva!
Manila by night with white-tape lined roads led to staircases and rooms that offered earthly pleasures. Also in a mock karaoke room I saw a thorn-crowned, half-naked body spread-eagled on the floor which I excruciatingly ignored.
The audience was treated to a cornucopia of film projections that looped endlessly while in a corner I spotted a makeshift lathe that spun and wove meandering shadows of a city skyline.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines floated against the wall like a weird UFO in the sky ostensibly prophetic of the second coming of the political kind for the person behind this iconic building situated along Roxas Boulevard.
It was also intriguing to see the UP Oblation man with his elbows bent as if gesturing "Whadda?!"
Manila City Hall with its signature red Big Ben clocks was to my right, a step away to the left sat a nocturnal Ermita clad in black stockings.
Outside the gallery I could faintly hear the squabbling of magpies agitated by a cold front that set out earlier.
However I must confess I've "destabilized" Malacanang Palace when I accidentally heeled it. My apologies, somehow it was my impish subconscious that demonically possessed wayward foot craving justice due from previous tenants.
Of course, you would have known by now that I was fleetingly within a performance play, inside a mock tour group that almost caricatured Manila's Walk This Way tour operated by Carlos Celdran, that articulate guy who bravely conducted a one-man protest recently inside Manila Cathedral, and held up a handwritten sign in bold letters that screamed: DAMASO, name of bullying priestly character out of Dr. Jose P. Rizal's Noli Me Tangere.
Touch me not!..or else you'll be charged extra over the striptease, says an unseen sign. There was a long menu for vicarious hedonism that fueled black humour, as Celdran's opus was also evident in the performance play, a simple sign that mocked as painful reminder to a stubborn Church which resolutely abhors the proposed Reproductive Health Bill.
Intramuros was a city within walls and modern age has expanded it beyond its boundaries, symbolically at least. To draw upon a parallel, I thought the Church was somehow privy to knotting a somewhat national blindfold that tightly gripped future of next generation of Filipinos already immune to poverty. I like to think that for majority, cloth cruelly garroted and threatened to squeeze the brains out of a feudally conditioned people. Likewise Munch's Scream could not be muted enough for insanity ruled inside two-dimensional walls.
Above: Datu Arellano of Anino Shadowplay Collective
The play was wholistically compelling and there were moments the carved boxes betrayed their hollow, corrugated flesh, flimsy facades aloof of commercial logos while actors metamorphosed into living paper-maches.
Above: Kenneth Moraleda, writer Menchie Maneze, this blogger and Paschal Daantos Berry
Being part of a test audience that interacted with the performers proved worthwhile. Immersive it was and left me soaked dry in dusts of internal dialogues which debated social issues; and corroborated a pleasant quote: the opportunity to create a small world between two pieces of cardboard, where time exists yet stands still, where people talk and I tell them what to say, is exciting and rewarding.
Above: a few members of the cast
Entitled Within and Without the play was written by a friend, the brilliant Filipino-Australian playwright Paschal Daantos Berry and Deborah Pollard in cooperation with Valerie Berry and Anino Shadowplay Collective wtih Datu Arellano, Andrew Cruz and Don Maralit Sulabayba;
Image: Kenneth Moraleda plays major role in Australian film "Lucky Miles" which was also featured on ABC tv.
..while good friend Kenneth Moraleda of Australian movie "Lucky Miles" fame is guest actor. Don't miss this unique performance at Blacktown Arts Center. See poster for details.