Love, Loss, and Jean Genet
No French novelist is perhaps more controversial than Jean Genet. Coming from a background that included being abandoned by his mother, male prostitution and imprisonment, his life is the stuff of Oscar-worthy biopics. It is his insights on subjects like terrorism, revolution, homosexuality, desire, and love that is perhaps even more controversial than the man himself.
Largely based on Genet’s last work, “Un Captif Amoureux” (Prisoner of Love), Dulaang UP’s “Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig” tries to offer a portrait of this highly interesting man. Presented as a conversation between him and his friend Leila, the story is an account of the last years of his life as he struggled to finish his novel while battling throat cancer.
The play highlighted the important fact that Genet is on the side of the revolutionaries. He is a white Frenchman who identified with the “other”– the marginalized, the homeless, the oppressed whose oppressors had the gall to call them “terrorists”. The production explores Genet’s thoughts on war and the definition of terrorism by introducing Mubarak (Ybes Bagadiong) and his ilk. Bagadiong is commanding in the role, captivating the audiences to pay attention to his plight, and therefore Genet’s politics.
Along with Bagadiong, the supporting cast members were the strongest points of the production. The actors who played Genet’s lovers–JC Santos as Abdallah, Tarek El Tayech as Mohammed, and Paul Cedric Juan as Jacky Maglia–were not only memorable in their respective roles, they stole the show.
The story picks up considerably when Genet starts reminiscing about his past lovers. It’s a fantastical and imaginative sequence where each lover and love story was highlighted and seamlessly interwoven to show Genet’s uncanny ability to break down those who dared love him. For their part, Jojo Cayabyab as Jean Genet and Tess Jamias as Leila Shahid were serviceable leads.
Rody Vera’s play didn’t always work in the language it was written, but that’s always the caveat when writing about foreign issues and sensibilities in Filipino. Some of the dialogue lost its poignancy because they were in Tagalog. In some scenes, certain lines could have carried more impact had they been delivered in English. Add to that, there were also colloquialisms and ‘Filipino’ humor peppered within the dialogue, which took you away from any gravitas a scene might have had.
The show’s third act is its weakest. The intention to pay tribute to Genet (whose death was overshadowed by Simone de Beauvoir’s) fell short. It was more confusing than resonant, ending the show on an odd note.
Jean Genet is a very interesting man, and Dulaang UP’s on stage presentation of the man and his work is not a flawless attempt, but it was a good one. He deserves to be celebrated like his French contemporaries. He deserves to be known outside of academic or literary discourse. If there’s anything “Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig” has achieved, it is to generate interest about him. -NF
BILANGGO NG PAG-IBIG
DIRECTED BY Jose Estrella; WRITTEN BY Rody Vera; STARRING Jojo Cayabyab, Tess Jamias, Peewee O’Hara. Running from February 11 to March 1 at Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.