REVIEW: “Buwan at Baril” shows how our past can be our future


Buwan at Baril
Angeli Bayani (Babaeng Itawis) and JC Santos (Pari)

This Chris Millado-penned play was first staged in 1985, and original cast member Crispin Pineda thought after the EDSA Revolution, they could lay this piece to rest as the battle against the Marcos dictatorship had been won. That it’s being staged again today in 2017 as a painfully timely piece (without needing to update the material whatsoever) is a chilling reminder how easy it is for us to find ourselves right back to where we started.

The show begins with a performance arts of sorts where students barged into the auditorium, chanting as if in the middle of a rally. It’s a present-day protest with chants of “Marcos! Duterte! Diktator! Tuta!” before being chased off stage by the authorities. It’s a clunky start, where this mini riot felt forced and too heavy-handed in the small theater of Bantayog ng mga Bayani. While unnecessary, it did situate the audience of what is happening now before reminding us, with this show, about what happened before.

Buwan at Baril
photo by Frida Tan

The play (directed by Andoy Ranay) is a series of stand-alone monologues and dialogues and people who resisted, or were victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

(READ: Powerhouse Cast Talks about Martial Law Play, ‘Buwan at Baril sa E Flat Major)

The first scene is set in 1984’s “Lakbayan”, where farmers and laborers marched in protest of poor working conditions in the hands of the government. Two brothers (Crispin Pineda and Reymund Domingo) reunite right in the middle of the march, catching each other up about their lives in between rally chants. The scene is a slow burn that felt overly long, but it gets its point across in the end: lives are disrupted and ruined when there is no democracy.

Buwan at Baril
Reymund Domingo

The second scene opens with a priest (JC Santos) leading a group of journalists into a refugee center full of indigenous tribespeople uprooted by military operations. They are introduced to an Itawis woman (Angeli Bayani, delivering easily one of the most noteworthy performances of the year and it’s only January). She’s despondent and leery of the people in her midst. The priest speaks for her at first, translating the few words she says for the Tagalog-speaking guests. It won’t be until they leave that the Itawis woman reveals her tragedy.

Buwan at Baril
Angeli Bayani and JC Santos

Angeli Bayani speaks in fluent Itawis for the duration of the scene. There are no supertitles around, and the audience doesn’t need it. She performs with a clarity of emotion that transcends words and their meaning. The staging turns solemn as she recounts her experiences with the military. She bares her soul and it’s almost hard to watch, but impossible to turn away.

The show completely shifts in tone by its third scene with Jackie Lou Blanco in a fluffy pink bathrobe in a well-lit closet prattling off commands to an unseen helper as she gets ready. Ms. Blanco plays a certain type of Filipina—one that grew up with every advantage in life and spoke in a way that is often associated with vapidness and a sheltered existence only money could buy.

But, this Socialite is more complex than that. She is self-aware. Of her privilege, of her responsibilities, even the effect she has on men. Ms. Blanco’s hyperbolic performance was incredibly entertaining, but she shifts emotions handily at the end, revealing that her bubbly manner does not mean naivety of her situation.

Buwan at Baril
Jackie Lou Blanco

It’s easy to live in a bubble when you’ll never bear the brunt of harsh political realities, but she goes against that notion. She fights at the front lines. It’s perhaps the most relevant scene for the desensitized middle-class of today. Just because it’s not happening to us doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.

The fourth scene goes back on the show’s somber mood, with a wife (Cherry Pie Picache) who is made to identify the body of her slain NPA husband. Although there were moments when she was inaudible, Ms. Picache ably carried this dramatic monologue.

Buwan at Baril
Cherry Pie Picache

The final scene is an interrogation between a tough officer (Paolo O’Hara) and a young rebel (Ross Pesigan). Mr. O’Hara was a natural in his role, playing his character’s brutal nature that teetered the line of being just realistic. It starts of similarly with the other scenes, where we see the extremities of unchecked power. Unlike the other scenes however, it devolves into a comedic cat-and-mouse, where the young rebel outwits the officer and gets away.

Buwan at Baril
L-R: Ross Pesigan and Paolo O’Hara

There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why the stand-alone scenes were arranged the way they were, other than the drastic changes in tone taking the audience on a journey of shifting emotions. Accompanying music (by Vincent De Jesus, Tim Cada, and Poch Gutierrez) were put in place instead of flashy set design. It works well to set the atmosphere of each scene.

It’s a lean production, designed to tour campuses. It’s a great piece for that objective, as it shows the cost of the freedoms we currently enjoy and are gambling with. It’s important for these stories—cautionary tales—to be told as they look into our past and could inform our future.

You can buy tickets here.

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