Photos by Gian Nicdao
It’s 10 minutes to eight o’clock, and you’re walking down a sketchy-looking street on your way to see a performance at The Ruins in Poblacion, Makati when a beggar approaches you, asking for money. What do you do?
At first sight, you’re not entirely sure whether or not it’s an actor playing a part, welcoming you to the experience — this is Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio, after all. Once inside, you see more of them and realize the setup. But think for a second: how did you react to the first one, when you weren’t sure of what to make of the beggar? Did you flinch, look away, give alms?
I’ll confess: I’ve never seen a staging of Mang Serapio. I wondered why, because this is the 50th anniversary staging of the play by Paul Dumol (yes, it was written in 1968, for those who refuse to do the math). Even before I sat down to see it, one thing that struck me was stepping through the gates of The Ruins, walking into a crowd of presumably middle- to upper-class people standing alongside a bunch of beggars just going about their business like it was nobody’s business. Even if we all knew, at this point, that they were actors, you could still smell the tension throughout the courtyard. Just food for thought.
Up close and personal: This staging of Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio at The Ruins in Poblacion, Makati, crams the audience close to the cast, creating an almost claustrophic experience.
But onto the meat: if you’re unfamiliar with the story — like me — Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio is about, well, the trial of the beggar Mang Serapio. He is being charged with the absolutely ludicrous crime of — wait for it — caring for a child. While the thought of that is completely wild to me, the prosecutors explain that taking care of a child is a wasteful misuse of their federation’s money. You’re allowed to use a child as a prop to earn alms, but to care for it, give it time, money, effort and love? Unforgivable. I mean, it doesn’t sound too far from the rumors surrounding real-life syndicates that use beggars to earn, but to hear it again makes you think how ridiculous this whole thing is.
Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio is about, well, the trial of the beggar Mang Serapio. He is being charged with the absolutely ludicrous crime of — wait for it — caring for a child.
As the trial progresses, it turns out that Mang Serapio’s child is actually dead, having been run over by a car some years ago. His wife died giving birth to their daughter Sol. The child Mang Serapio allegedly cares for is actually a doll, and the spectators and prosecutors ridicule and laugh at him. But slowly, they come to sympathize with the accused, eventually singing along to the Mang Serapio’s lullaby for Sol.
The play is about the trial of Mang Serapio, who is accused of wasting the beggars’ federation’s money by caring for a child.
But right when you think the worst is over, the tables turn on you and the prosecutors punish Mang Serapio anyway, pulling out his eyes (pay close attention to how many!). The feeling of injustice still rings true today, especially in times like these. Mang Serapio stood no chance at freedom to begin with, no matter how hard he tried to prove himself innocent. How many times have we heard of such things happening recently?
Even after 50 years, the play still manages to stay relevant, especially in today’s times.
It’s a fairly quick show, clocking in at under an hour, but it’s packed to the brim. This is mostly because you’re seated very close to the actors — the front row literally a foot away from the stage — and the experience is almost claustrophobic. You see every little wince, every hint of rage, every ounce of desperation. There might be a little bit of blood, so don’t wear white if you’re planning to sit up close.
There’s a lot more to be said about Mang Serapio still being very relevant today, even after being staged for half a century, but the work speaks for itself. Just be prepared to be stressed out of your wits.
Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio has shows on Sept. 14, 15 and 16. For tickets and more information, visit facebook.com/theatretitasph.