Photos by Adam Santos for Tanghalang Pilipino
While I’m accustomed to being handed a play’s plot in its entirety, Manila Notes did just the opposite by giving me snippets of a storyline, and after the one hour and 45 minutes of stage time, I was simply begging for more. Even now as I write this four days later, there are still questions racing through my head.
Manila Notes, the Filipino version of Oriza Hirata’s Tokyo Notes, follows several families and lovers as they converse about life amid the ongoing European war. The play is set in the lobby of a museum in Manila, in the not-so-far future. As the war endangers human lives and culture alike, paintings are moved from Europe into cities in Asia. In the protagonists’ discussion on the detail and style of the works of Vermeer, their lives are uncovered
Along with the rest of the viewers, I caught their stories little by little, in fragments. I learned about siblings from the faraway probinsya visiting the big city. I witnessed lovers reuniting after years.
Each detail of the production was thought out, from the set design down to the breaths between lines. The depth of the backdrop contrasted perfectly against capiz details in the foreground. Even the pacing of each exchange was natural, mimicking daily conversation. Translator Rody Vera captures the expression and emphasis that characterize Filipino dialogues with impeccable precision. A foreign play, successfully made Filipino.
Though the world being played out on stage was based on creative imagination, it was not at all distant, not at all untouchable. In the girl who soldiered through college requirements, in the ate who took care of her parents, and in the curator who tried with all her might to do justice to her job, I saw bits of myself. I laughed in understanding as one character navigated the technicalities of fine art and I sat motionless along with the actors, frozen under the spotlight. As the show came to its close, I was shaken from that stupor, but internally still guessing each character’s complete plotline.
This is the genius in Hirata’s direction. The way by which he takes audiences from passive viewers to active participants is masterful. He creates a story that no longer belongs to just the actors, but to each person who witnesses and continues it.
Manila Notes is a groundbreaker — while plays usually hand viewers the narrative entirely, with a clear-cut resolution, this one takes place with just moments and leaves audiences to fill in the blanks. It’s an adventure not only from start to finish, but also far beyond the curtain call.
Manila Notes runs at the CCP Little Theater (Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino) from November 30 – December 16, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit the Ticketworld website.