A Review of “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” a.k.a. My First Time At CCP

In a desperate attempt to prepare myself appropriately for the second phase of my life (a.k.a. young adulthood), I embarked on my first journey inside CCP in order to watch a play entitled “Mga Ama, Mga Anak”.

Upon entering the lobby for the first time in my life, the one thing that came to mind was: #throwback. It seemed as though the interior of the place had hardly changed since the 1970s (was this really the case?). The place was dark and cold and the walls were a gloomy shade of gray. The only thing that brightened up the area were the massive paintings that hung near the doors that led to the spacious bathrooms. The center’s archive/collectible store was a fascinating little place, complete with shelves of records and VHS tapes of classic Filipino films. To top it all off, the place was filled with people from (almost) all walks of life– gone was my perception that the theatre was reserved solely for snobby culturati in multicolored scarves.

The theatre felt like a horribly detached place. It resembled a movie theatre, the only difference being that the stage had a set instead of a large, flat white screen. Our distance from the stage was far. Sure, we could see everything pretty well, but it didn’t seem to suffice for me. Perhaps it came from having gotten used to watching plays in a smaller, close-knit room (a.k.a. the RMT in Ateneo). I wondered whether the emotions of the actors would be as penetrating as they were. I had doubts.

“Mga Ama, Mga Anak” is the Filipino translation of “Three Generations”, a short story by Joaquin that he rewrote as a three-act play the year that he was declared National Artist. Directed by famed film director Joel Lamangan, the play stars a number of veteran actors of the Tanghalang Pilipino (CCP’s resident theatre group). It tells the story of an estranged father and son and deals with morality, finding your own path in life and the family dynamic.

MaMa is no stereotypical family teleserye. Joaquin’s brilliance on paper lends itself to the plot, unearthing cerebral yet relatable elements in ways that are surprisingly real. The generation gap shows in some aspects (I was clueless as to what a ‘boogie woogie’ was until about a few seconds ago), but the general themes are timeless. This is a story you know.

The acting and casting were not superb but each aspect had their good side. The casting of Bessie was one such example– the lady who played the role of Zacarias’ mistress was brilliant in action, but looked nothing of the part, resembling a rich girl trying hard to rebel instead of a beer house dancer. Celo was another example of such a miscast in terms of appearance. Yet both were formidable onstage, delivering laudable work that definitely did its job. Chitong was a standout more for his looks instead of his acting. Yet, for a young guy among so much veterans, he definitely made his presence felt instead of melting into the background. Good work. Standouts include Sophia and Mrs. Paulo– strong, witty women who were clearly behind the play’s comedic punch. Bessie comes in at a close second– her costume on the other hand…

Production design captured what it needed to, yet it still seemed too bright. I didn’t feel the sense of ‘decrepit’ that was hinted at by the dialogue and the colors of the walls. On the other hand, imagining the grandeur of the dining hall that is described repeatedly in the play was a tasteful and unique experience— one that made use of brain cells that needed much work. Brava!

My big beef with the play– costume design. It took time to figure out the time setting of the play because everything may have looked dated [for a specific decade]  but the context was vague. Perhaps another effect of generation gap, I suppose (??) The clothes represented the characters well, but the chosen clothing for these characters seemed unplanned.

Real and relatable in so many aspects, Mga Ama Mga Anak is minimalist yet substantial. It is this paradox that could somewhat be considered a hallmark of Joaquin’s work, a testament to how a story need not be over the top in order to be brilliant or overtly dramatic. It is a welcome escape from the exaggeration of Filipino television, perfect for a time when thinking should be the order of the day.

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