Haunted past and present

A review of the Spirit of the Glass

Unfiltered in its passion and courage, Spirit of the Glass, a play in Filipino penned by Bonifacio Ilagan and directed by Joel Lamangan, tackled an intense subject: red-tagging — that others may fear to tread.

And though it certainly resonates with activists, and families and friends of martyrs, it was as much shocking as stirring to the young and uninitiated. But somehow the splices of comic relief and the animated energy (“kulitan”) of its young cast saved the play from being too emotionally laden to be overwhelming.

The screenplay was kicked off by the decision of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF) in August 2022 to withdraw its imprimatur on five books for publication. KWF found the books supposedly poisoning the minds of the young, subversive and anti-government, and the authors conspiring with terrorists and enemies of the state. The KWF memorandum went as far as saying that the books violated the Anti-Terrorism Act passed by the Duterte administration.

The set of the Spirit of the Glass play. (Photo by Iya Espiritu)

Apparently, Ilagan could not sit still with this idiocy, as the said authors were progressives and nationalists and experts in their own fields. He came up with a screenplay that inspired Lamangan to direct. Both playwright and director were former political prisoners themselves.

The play revolved around two young “red-tagged” university professors (Vivian and Bale) who were escorted out of the city for fear of their security by two former activist friends – one who was a freelance photographer (Rory) and the other (Badong) working in an ad agency. They went to the ancestral home of Rory. And there the ghost of the past and the present collided to reveal an unending tale of human rights violations as far back as the Spanish colonialists and continuing up to succeeding Philippine regimes.

This is where the trick of using the spirit of the glass as game became a skillful device in linking the past and the present. The sound and the lighting, too, was just creepy. And the set was creative in its simplicity and elegance.

The exchanges among, and between the young protagonists, were engaging enough to display a range of emotions for those unjustly persecuted – fear for their lives and their future, with their angst, anger and anxiety exploding in curses and tears. But being in the company of friends and former comrades provided a well-spring of comfort – whether it be humor, love-sickness, nonchalance or being corny or sentimental.

The veteran actors, two appearing as ghosts and one as a barangay captain, spoke with maturity and seriousness, bringing up the repression and lessons of the past. They served as contrast to the seeming impulsiveness that comes out of millennials and Gen Zs as depicted by the younger cast.

But what struck visceral was the sole demonstration of the ghost Natalia of her torture by military captors. It was a classic act. Just the body movements, facial expressions and screams brought shivers and goosebumps.

Activists as they are, Ilagan and Lamangan, could not allow the play to leave its audience depressed and hopeless. Their faith in the power of the mass movement seemed endless, ending the play with a positive note, uplifting its cast and audience alike.

That the play ran for three days at the IBG-KAL Theatre, UP Diliman, in the month of March, and with a strong cast of women, served as a tribute to the steadfastness and bravery of women standing up for their rights. And especially so, a legacy for younger generations who are pushing for a safer environment with no more spirits to haunt them with horrific stories in the past. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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