KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 3 / July–August–September 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

a bi-cultural challenge

Written & directed by

Merlinda Bobis

Performed by

Mars Cavestany

Cultural Revelasians, Sydney Asian Theatre Festival

Belvoir Theatre, Sydney

7 September 1997

Reviewed by

Debbie Wall

Graphic: Sandra Torrijos, Clipart, Isis International

Mars Cavestany's character, Teofilo Cruz traverses diverse historical periods and cultures, demanding seamless transition between the roles of the young man and the old man within distinct time/space context. As it is impractical to don new 'costumes' for a small live theatre setting, this transition needs to be projected through the actor's metamorphosis on stage as he takes the audience through this journey with him. This change in persona he has done adroitly as young Teofilo Cruz, as the soldier fighting during the Second World War and as the widower reflecting on his life and threading the disparate pieces together.

That the multiple selves/roles he plays is extremely demanding is indisputable. He plays the role with grace — just doing what the change in character/time zone requires. Perhaps the poignancy of his fate (the rape/murder of his wife by the Japanese, the mercy killing he executed as his American soldier comrade lay, dying of his wounds) may need to be internalised more deeply for it to connect to the audience's heart strings.

Merlinda Bobis, the writer of this War Trilogy and winner of the 1995 Ian Reed Radio Drama Prize produced by ABC Radio brings on stage the inevitable clash of cultures, the interpenetration of past and present, the tragedy imperialist wars bring on ordinary people's lives — their festering memory, the moulding of a colonial mind, the wry humour, the misunderstanding of this now seventy-two year old man serenading a Western Sydney 'blonde' Australian woman in the nineties.

For those with little knowledge of Filipino history and culture, the unfolding of the character's life story and the revelation of the kernel of the play simply have to wait as the play progresses, and as the individual audience's level of awareness increases. Mars' performance earns for him empathy with the audience as the 'good man' he repeatedly affirms at the tail end of the play despite falling victim to the vicissitude of a colonialist/imperialist war.

There are those who may consider that lingering in the role of the young man serenading and courting the first woman in his life a little tedious. A contrary view, however, is that the audience needs to 'get to know' the character's cultural setting to begin with or it will be well nigh impossible to follow the zig-zag trips to other time and culture zones. The character is played with sensitivity by Mars who has certainly responded adequately to the playwright's challenge. One wonders what impression the audience is left with at the end of the play: is it a comedy, a tragedy, a bi-cultural experience, a Filipino-Australian inter-cultural dialogue courtesy of the theatre? Whatever it is, Ms Serena Serenata is food for thought.

Merlinda Bobis