Orosman at Zafira, featuring Jay Gonzaga as Orosman, makes for a powerful social commentary on human nature and society, here imagined through a primitive lens of animalistic dances and tribal aestheticism.
Last week-end, upon my friend Kakki’s passionate prodding, I found myself in UP anxious, curious, and doubly excited to watch Dulaang UP’s restaging of its hit musical, Orosman at Zafira at the esteemed Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Reminiscing on the last time I watched the show, I prepped myself for two and a half hours of heart-pounding madness and neo-Filipino artistry — calling to mind Carol Bello’s haunting world music and the brilliant contemporary choreography that enveloped the two-act piece.
I didn’t know what to expect of the show then, but after witnessing stunning performances from Cris Villonco, Felix Rivera, Judith Javier, JC Santos, and Red Concepcion among other exceptional stars from the previous run, and more than anything, first time director and movement master Dexter Santos’ unparalleled genius, I found myself judiciously craving more. It was those intense war scenes that really got to me; and true to form with artistic enhancement where I didn’t think it possible, it’s the intense war scenes that still get to me now. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed; heart in my throat with emotions, insanity and passion runneth over, all I could really say while sitting at the edge of my seat was, “Holy S**t!”
Orosman at Zafira, penned by Francisco Baltazar or Balagtas, is an exposition of the life and times of three kingdoms: Marueccos, Tedenst, and Duquela, here contextualized by thematic elements, dances, and ritualistic iconography from Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Provoked by conflict that almost always, in the tradition of a komedya, starts from the vicissitudes of both familial and romantic love, thoughtfully interspersed with an insatiable power struggle to the likes of a Shakespearean piece of literature, the play centers on star-crossed protagonists Orosman and Zafira who hail from two opposing kingdoms. When creeping doubt overcomes Boulasem, sovereign of Tedenst and Orosman’s father, on the prospect that his contemporary Mahamud could rally for power and seize control, he orders that the latter, sovereign of the Marueccos who also happens to be Zafira’s father, be killed. This consequently sparks a series of skirmishes among the contrasting kingdoms, ironically taken up first by the feminine in the person of Zafira as the play is replete with feministic undertones.
Of shifting alliances, bloodlust, and the human capital requisitioned by the necessity of war, Orosman at Zafira makes for a powerful social commentary on human nature and society, here imagined through a primitive lens of animalistic dances and tribal aestheticism rendered by the magnificent Tuxqs Rutaquio, where love and power seem religiously intertwined. Blinded or overcome by love, the truth of it all is that man will proceed at any cost – even if it is to the destruction or demise of a kingdom or civilization. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Where Dexter succeeds in modernizing Balagtas’ powerful komedya while maintaining key elements that are essential to its artistic form, it’s also striking to note the play’s references to pagan ritualism in portraying the casualties of war – wherein a little boy is sitting on a bangka that drifts from stage-right to stage-left, followed by a cryptic march of fallen characters crossing over to the vast unknown. Accompanied by a haunting aria sung by the character of Zelima, the show’s narrator who will join the march at some point to illustrate how absolutely no one was spared by war, water falls continuously into a basin from atop the stage that, when lit, becomes a powerful metaphor connoting insatiable bloodshed, and possibly, a delubyo that engulfs and destroys the three kingdoms. Pieced together, the show reaches its indelible climax.
For the rerun, Dexter manages to inject some astounding new-blood to the piece, and much praise and shout-outs should be given to Delphine Buencamino who is a revelation in the role of Zafira. She is fierce as fierce can get, hailing from a family of actors that includes parents Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino who are themselves theater vets. Her eyes soared with both strength and vulnerability, accompanied by an understanding of the vocal technicality employed by Carol Bello’s world music. Delphine is joined here by Jay Gonzaga who plays a chiseled Orosman, Reuben Uy as the treacherous Abdalap, Natasha Cabrera as Zelima, Jacinta Remulla and Gabs Santos who also play star-crossed lovers Gulnara and Aldervesin, Roeder Camang as Boulasem, JM de Guzman as Zelim, and Neil Tolentino and Ronnie Martinez as Mahamud and Ben-Asar.
Comprising the artistic team are production designer Tuxqs Rutaquio who, lights designer John Batalla, dramaturges Anril Tiatco, Katte Sabate, and Pat Valera, accessories designer Paolo Rodriguez, assistant director Mara Marasigan, associate choreographer Via Antonio, and assistant musical director Irish Pangilinan.
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Orosman at Zafira will run until August 29 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, U.P. Diliman, Quezon City from Wednesdays to Fridays at 7 p.m. and at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during weekends. For tickets, call Cherry at 09177500107, or the Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349, 981-8500 local 2449 or 433-7840.