Doctrines, traditions, conventions, politics, taboos, these are some elements that are part of the everyday lives of people in the Philippine society. Usually when these are the topics or subjects, issues are commonly entailed. These are the central themes of Lester Andrada’s thesis production which he previewed last March 28, 2014 at the NCAS Alumni Plaza, or the garden area that looks like a small courtyard inside the NCAS building. “El Sacramento Prohibido” or “the Forbidden Sacrament” is a satirical production which utilized Absurdism and perhaps a slight hint of the stylings of the Theatre of Cruelty.
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The story of El Sacramento Prohibido (ESP) revolves around Dante, a young priest fresh out of the seminary who was assigned to the church at his hometown to be its new “kura” or reverend. Though he brandishes the aura of a straightforward virtuous young man, he bears a secret. Fr. Dante is homosexual, a fact that is controversial and technically against Christian doctrine. Dante was sent to a seminary in Manila by his parents who were both power hungry politicians who saw Dante only as a casualty that may tarnish their names. But even before leaving for the seminary, Dante has a lover, Abel, who was, during Dante’s absence, executed by Fr. Loreto, an old priest residing in San Idelfonso. Upon returning, Dante was attended to by a young altar server named Lermo. He was a thoughtful boy, who was the first to discover Dante’s secret during one of Dante’s moments of reminiscence when he accidentally kissed the boy while thinking of Abel whose whereabouts he has yet to find out. Eventually he shall know everything that happened in his hometown, all the misdeeds done by the church, by his own parents, and ultimately, the murder of his lover. Upon finding out the truth, Dante was consumed by the darkness, and in the end he kills everyone including himself. In the afterlife, Dante is seen with Abel, together peacefully and happily in paradise.
ESP has creatively utilized the production elements in the somewhat intimate setting. First off would be the set and props. ESP was the first production that I have seen using the garden area in NCAS, and it was a very unique experience, though a setback of it may be that the audience capacity is very limited, and the audience area itself is not leveled since the back part of the audience area is lower than the front, meaning those at the back would have a hard time seeing anything. My favorite thing about the set is how they were able to maximize the structure of the NCAS building itself. The scenes where the undead were pounding on the windows of the NCAS staircase, it was very memorable and awesome. On the props, they were creative but not as accurate (visually) as the actual church paraphernalia like the chalice, and the placement of the podium. The costumes and makeup of the actors were nice, the prosthetics were impressive but can still maybe stepped up a notch. The music was creepy, and therefore appropriate. I found it remarkable the moments of live choral music performed by the other actors (the parts when Herzl was at the back of the audience and she was chanting), very beautiful. The lights could be improved especially the timing of when to turn the lights on or off, but the lights in general had been able to establish the mood of the scenes alongside the music. The film component was impressively done in terms of cinematography. The technical aspects of the production can still be improved, like with the projector, and the synchronization of the lights and sounds with the scene.
The thing that makes me think of many things about ESP is the text itself. I grew up in a very religious environment. I know how many things worked, why some things are done, what some things meant, since these things were taught to me since I was a child. I found it hard not to comment on some of the technical aspects of the production, like the props (as I mentioned earlier) and also the text, on what the actors were saying. I really cannot blame the playwright since I heard that he was not a Catholic. I think what the playwright intended to depict is the undesirable characteristics and actions of the Church and how other people see it, and with that kind of perspective I think it had done that part well.
Though looking at it in retrospect, I think that perhaps had it been too accurate, it may be more offensive especially if they don’t know how to look at things with an artistic perspective, or just with an open mind. The text had tackled many issues in the Philippine society. There’s the case of the LGBT, where they are seen as undesirable in society as portrayed by how Fr. Loreto and Mr. & Mrs. Barrameda had shunned Dante because of his homosexuality. Another issue is with the church, or I should rather say the church practitioners, which had done wrongs since the time of the Spanish colonization when they used the word of God to exploit and take advantage of the people, as depicted by how Fr. Loreto always demands payments for sermons and other things that shouldn’t even be given a price. This next one may not be that much of an issue but the harm that can be brought about by gossip, which was depicted by the three ladies who attend mass and then afterwards talk bad about other people. The last one I shall point at is the dirty politics which is rampant in the Philippines. It was depicted by Dante’s parents who buy votes in a desperate attempt to hold on to power. They even wanted to utilize Dante’s influence as a priest in order to make the people vote for them.
The part which disappointed me was the fact that Dante had given in to the darkness, and also the fact that he killed Lermo, the innocent young boy who was always there to support him. But anyways, as a production, I think El Sacramento Prohibido is good and overall an enjoyable experience especially during the times when they break the fourth wall (well, at least for me, I’m okay with it), and also it wants to tell the audience not just a story but also a message of awareness about what is happening in society nowadays.