by Roma Estrada
▶︎ Consistent with his distinct style, Sari Saysay again gave us a kind of narrative that challenges our perception of time and reality in this year's Virgin Labfest with "Ang Mga Propesyunal."
The one-act play starred three children who help their parents earn a living by going through garbage and collecting what can be sold to junk shops. Riding on a trolley, these kids pick-up scraps and find playthings and toys along the way. Among the things they take a hold of is a video camera, a stethoscope, and a gun which begins a kind of role-playing game that slowly brings the audience into challenging confusion.
On their way to the junkshop, the children play their respective roles as journalist, doctor, and police officer. Each faithful to his / her role, the journalist inquired as a journalist would inquire, the doctor showed concern as a doctor would, the police officer spoke as a police officer would. A subtle yet very charged craft, "Ang Mga Propesyunal" proves that statements of resistance come in many forms. By showing children playing adult roles in front of adult spectators, Saysay takes us through an examination and exploration of the possible realms Duterte's regime has penetrated and damaged: the children themselves, their perceptions, the formation of their dispositions, which will inform their adulthood.
The journalist's inquiry elevated from a hypothetical question of who-will-you-save to demanding that the police explain why he kills journalists. Similarly, the police went from trying to take the camera to pointing the gun with a seeming thirst for blood.
If taken as mimicry, the play emphasizes the obvious, highlighting what we tend to overlook: children take pride in their accurate imitation of adults. If taken as parody, the play strips the police-journalist-doctor relationship of pretensions and reveals a glaring simplification: in today's context, police officers as blind followers kill journalists and other innocent citizens, and doctors are nothing more but witnesses to this brutality.
Their innocence gradually turns into corruption, and the children of "Ang Mga Propesyunal" helplessly descend into the vicious dimensions of their roleplaying where escape is deemed impossible. To some extent, this is a statement on the present, when our lives depend on the roles we play, whether as supporter or critic of the administration.
The ambiguity of it all — whether or not the gun was real, whether or not this was still roleplaying, whether or not time stood still — is a statement as well on today's seeming loss of meaning. The devaluation of lives, of principles, of roles. By having children as lead characters, Saysay shows how a playwright might seek alternative ways of telling a now sadly familiar story, how the subtle can be so powerful, and how ambiguity can pave the way for clarity: when Duterte's drug war isn't killing our children, it is leaving their lives in ruins. ***
"Ang Mga Propesyunal" by Sari Saysay, and directed by Carlitos Siguion Reyna, ran during Virgin Labfeset 14 in July 2018.
Roma Estrada is a teacher, writer, and critic. She wrote this piece for Gaslight.