by Lynn on October 13, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jo Simalaya Alcampo

Music composed and performed by MaryCarl Guiao

Directed by Jasmine Chen

Set, costumes and pros by Jung-Hye Kim

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by MaryCarl Guiao

Cast: Karen Ancheta

Aldrin Bundoc

Belinda Corpus

Hilot Means Healer by Jo Simalaya Alcampo explores the social and political consequences of war and occupation in the Philippines and its impact across generations.

The press information says: “drawn from traditional Philippine folklore, legends, and Indigenous spirituality, this play tells a story of unexpected bonds formed during cataclysmic change.” It takes as a reference point the battle of Manila in 1945 between the Japanese who occupied it for three years and the Americans and the people of the Philippines trying to get their city and country back.”

Manang Flor is an elder wise woman and healer steeped in the folklore and legends of her people of the Philippines.  She lives deep in the forest and often during the play conjures the spirit who lives in the sacred Balete tree for guidance. Manang Flor has taken in a young woman named Alma who’s parents were killed in the fighting. She is pregnant.

 Alfredo is a soldier for the rebels who has been wounded and seeks shelter from Manang Flor. She takes him in but Alma is none too happy about it. She doesn’t trust him.  She thinks he’s hiding something. It’s war time, no one knows who to trust.

Manang Flor tends her garden and knows the healing, medicinal abilities of her plants and flowers. She passes that on to Alfredo. The spirit who lives in the sacred Balete  tree in the forest has a head covering like a crocodile and will try and oppose the occupying army.  It’s the case of good vs. evil, spirituality vs. those who don’t have it.

The production is very impressive. Jung-Hye Kim has designed a terrific set of mainly fabric. The ground looks like uneven foliage and branches that is dominated by a huge tree to one side, with huge roots that spill down from a section above the stage down the to the stage area. The tree and the roots are made of brown material and the design is mighty impressive in conveying the size and importance of the tree. Spirits appear within the roots of the tree and around its trunk.

Jareth Li’s lighting is evocative and certainly captures the idea of superstition and moodiness.

The cast of four: Karen Ancheta as Ligaya, Aldrin Bundoc as Alfredo, Belinda Corpuz as Alma and Carolyn Fe as Manang Flor all acquit themselves well. There is also a very impressive score composed and performed by MaryCarl Guiao which is an extensive percussion design of gongs, drums, a xylophone type instrument and others. It provides both music and sound effects that evoke nature, rising spirits, unrest, and danger. Jasmine Chen directs and is mighty impressive.

Jo Simalaya Alcampo’s play is very ambitious, perhaps that ambition gets the better of them when it comes to being clear about the story and intent. Very often the names of characters and the spirits just whizzed by my ears and escaped me, certainly if it is in a Philippine dialect.   I think the play might be really for Filipinos, about their culture, their history and their stories.

Playwright Jo Simalaya Alcampo says in their program note that although they did not live through the battle of Manila, the story of it was passed down to them by their mother and seemingly also the trauma of it. They are talking about intergenerational trauma and because of that had to tell that story. Is this theatre as therapy? Perhaps. It’s also very artful and theatrical.

This is a complex undertaking talking about a complicated history and while a lot of it seemed confusing to me because of the language and names of the spirits etc. I bet a Filipino audience would find resonance.

Cahoots in association with b current presents:

Opened: Oct. 9, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2019.

Running time: 2 hours. Including intermission.

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