By Zarelle Glen Dorothy Villanzana | November 10, 2023
The auditorium lights are dim and everyone is seated. As the Mikado overture plays, people dressed in colorful robes gleefully enter the stage in a trail. Bright colors of fabric swirl against the backdrop of a Japanese village, and the characters welcome you into their abode with their warming faces. When the first song is sung, the crowd breaks away from the trance set in place—this is a Bisaya play!
Presenting the snippet of life in Titipu, the villagers scurry about with their day-to-day tasks in dance and song. It was a special day, however, as a wandering “musician” named Nanki-Poo searches for a dame named Yum-Yum. Yum-Yum was betrothed to another: Koko, the village’s Lord High Executioner, always with his axe despite not knowing how to use it. A letter is sent to the village questioning the job of Koko, who then frets over the Mikado’s visit. This visit was intended for the Mikado’s search for his son, who is later revealed to be Nanki-Poo, also to be married to a lady named Katisha, one he did not regard the same.
Despite the musical having two parts, the fast pacing of these events sustains the entertainment that the comedy intends. Each song played its joyful tune; along with this, the playful choreography, the exaggerated makeup, and the vibrant set design all masquerade the contrasting themes around which the comedic musical revolves: death and possession. Even the Bisaya dialogue allowed listeners to feel connected— although a lot of non-fluent speakers were left confused—with the story, as similarities are shared between the village of Titipu and our own localities: questionable qualifications of rank, secrecy in one’s identity, passion in love, yearning, compromise, and betrayal.
Overall, every theme in the show can be defined by possession. Whether it be the excess or the lack, the characters in Ang Mikado are bound by this constant tug to possess—a faculty of power, a depth of emotion, or even a person. This need for possession, as illustrated, has led to many mishaps, but along the way, it also showed evidence that the need for possession does not necessarily translate to greed. If anything, it creates the balance that allows all things to move forward in life, as it comes naturally.
Comedy also played a significant role in the show, as nothing could have been simpler to digest without the shared language of laughter. This more effectively distracted the audience from the serious problems that lie beneath the play’s lighthearted surface, ones supposedly necessary to address. While that may be perceived as a drawback, it also mimics how individuals cope with the harsh realities of life—which could be the better perspective when regarding entertainment intertwined with heavy themes.
In the end, the Mikado—the emperor—finds his son, who has remained happily in love with Yum-Yum. Katisha no longer settles for training men to love her, as Koko loves her willingly. The village of Titipu is happy, and they celebrate again with dance and song—in the Bisaya language. Albeit many concerns were left unaddressed, the show ends as it started: with a fantastical vividness to obscure the many complexities that a village of people could withhold.