Opening night for the play In My Father’s House at the Luce Auditorium last July 19 was a historic affair for a number of reasons: it was the first time that the play—written by Elsa Martinez Coscolluela, a Silliman alumna and Palanca Awards Hall of Famer—was produced at the university, and it marked the return of Amiel Y. Leonardia—a Silliman alumnus and renowned theater man—to the university’s stage as director. Also, the play—which is set in Dumaguete—is generally considered to be the playwright’s greatest work, consequently imbuing the debut production with an even more poignant significance.
However, the actual opening gala fell some notches short of greatness.
Primarily, this reviewer saw that the acting was rather uneven—the steady dramatic buildup suggested by the play’s lines was derailed by obvious overacting, and when it came to the meaty climactic scenes, unrealized by the actors’ baffling underplaying: which this viewer means in the negative sense.
One example this audience member can name was the scene in Act Two where Cristy Santamaria (played by Ms. Carla Angeline Mongado) and the matriarch Amanda Santamaria (played by Mrs. Dessa Quesada-Palm) are preparing for their meager dinner: Cristy asks for some sugar, but instead of doing it in a respectful and deferent manner—as was expected—she does it in a weird high-pitched tone, with an oddly stiff American-sounding accent. It is rightfully unthinkable for a woman to shout at her own mother-in-law simply to ask for some sugar—Ms. Mongado’s performance was monotonously high-strung, as though she were on edge all the time. In this she defeated her co-stars acting onstage—this is most glaring when she shared the stage with Franco Santamaria (played by Mr. Earnest Hope Tinambacan) during an intense moment at the end of scene two in Act Two where Cristy confronts her husband for his wartime decision.
Mr. Tinambacan’s acting, however, was competent. Like Ms. Mongado, he had a tendency to yell his lines, but he made up for it with his little mannerisms, although there was one thing this viewer could not understand: for the entirety of the play, he seemed to portray Franco Santamaria—the “collaborator”—as though he had some kind of palsy or disorder. He kept his back bent and his arms rigidly straight, even after he got shot in the leg. This audience member found no reason to believe that his leg injury had any realistic part to play with his strange gait and posture: after all, during the scene in Act One where he returns from the front with a limp, he did not even use a cane, and he did not even feel the need to ask for help from his wife or family. This odd portrayal distracted the audience—including this member—from the drama behind the kissing scene at the end of scene two in Act Two, as his rigid arms and hunched back rendered the thing awkward and even childish, also prompting the audience to laugh and hoot at him.
His convincingly intense acting in scene two of Act Three failed to erase that awkwardness from this reviewer’s mind. (An aside: for a guerilla returning from years of fighting in the mountains, Miguel Santamaria—played by Mr. Ian Rosales Casocot—looked incredibly fashionable and stylish and clean. Clearly, verisimilitude was not achieved here.) A crying shame, really, since Franco’s character was the pivot upon which the dramatic force of the play hinged. Also, Mr. Casocot’s acting in that exchange was abrupt and hurried: despite being hammered with Franco’s litany concerning his valiant struggle, Miguel’s realization of his own brother’s courageous efforts came about too suddenly, as though he weren’t even listening to Franco in the first place.
One of the most distinctive in the list of bad actors is Mr. Leo Mamicpic, who played the patriarch Carlos Santamaria. For the head of an elite haciendero family in Negros Oriental, he did not feel imposing at all. He conducted himself and delivered his lines with a nagging weakness and an absurdly comical slant that was unbecoming of an old gentleman, without the will and the strength one expects from a man of his standing. This resulted in his horrible delivery of some key lines: when Carlos asks Victor—played by Mr. Andrew Alvarez—if his son Carlito was dead, the audience burst into laughter, and this was repeated at the end of the play, when Carlos decides to go to Cara Noche to bury his son Franco after he was tortured and killed by the guerillas for collaboration. It seemed to this reviewer that it wasn’t only him who noticed Mr. Mamicpic’s terrible performance.
Another heavy line that was badly flubbed was Amanda’s remark to Captain Haroda—played by Mr. Jerry Angelo Catarata—when she says she appreciates the prevention of the horrific reprisal planned by the Japanese troops because they had captured—and killed—the assassin of another hated collaborator. Amanda had seen the soldiers drag and then kill her own ward, Emilio (played by Mr. Ron Calumpang), but she delivered the line—“We appreciate it”—as though she had merely witnessed the neighbors kill some stray cat that kept knocking around her trash can at night. It was an obviously heavy moment, but it became throwaway because of Mrs. Palm’s puzzling delivery.
Still, the opening night performance of In My Father’s House was marginally successful, if only for showcasing the sheer strength and power of the original play: despite the glaringly lackluster actors, the play itself managed to evoke a palpable sense of horror and tragedy from the audience—the lines and scenes were that powerful. ~
Editor’s note: The article is the writer’s personal assessment of the opening performance of “In My Father’s House” last July 19 at the Luce Auditorium. Opinions and views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the editors and the Weekly Sillimanian in general.