Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Orosman and Zafira in All of Us

Joni Aristorenas - Anzures
(Original Article can be found HERE)

For many years, I’ve been engrossed with theater and stage plays. My first real exposure was in first year high school when Mrs. Jospehine V. Legaspi (my English teacher and class adviser) cast me as an extra in the production of A Candle For Anna. I portrayed one of the patients in the mental asylum which was really easy because there was virtually no acting involved – I just had to be myself.

In my junior years, Mrs. Legaspi facilitated a way for our class to watch Repertory Philippines’ The Pirates of Penzance. Deeply impressed by the acting and the production, I wrote my own original play for a scriptwriting contest in school. My entry won and Campus Blitz was shown in my senior year. I wrote and acted in several more stage plays for church and for our Mass Communications class at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Long story short, the theater has been my passage in realizing my dreams. It has been my outlet for the stories and characters that up to now are running inside my head, seeking an opportunity for their voices to be heard and their tales to be told.

Now, imagine how excited I was when Ruth Floresca and Toots Tolentino invited me to the press preview of Orosman at Zafira. It was like being reunited with my high school crush. I was so thrilled, I filed a vacation leave just to be on time for the play to be shown at the Centerstage at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.


When I arrived at 1:00 PM at the Mall of Asia, I still had time to browse over the background of the story while I had a mocha chiller at Krispy Kreme. There I learned that Francisco Baltazar’s Tagalog play is predominantly a political turf war fought between the Marueccos Tribe, Team Tedenst and the Duquela Posse. Though classified as a komedya, you won’t find the traditional or obligatory Moro versus Christian dispute. From what I learned about komedya in school, the Moros were the default bad guys and the Christians were the heroes (bida). Why? Well, it’s the way things are in the play which
isn’t really truthful because we all know that there are both good and bad Moros, and good and bad Christians.

Maybe, even before it was cool to be unprejudiced, multi-culturally sensitive and politically correct, Kuya Frank (how I would address the playwright if he were alive today and having frapuccino at Starbucks) was introducing a radical idea that it isn’t religion, race or color that determines a man or a nation’s morality or spirituality. Today, as in Kuya Frank’s period, people are still assuming that just because you belong to a certain family, group or race, then you are the enemy. A great philosopher, Martin Gore, put it so veraciously, “It's obvious you hate me though I've done nothing wrong. I've never even met you so what could I have done.” I think he belonged to the secluded French priory called Le Depeche Mode.


Ruth Floresca’s text message interrupted my Wi-Fi surfing. She informed me that the pre-show presentation was ongoing. I rushed to the Centerstage and prepped my Nikon D40.

We had a taste of the show at around 6:30 PM featuring one of the key scenes in the play. Those of us who had cameras were allowed to shoot to our heart’s delight. After the preview, Mr. Tolentino informed us that the full show would start at 7:30 PM. Jophen Baui (my editor) decided to finish up some pending online work at a nearby Netopia internet café. I decided to join her and engage in a life and death Call of Duty Modern Warfare II game session.

Returning to the Centerstage, we noticed that there were a lot more spectators. We were first assigned seating at the balcony but was later transferred to the orchestra – which was good because we were now front and center of the show. A mere row separated us from the performers. We could literally get a whiff of their perfume or get splashed at with their sweat. Ano’ng binatbat ng 3D movie sa ganung experience?


The epic started with a narration of Zelima,daughter of Ben-asar, the right hand man of Boulasem, the chieftain of Team Tedenst. Zelima croons about Sultan Mahamud of Marruecos who rules the land. The sultan decrees that all the provincial governors and their inner circles would be invited to a grand party. Compulsory RSVPs have been sent to Boulasem and Zelim, the leader of Duquela Posse.

Perhaps it was the timing of the feast or maybe Boulasem had watched too many Soprano episodes that it made him suspect that Mahamud wants full control of the realm by making sure there are no rivals left to dethrone him in the future. Believing that the best defense is offense, Boulasem sends the Sultan to the Moro Stovo'kohr (Hell) during his own grand celebration. Of course, you realize, this means war.

Gulnara, courtesan of Mahamud, and Zafira, orphaned daughter of the Sultan, start the first war. The lust for power causes the war to drag on. Boulasem’s son, Abdalap, murders his own father to inherit the throne. He also threatens to put his brother Orosman to death so that he will be free to marry Orosman’s lover Zafira.


Whenever I watch movies, home videos or listen to music, I always try to find which character or song lyrics I relate to best. In Orosman at Zafira, there were several characters I identified with.

To some degree, I felt Orosman’s deep passion and attraction to Zafira -- who wouldn’t!? If Kuya Frank’s original Zafira was as gorgeous and as spirited as Maita Ponce (one of the actresses who portrayed the heroine), you couldn’t blame Orosman for disobeying his father and going against big brother. But unlike Orosman (and no, his name is not old Tagalog for “One Who Sings with Six Pack Abs”), I have let circumstances and people build strong fortifications between me and the ones I cherish. Orosman, in my mind, would have been the ideal me if only I had a fraction of his tenacity and fortitude to bravely confront the barricades that would separate him from his true love. Thus, his tribe would most likely christen me as “A Man Called Torpe.”

My heart goes out to Zafira and Gulnara. They were victims of the vile ambitions of wicked men. Throughout the story they made most of what they still possessed in carving out a life for themselves and their people. Besides their beauty and allure (exceedingly evident by the way), both women were red-blooded warriors – ready and willing to battle emotional and physical demons that plagued their minds and their land. If 168 Mall sold Zafira and Gulnara action figures, I’d hastily add them to my display case of lupet and asteg gladiators like the Yautja Predator, Xenomorph Alien, Lara Croft, Vash The Stampede and Papa Jack (they say he’s a certified atsay-killer).

I can understand Boulasem’s need for control. Well, yes he’s a despotic, conniving snake who will crush anyone who goes against his will. But you’ve got to hand it to the authoritarian datu – he knows how to flaunt his power with all the wars he has waged and all the heads he has ordered lopped off perhaps with a dull and rusty Swiss Army knife. I mean, where can a Moor despot get some peace and quiet around here? The truth is I pity the guy. He simply wants to torture, mutilate and kill everyone who looks at him the wrong way, and he has to be inconvenienced with trivial household problems because both of his sons want to symbolically stand under Zafira’s umbrella (Ella ella, eh eh eh) under her umbrella.


Just when we were enthralled by the gratuitous war dance and the romance, the show ends. Bitin!” I told Ruth and Jophen. As the cast re-appeared for the curtain call, I wished that I could watch the play again (kasi baka kapag ni-replay, hindi na mapatay si Mahamud).

Artsy people will tell us that when we watch a play, we should understand and learn – and not be entertained or have fun. True, but to be honest, Orosman at Zafira was a joyride for me. I stopped trying to understand the complexities of the narrative and just let the story itself take me. After all, being lost in the struggles of the tri-kingdom world of OZ was the best way for me to appreciate it. Bottom line, if you watch Iron Man, Green Lantern or Kung Fu Panda to be entertained, then watch Orosman at Zafira. I kid you not – the enjoyment factor is there.

Before we left the Centerstage, Nonoy (Ruth’s husband) managed to spot Maita Ponce (she played Zafira) as she quietly slipped out of the theater. She was now in a black smart casual suit. No one would suspect that a few minutes earlier she was battling hordes of enemy attackers. You would only realize that it was the same Zafira when she smiled – and she brightened up the hall as her heroism and sacrifice brightened her war-darkened homeland of Marruecos.

Where was Maita going?

Maybe back home – to rest. Perhaps, a snack or some coffee, or tea.Whatever and wherever, it was back to the normal life for Zafira. Back to the everyday life.

Thinking about our short meeting with Maita, I realized that maybe there’s a Zafira or Gulnara in each Filipina (and an Orosman or Boulasem in every Filipino). Everyday, normal life bounds us or imposes on us certain decorum. But when faced with trials and troubles, our own deeply-ingrained values take over. We shed our everyday smart casual facades and confront our problems in either a Marruecos, Tedenst or Duquela fashion.

“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” a well-known English poet and playwright once wrote. For me, one of the best applications of this phrase is the play that is Orosman at Zafira. Not only does the story reveal to us the heart and soul of a great Filipino playwright during a period of national self-realization, but more importantly, it exposes us to the present realities of our own personal and national struggles.

Catch OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA on its LAST Saturday run
February 26 / 3PM / SAT @ MOA CenterStage

Ticket Price: Php350

Contact Onay @ 0918.536.2116 to reserve tickets.

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