MANILA, Philippines – With themes of love and war, the works of Francisco Baltazar may seem trite or, worse, old-fashioned for them to be discussed and shown for public consumption.
"Florante at Laura," the most notable masterpiece of Baltazar (nom-de-plume: "Balagtas"), carries on a timeless story between 2 lovers in the wage of war between the Moros and the Christians.
This thematic aspect of "Florante at Laura" follows all komedyas Balagtas has written in his lifetime.
One of his less popular works, however, "Orosman at Zafira", takes a different track. Without the theme of the Moro-Christian conflict, this komedya generates the struggles between the characters through their pride and personality rather than religion.
A contemporary adaptation of "Orosman at Zafira" has been staged by Dulaang UP (DUP) in 2008.
The play has embodied 90% of the original Balagtas material but was sculpted in such a way as to attract today's audiences. It was also given a more feminine twist by the dramaturgs.
Since then, its impact to the millennial crowd was so huge it was restaged in August last year.
And just this coming February, "Orosman at Zafira" will again take the limelight as it takes a bigger, more encompassing crowd at the SM Mall of Asia Centerstage Theater. Truly, the play remains to be as magnetizing as what Balagtas has deemed it to be.
"Orosman at Zafira" tells the story of 3 kingdoms: Marueccos, Tedenst, and Duquela, in their quest for power and superiority. In the 3 kingdoms' struggle, 2 star-crossed lovers, Orosman of Tedenst, and Zafira of Marueccos, scuffle their way to sustain their love for each other.
The play's director, Dexter Santos, who also took charge of the past 2 productions, said "Orosman at Zafira" will always come as fresh amid the hybrid Westernized popular culture Filipinos are currently swimming in.
He said that as both an artiste and a Filipino, it is his duty to preserve the country's culture through his art.
"In a theater culture where Filipino classical and new works are seldom mounted, I believe that it is the responsibility of a theater artist to reintroduce classical works that are part of our history, culture and heritage. My vision is to revitalize the komedya in an alternative production so that the audience of today would be able to appreciate it. I have considered the short attention span of the young audience and their exposure to television, technology and Hollywood films," he said.
"Thus, it is my mission to come up with a production that would reintroduce Baltazar and his work but give [the audience] a new theatrical experience they would never encounter from other forms of mass media," the director added.
Santos, also a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters, claims that there also exist underlying messages Filipinos will completely feel relatable with.
"With a vision and mission in mind, 'Orosman at Zafira' must be a performance that would pay homage to Baltazar and his work: revitalize and reinvent existing komedya conventions; emphasize on the universal themes of love, power war and feminism; showcase Filipino culture rather than conventional medieval European settings and use modern staging techniques that would make the young Filipino audience be engaged in the show," he said.
For Santos, it wasn't a surprise that "Orosman at Zafira" still continues to wow the modern crowd, much less, to sustain the energy of Balagtas's magnum opus.
"'Orosman at Zafira''s success' comes from every heart that has been pierced, soul that has been moved and an intellect that has been disturbed. This is the success we are looking forward to... that in this 2011 run, more people will be affected by the show," he said.
Polished and powerful
With its restaging next month, "Orosman at Zafira" comes with a more refreshed setup. This is thanks to the arduous rehearsals and trainings the production team has engaged in.
"'Orosman at Zafira' is a work in progress. Every rehearsal is geared to embellish what works and improve what is lacking," Santos said.
For the cast, the pre-productions have been rigorous as well.
Delphine Buencamino, who will play the divine princess Zafira, described their warm-ups, conditionings and vocalizations as "an emotional, physical, and mental roller-coaster."
She was seconded by alternate Maita Ponce, who was also cast in the original 2008 production.
"This is the first time in my whole life where I actually trained like an athlete for a production. I love it. It pushes me to the edge," Ponce said.
The third staging of "Orosman at Zafira" will commence on February 4, 2011 and will run until the 26th. With the 3 weeks that the play will stream, the cast and crew promise it will still remain as disturbing as it was in the previous productions.
"We always try to make sure that the scenes are developed, choreography is tweaked, songs are embellished, staging improved and visuals are still exciting. It is imperative for us to keep the show's sensate experience intact," Santos said.
Meanwhile, the cast said they are also as excited to present once more in front of a yet larger audience.
Jay Gonzaga, who plays a chiseled Orosman, said the production will even display "more intense, and tight performances."
Meanwhile, Buencamino and Ponce believe the play will entice Filipinos to go in the theaters and connect to their country's art and culture.
"If you love your culture, if you love your family, if you love -- then this show is for you. 'Orosman at Zafira' is not just a play, it is an experience. For it to be taken to the commercial level must mean it is worthy to be seen by more audiences. The themes, the spectacle, and the story will surely be worth your while," Buencamino said.
"It won't just be a show. It will be an experience of a lifetime. You don't get to experience this on Philippine stage quite often," Ponce added.
Orosman at Zafira’s playdates are February 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, and 26, 2011 at the SM Mall of Asia Centerstage Theater. Friday and Saturday gala shows will be at 8:00 p.m. while the Saturday matinee shows will be at 3:00 p.m. Additional 10 a.m. shows will be held on February 5, 12 and 18.
Tickets are available at all SM Cinema Ticket Booths nationwide and all TicketWorld outlets in major National Bookstore branches, Robinsons Department Stores, and at Greenbelt 1, Glorietta 5 and Trinoma Cinema ticket booths. Call SM Tickets at (02) 470.2222 or TicketWorld at (02) 891.9999.
Students will get the chance to watch Orosman at Zafira for only P350 per ticket during matinee performances on February 5, 12, 19, and 26.
For more information, call or text (0949) 434.5239 / (0917) 842.7346 or (0922) 842.7346 or log on to www.orosmanatzafira.com or like the official OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA Fan Page on Facebook.