MANILA -- “This is my swan song,” admitted playwright-art patron-director-magazine editor Floy Quintos on Tuesday night, after the preview of his latest work, “The Kundiman Party,” now being staged by Dulaang Universidad ng Pilipinas-University of the Philippines Playwrights Theater (DUP-UPPT) at Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater in UP Diliman.
“I’ve been writing so much for the past 10 years. Baka naman it’s time to move on. Maybe write something else, maybe in another literary form. Besides, I’m feeling a bit old-fashioned na eh. Kasi everybody’s so modern, experimental. Feeling ko (what I’m doing is) parang 1950s teledrama na nilagyan lang ng sex. My structure is a bit old,” he added, seriously, raising his arms in surrender, like a tired sugarcane field-and-sugar factory laborer, reminding us of a character in his previous massive hit of a play, “The Angry Christ.”
He confessed that when he’s watching plays of young people, he couldn’t relate at once. “Parang ay ‘di ko kaya 'yan. Kailangan explain 'yan. Baka naman it’s time to say goodbye. So’s time to move on,” he said.
People on the verge of death are said to see visions from the past, some rapid flashbacks, some highlights. As Quintos said this, we are reminded of the scenes too many to mention but full of biting humor, political and historical satires, intelligent social commentaries, dialogues that were far from didactic and the mundane in “Fluid,” “Fake,” “Kalungkutan ng mga Reyna,” “Collection,” “Evening at the Opera,” among other plays that gave birth to the term “Quintosian.”
But upon realizing his statement might upstage “The Kundiman Party,” which opened on Wednesday and runs until April 29, he digressed at once, saying, “Echos lang 'yun, kapatid!”
"Echos" is gay Filipino slang for exaggeration or a joke. We laughed with him, thankful that he’s not giving up on writing for the stage. Now recovering from his volley of laughter, Quintos turned serious.
“Let’s just say this is my love letter to the actors I love, who I worked with for the past decade or so. I just thought it’s a good time to write for Teroy (Guzman), Shamaine (Centera-Buencamino), Kalil Almonte, Francis Makil-Ignacio…” he said, enumerating the cast members.
“They said yes even without reading the script. And this is also my love letter to the burgis (bourgeois), who protest in so many ways, and to the millennials.”
Other cast members are Missy Maramara (alternating with Jenny Jamora), Andrea Melisa Camba (alternating with Rica Nepomuceno), Teetin Villanueva (alternating with Arya Herrera), soprano Miah Canton, pianist-actor Farley Asuncion and Rachel Jacob. Production designer is Mitoy Sta. Ana, lighting designer is Monino S. Duque. Musical direction is by Krina Punsalan Cayabyab.
The story revolves on Adela Dolores, played by Centenera-Buencamino, a retired kundiman and classical singer. Kundiman in its simplest definition is a song used to serenade a loved one, dating back to the 19th century. Over the years, scholars said the kundiman has become like veiled patriotism as the subject, be it a woman or man, has become a representation of the country oppressed by colonialists or a dictator.
Adela, in her younger years, was described as someone who will take the place of the late National Artist for Music Honorata “Atang” dela Rama. But now retired, she spends her days at home teaching young students and some interested matrons who have become her friends how to sing kundiman. They informally call themselves The Kundiman Club.
Adela’s life changes when one of her more talented younger students Antonette introduces her activist-boyfriend Bobby. He is described a social media strategist working against the oppressive government. Suddenly Adela is getting acquainted with YouTube, Twitter and social media. What happens next is a roller-coaster ride from the hilarious and the sublime to the socio-politically serious, urgent and dangerous.
On using the kundiman, Quintos explained that since the Spanish and American periods, because of its nationalist theme, it has been used as a form of resistance and defiance. He enumerated the names of singers then and now like dela Rama, Syvia La Torre, Celeste Legaspi, Rachelle Gerodias, the list goes on. “They recorded albums of ‘kundiman.’” The living ones still perform,” he said.
“The Kundiman Party” for first-timers is also an introduction to the wonders of poetry in Filipino woven into songs. Poets, composers, musicians, and heroes like Jose Corazon de Jesus, Nicanor Abelardo and other important figures in history pop up like in most “Quintosian” plays. Here, viewers would know the difference between Constancio de Guzman and, well, JM De Guzman. Or something like that. (Those who’ve seen last year’s “Angry Christ” were introduced to Alfonso Ossorio, Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollok and an important period in abstract expressionism via Victorias City in Negros Occidental.)
The expectations are high. The director is Dexter Martinez-Santos, who also directed “Angry Christ.” Which brings us to the question why Quintos isn’t that inclined to re-stage it, despite requests from Ayala Museum to as far as Bacolod City.
“I don’t know. Why not ‘Angry Christ’? Let’s just say, I’m a move-one kind of guy. Nag-enjoy na mga tao. So finished na, goodbye. Move on. I think this play, ‘Kundiman Party’ is more relevant,” Quintos said.
As for what he’s going to do after the “Party” is over, “Hay naku, bising-busy ang lola mo, kapatid,” Quintos said, with the sweetest smile one could ever see from a “retiring” playwright, as he sashayed to the lobby of Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater, blowing kisses and giving hugs to friends, students and admirers. He has shed Alfonso Ossorio and has become Adela, ready to face challenges in the ever-changing times.
Nick Joaquin once said his vocation is to remember and to sing. With “The Kundiman Party,” Quintos in his swan song goes a step higher by adding the word “resist.”