MANILA — A framed photo of the late Tony Mabesa welcomes theatergoers at Dulaang UP on Saturday afternoon.
It surely was a different experience for the entire company. For the first time since its inception in 1976, the premiere university's theater arm opened a play without the physical presence of their founding director.
Tony Mabesa, professor emeritus and founding artistic director of Dulaang UP, passed away last month.
But he died doing what he loved the most: theater work.
His play, "Fuente Ovejuna," was in the works before he was hospitalized. According to current artistic director Banaue Miclat-Janssen, Mabesa finished the play's blocking, and was able to talk about the set, lights, and music before he died.
All remaining elements were put together by Miclat-Jannsen based on her decades of training under Mabesa.
"Sir Tony lived and breathed theater, and he made sure that the excellence that he demanded of himself would also shine through the work that we, who were lucky enough to be under his wing, would reflect as we pursued our own passions." Miclat-Janssen said in memoriam of the late director.
Miclat-Jannsen said while she continued directing play, she made sure it would pass the Mabesa standard.
After all, "Fuente Ovejuna" is Mabesa's final work in his 44 seasons with DUP.
"Every day going into 'Fuente Ovejuna' rehearsals since sir Tony passed is an opportunity to make sure that the finished product of this play is up to the Tony Mabesa standard. The show must go on. His show must go on. Without him, physically, but in every cross fade and exit, tatak Mabesa." Miclat-Janssen said.
The play is a fitting tribute to the artist's legendary years in the theater.
Set in Andalusia, Spain, "Fuente Ovejuna" is a powerful story about how the marginalized community of peasants who revolted and killed their abusive Commendador Fernan Gomez de Guzman (played alternately by Leo Rialp and Carlo Tarobal).
It tells the story of how de Guzman abused his power: torturing those who dissented against his decisions and taking the women of Fuente Ovejuna as his own.
The major turning point is De Guzman's entry to the wedding of Frondoso (played by Ross Pesigan and Tristan Bite) and Laurencia (played by Hariette Damole and Chloe Jenna). The Commendador takes the two, which prompted the community to overthrow the leader. The Fuente Ovejuna community forces its way to his house and eventually kills him.
It's a colorful showcase of warlordism, justice, and the love stories in between. Mabesa has been well-known for directing classics from all over the world.
He has directed hundreds of plays for the company, and has established himself as one of the pillars of Philippine theater.
Among his last works for Dulaang UP include "Six Characters in Search of an Author", "King Lear", and "The Country Wife".
Written by Lope de Vega and translated by Nicolas Pichay, "Fuente Ovejuna's" cast is mostly composed of students of UP's Theater Arts program, who looked up to Mabesa as a terrific mentor.
It runs for more than two hours and ends with a projection of #ForTony on the set.
College of Arts and Letters dean Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete, in her message, has nothing but good words for the late director.
"Thank you very much, sir Tony, for the gift of love and for the gift of theater. Now, it's our turn to share what we have learned from you. You will sorely be missed but we know you will be guiding us always, especially with the run of 'Fuente Ovejuna'."
The play runs until Dec. 1 at Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theatre in UP Diliman.