MANILA – Director Maribel Legarda couldn’t remember the last time the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) mounted a protest play.
“It’s been a long time actually,” acknowledged Legarda, who directed PETA’s recent hits “Rak of Aegis” and “Caredivas,” among many others.
Just in time for the celebration of its 50th anniversary next year, PETA is once again taking on its role as political activist with its upcoming original musical, “A Game of Trolls,” which had a special preview last Saturday to coincide with International Human Rights Day.
Billed as a “martial law musical,” “A Game of Trolls” centers on Heck, a keyboard warrior who works for an online pro-martial law campaign.
PETA hopes that the musical, which was written by “Rak of Aegis” playwright Liza Magtoto, will be a call to action for the youth to “look beyond the memes and the online propaganda that had become so accessible because of social media, to encourage them to do their own research, to think critically and to act with responsibility.”
The musical is a partnership between PETA and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, and supported by Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation.
“This play is PETA’s humble contribution to the ongoing effort of sharing and forging a dialogue and understanding about our country’s martial law history,” PETA executive director Beng Santos-Cabangon said at a speech before Saturday’s preview.
“The years when the country was under martial rule were years that should not be forgotten. Hindi dahil sa ayaw nating mag-move on but rather we should be aware of what this country went through under a dictatorship, how the Marcoses and their cronies plundered our nation’s wealth and what the Filipino people had to endure when our human rights were suppressed.”
“As artists, we in PETA remain steadfast in our mission to use the arts to reflect people’s stories and examine our history, so we can find meaning in chaos, make sense of our realities, and have vision amid doubt and cynicism,” she said.
The 80-minute musical that was presented last Saturday was by no means complete. “There are portions of the story and other characters that you are not going to see,” cautioned Legarda, calling the musical a “work in progress.”
Despite this, “A Game of Trolls” is obviously powerful stuff and not just an angry piece of agit-prop theater. Magtoto wisely anchored the story on the emotional bond between the lead character Heck and his mother, an activist during the martial law years. Myke Salomon nicely captured Heck’s cynicism and deep-seated anger, while Upeng Fernandez as Heck’s mother gave a highly emotional performance. Her monologue near the end left many in the audience in tears.
Magtoto also wisely included many real-life personalities in the play, such as Ateneo student leader-turned-rebel Edjop Jopson and writer-activist Emman Lacaba, whose poems were featured in the musical. Meanwhile, Legarda mixed multimedia and video footage with the stage action to further emphasize the musical’s truths.
"Maybe we feel again that driving passion that things should never ever be taken for granted," Legarda mused.
Although it is a protest play, “A Game of Trolls” doesn’t just rile audiences into anger. Instead, it promotes understanding and empathy.
“When we understand, we care,” Santos-Cabangon said. "And when we care, we stand firm, we march and we say, never again."
“A Game of Trolls” will open on April 1, 2017 and will be available for mobile performances from April to December 2017.