| “Walang Kukurap” is a dark play about politics and corruption in the Philippines. Photo from the Facebook page of Tanghalang Pilipino
MANILA, Philippines – The title suggests a horror story and while there are no ghosts and monsters in Tanghalang Pilipino’s latest production “Walang Kukurap,” playwright Layeta Bucoy’s scary tale of politics and corruption in the Philippines is indeed terrifying.
Set in an unnamed small town, Bucoy revisits and expands on the main themes of her excellent one-act play, “Doc Resureccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan,” which was staged by the theater company for its “Eyeball” series early this year.
But while “Doc Resurrecion” has a more haunting tone with its impassioned debate between practical reality and political idealism, “Walang Kukurap” is an in-your-face expose of the intricate web of corruption that spans across generations of political dynasties in the Philippines. That it was staged in the much smaller Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the Cultural Center of the Philippines only amplified the “shock and awe” intent of Bocoy and director Tuxqs Rutaquio.
From the opening scene of a mahjong game participated in by the town’s key players – the mayor and his wife, the gambling lord and an illegal logger – that suddenly turns deadly, “Walang Kukurap” presents an unflinching portrait of Philippine politics without stooping to the level of plain propaganda.
At the center of this unsettling drama is the widowed Christina (movie actress Suzette Ranillo), whose late husband descended from a member of Katipunan and is thus looked upon favorably by the town’s voters. After deciding to run for vice mayor, she finds herself enslaved by the numerous tentacles of small-town corruption.
Soon the audience discovers that the cancer of corruption is so entrenched that already it has already infected the future generation, who are already being prepped to take on the reins of their little fiefdoms through youth movements allied with traditional political groupings.
And there seems to be no escape. People may die – and there are plenty of casualties in this play with numerous characters – but the cycle of greed continues unabated.
Bucoy, who also wrote the stage adaptation of “Bona” for the Philippine Educational Theater Association, paints an extremely bleak portrait that offers no upliftment and also restrains itself from outright calls to action. It is quite telling that the one character who sincerely believes in doing good – Doray, an idealist teacher – is depicted in a comical manner, a laughing stock who embarrasses even her own son.
The play doesn’t spare anyone. Family members double-cross each other and would even commit murder if it means getting ahead in life. Even the humble tricycle driver isn’t above from profiting from the accidental death of her son, blackmailing Christina into giving her P50,000 a month so she won’t sue and hurt her chances of being elected.
Rutaquio matches Bucoy’s dark vision with a blunt directorial style with several scenes of graphic violence including sawing off a man’s leg.
He maximizes the small space of the theater with multiple exit and entry points, almost enveloping the audience with the stage action. His staging of an assassination during a religious procession was as suspenseful as a well-made thriller.
Production designer Jerome Aytona produced a spare but highly effective two-storey set, encased in a sliding multi-functional wire fence that adds to the gritty mood of the play and dramatically lit by Katsch Catoy for further tension. The second level is basically a catwalk that, apart from providing levels to the small space, also ensures quick changes in a play that has 25 scenes.
With more than 20 characters, “Walang Kukurap” is definitely an ensemble effort although several actors deserve to be singled out.
On top of the list is Ranillo, who provided the play with its conflicted heart, torn between her desire to provide a bright future for her children and her own good nature and upbringing. Her restrained acting style also nicely contrasts with the loud displays of evil that surrounds her in the play, particularly in her confrontation with former ABS-CBN Star Circle Batch 9 member Ced Torrecarion, who is riveting as the gambling lord Alex.
| Suzette Ranillo and Ced Torrecarion in a scene from “Walang Kukurap.” Photo from the Facebook page of Tanghalang Pilipino
Sherry Lara was also effective as the double-faced, scheming wife of the mayor, while Mymy Davao was consistent as the corrupt socialite at loggerheads with her outspoken daughter (played with just the right amount of contempt by Regina de Vera).
But danseur Nonoy Froilan as the businessman who manipulates the town’s politics lacked the necessary political flair to pull off the crucial election speech that ends the play.
Crispin Pineda as the cancer-stricken, wheelchair-bound father of Christina also stuck out with his radio-drama elocution style in that one scene where the play seemingly took a wrong turn into soap opera territory. Although effective as melodrama – my seatmate was visibly in tears – that scene just didn’t jibe with the drama’s overall tone.
Despite such bumps, the cast as a whole succeeded in bringing to life the numerous characters with such clarity and for that alone deserves to be congratulated.
“Walang Kukurap” runs until October 7 with performances from Friday to Sunday.