Tatler Review: PETA's Latest Play Reminds Us Of The Beauty of The Kundiman
The Philippine Educational Theatre Association brings the tradition of the kundiman back to life in their latest limited-run play, The Kundiman Party. Graced by big names in theatre and film, Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino, perform as Senator Juancho Valderama and Maestra Adela, respectively. The story weaves together themes of activism and the love for classical kundiman music, youth and tradition, and the value of one's principles.
PETA's exeptional cast is par for the course when it comes to any production they hold. All actors are effortless and work together seamlessly, as is usual for any of PETA's musical ensembles. The Kundiman Party, however, does not feature flamboyant choruses, but rather, it focuses on the art of the kundiman — a genre of Filipino folk music popularised during the turn of the century by legendary composers such as Nicanor Abelardo and Francisco Santiago. This musical style harkens closely to what we know as classic opera.
The play follows a dramatic opera retiree, Maestra Adela, as she teaches the kundiman to the eager ingenue, Antoinette. Adela's household also serves as a meeting place for her middle-aged "Tita" friends who fondly participate in rallies and political activities. Things begin to change when they all meet, Bobby — an accentric young activist who happens to be Antoinette's boyfriend and the son of the very political figure the group rallies against.
Bobby convinces Maestra Adela (albeit through an unwarranted video gone viral) to use the kundiman to encourage online viewers to become more nationalistic. Overwhelmed by the warm popularity her video achieves, Adela is convinced this is her chance to come out of retirement.
Carried over from the UP Playwright's Theatre, this Floy Quintos production is a touching attempt at emphasising the value of culture and arts together with nationalism. PETA staging such a beautiful story is characteristic of the theatre association — it's thought-provoking and entertaining all at the same time. Songs more easily encountered in old radio channels, like Bituing Marikit, Nasaan Ka Irog, and the iconic, Pilipinas Kong Mahal find themselves the star of the play. All sang by the awfully talented Miah Canton (Antoinette), the songs find a contemporary light.
The Kundiman Party reminds us of the love for one's country and asks us difficult questions like: how do we stand up against those who are so eager to silence us? What is the value of one's individual voice? Nonie Buencamino's Senator Sancho Valderama enjoys a relatively short stage-time, but his appearance gives the play density and allows viewers to reassess the kinds of representatives we vote for office. There is an intelligence in the combination of the art of the kundiman with activism, because even if it seems like a far-fetched pairing, they both hold a certain romantic nationalism that the play suggests we need more of.
Those who have encountered kundiman music might enjoy it for its sophisticated composition and technical prowess, but there seems to be more to this genre than it seems. Songs like Mutya ng Pasig were popular during the revolution, despite it being a love song. The place of music in society is also challenged by The Kundiman Party — it elaborates on the value of artistic pursuits in ideology and national culture. All in all, the play is one to catch, especially for the youth who might not be familiar with the beauty of kundiman music or simply for those who are music and theatre lovers themselves. There are many musical moments here that vary form heart-wrenching to comedy. A well-produced play, The Kundiman Party reminds us of the strength and role of theatre, especially in today's highly-digitalised world.
What does it mean to love one's country? The Kundiman Party asks this of the audience throughout the two and a half hour play. Through the use of music, there is a strong nostalgic feel for the romanticised revolutionary past — a past that features nationalism and pride for being Filipino. Can the kundiman spark these feelings once more? PETA's The Kundiman Party helps you find out.
To know more, visit The Kundiman's Party's Facebook page.
- Photography Vlad Gonzales via TKP's Facebook