Tatler Review: Mabining Mandirigma
In the wake of political turmoil and social division in today’s Philippine landscape, Mabining Mandirigma poses an interesting question for its viewers: what does it take to love one’s own country? One can investigate the difficulty of nationalism through revisiting the historical moments that involved Apolinario Mabini, a ‘hero-par-excellence” according to the play’s librettist Nicanor Tiongson.
Staged by the Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), Mabining Madirigma combines technical prowess with historical story-telling to investigate Emilio Aguinaldo’s early days as president. By following Aguinaldo’s journey, the narrative explores Mabini’s fervent passion for independence and his courage against oppression. As advisor to Aguinaldo and then prime minister and secretary of foreign affairs for the Malolos Republic, Mabini served as the intellectual cog that powered the revolutionary government.
Playing Mabini this season is experienced actress/ activist, Monique Wilson. Playing off Wilson’s excellent vocal stylings is the equally talented Arman Ferrer as Aguinaldo. The duo performs some of the most elaborate musical numbers and dialogues throughout the two-hour play. By the end of it, one finds a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the Tagalog language.
Not to be outdone is the incredible supporting cast and ensemble. The ‘illustrados’ scene is a standout for its catchy hook, elaborate direction, and comedic portrayal of the juvenile congress. Through this recurring trope, Mabini is painted as the wise man against a band of merrymen out for their own gain. Although the play is an intrinsic interrogation of the early government, its staging is more so political because of its relevance today.
Who are the key players in society building and who holds the power in a country? ‘Mabini as warrior’ is a good symbolism that explores the pitfalls of going against the grain. Despite strong persuasions by the congress to assimilate with the United States, Mabini was reluctant to give-up what he perceived as true freedom— a country independent of foreign rule. Due to his resistance, he was exiled to Guam where his health slowly deteriorated. Much to his eventual dismay, Mabini went back to the Philippines to pledge allegiance to the US only to find out that the revolution was alive and well through the new leadership of Macario Sakay.
The play ends with a rally of declarations from the TP cast members, reminding the audience of the issues that pervade Philippine society; ills that are eerily familiar to what Mabini faced during his time. Is the battle for freedom over? Mabining Mandirigma suggests it is not.
Directing the play is Cultural Centre of the Philippines’ artistic director and vice president, Chris Millado. Of the play’s steampunk aesthetic, he mentioned that what it represented was twofold: the casting of a woman as Mabini and Mabini’s attitude as a revolutionary. Both are rebellious to the norm yet important political statements. Mabini as woman also represents how the Malolos Republic feminised him due to his disability and what they perceived as his conservative approach to foreign relations.
Each cast member may be seen as a revolutionary in their own right. Performing with gusto and internalised characterisation, everyone on stage portrayed their role passionately. All in all, there was an astounding feeling of nationalism by the end of the play.
Is it a must-watch? Most definitely. It is an impeccably created play —from the script, libretto, choreography, set production, direction, and performance — there’s a lot to absorb and appreciate. Mabining Mandirigma is a great study on technical excellence matched only by its poignant albeit melancholic message... it asks us, have we really done enough?
Mabining Mandirigma will run until Sept 1, 2019 at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. Directed by Chris Millado; Libretto by Nicanor Tiongson; Music by Joed Balsamo; Staged by Tanghalang Pilipino. Alternates for Apolinario Mabini and Emilio Aguinaldo are Hazel Maranan and David Ezra, respectively.
- Photography KRYSS RUBIO