Lumbay ng Dila, An Adaptation

Play Review by Jophen Baui

This article is a balik-tanaw

Lumbay ng Dila, a Filipino novel by Dr. Genevieve Asenjo was adapted for the stage as "Ang Nanay Kong Ex NPA." The play, written by the late Mario Mendez, derives mostly from the last part of the novel where a confrontation between the main character and her mother takes place. More than another conflicted mother-daughter reconciliation story, the play recalls similar struggles of activists, mothers especially, when in that turning point in Philippine history they had to weigh between their self-actualization as mothers and their belief in the deliverance of the masses through an armed revolution. Were they, in the end, found lacking?

This play was first staged at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute, Cultural Center of the Philippines, on the occasion of the Virgin Lab Festival on July 11, 2015. This article is a balik-tanaw.

Dialogue defines character, moves the plot, heightens emotion, inspires reaction, incites thinking. At least, this is how a play should go, but not so literally as to reduce the audience into passive receptors whose main take-away value after watching is becoming entertained. For the easily bored a play should have an accessible story, not mind boggling at all, and preferably short. So it's enough that they are able to enjoy it.

But after the curtain call, some people would ask "So what is the play all about?", meaning more than the story, more than the didactic value, more than the skill and grace of the actors.

"Ang Nanay Kong Ex NPA" is one of those plays which does not aim to merely entertain. It is not a spectacle in the literal sense. This one act play adaptation is a confrontation, a mere exchange between two important characters in the novel. However, the exchange is not melodramatic. It doesn't have the usual expletives, and it doesn't have the usual cute expressions. What it has is understated dialogue on the issue of loss - in this case, the loss of a mother. This play succeeds in arousing empathy because while watching the character-actor hide and cloak her vulnerability by her seemingly unaffected words and responses, the audience can sense that deep longing within her. They experience the same holding off of emotion that makes one want to appear brave but nonetheless give her cowardice away.

In that actor's world, everything seems all right, and her words and actions camouflage her neediness in a way that has made her sound uncaring. But later, the audience realizes with her that it is not enough to ask that question which one has buried in that untouchable part of her soul. She also needs to understand and accept the answer to that question when the answer presents itself. 

This is what "Ang Nanay Kong Ex NPA" explores. There is so much that we stock in the trash bin of our memory - but as we willingly forget to throw them away, we are shortchanged. Our time is wasted, our energy, exhausted even as we engage ourselves in countless distractions and denials. [In this novel, and as hinted in the adaptation, the character has had several lovers in a series of failed relationships. This is a manifestation of her constant search for love.]

When reality is now at hand and we are face to face with the difficult truth, what gives? In this play, the character decides to let go and listen without judgment, to simply look and see without her lenses of assumption, and to accept a presence who has no regrets at all about her decision. 

After watching the play, a redemption similar to the cleansing of forgiveness lingers in the mind of the audience. There is still that gap that will never be filled out, a complete blank that will not have its answer. But the nuanced last act of the actors open to the way of healing as symbolized by a dance of acceptance that culminates in a white-shawl embrace.