Arts & Culture News

Tale from a Negros heartland

Jonathan Tadioan and Marco Viana in a scene from ‘Katsuri.’A deeply moving ensemble acting.

The bare, stark set of Ohm David with cogon leaves surrounding the stage and the faint guitar strain of the Visayan folksong, Ili Ili Tulog Anay, are all what it takes to transport the audiences of Katsuri to the Negros heartland

The Bibeth Orteza adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men indeed localized the novella’s original setting and with the folksong heard here and there at the end of every scene, you see that the original story leaves where the refrain of the Visayan folksong begins.

At the outset, you didn’t have to read the original work to appreciate Katsuri. Orteza knew the setting and the simple folks inhabiting the vast Negros sugarland. She is also updated on the endless flow of blood instigated by the island demigods. The play directly brings us to the work-a-day world of the sugar workers and their concerns and where their private sorrows and hopes are coming from.

In the beginning, you see that the two farm hands (Jonathan Tadioan as Toto and Marco Viana as George) are inseparable buddies and from what their conversations reveal, they came from another sugar central in Central Luzon and had to go back to Negros for another crack at earning a livelihood.

It is a hand-to-mouth existence from what you can figure out from this seemingly hopeless condition. But then you see that they have a dream of one day owning a piece of land where they can plant vegetables and raise poultry animals.

From this simple existence flows a simple story of two buddies hanging on to each other and hoping times will get better if they just persist.

Ibes Bagadiong as Nognog. A real black sugar farmer in ‘Katsuri.’

From the looks of their quarters and from the kind of people inhabiting their turf, you can feel that that a peaceful co-existence is impossible. They are perennially harassed by the menacing Kulot (Fitz Bitana), the landowner’s son. There is sexual tension as his partner, Inday (Antonette Go) roams the workers’ quarters seemingly on the lookout for sexual gratification.

The fate of Toto leaves George distraught and from here, you see very little hope for people in this part of Negros heartland.

Orteza’s adaptation leaves no room to unmask the hapless condition of sugar workers. They bring in the profit that make life of landlords more than comfortable but look at their hopeless existence. It has strong echo of the fate of farmers who till the land with the rice dealers getting all the profit from that hard labor.

The fate of Toto and the guilt that probably will haunt his buddy (George) forever provide the play a symbolic vacuum in which to refract the essence of farm hands’ lives.

As it is, the play rings so true and real with the riveting performances of Tadioan as Toto and Marco Viana as George. Theirs is an acting rapport commendable from the very start up to the heart-rending ending. The ensemble support from Michael Williams (as Boss), Nanding Josef (as Tatang), JV Ibesate (as Payat) and Go (as Inday) gives you a pulsating glimpse of a well-cohesive direction by Carlitos Siguion Reyna.

As the translator explains it, Katsuri, the adaptation’s title, comes from the Hiligaynon word for shrew, not quite a rodent and not quite a mouse. But Orteza thought it might as well describe the rat-like existence of the sugar workers.

The cast and artistic team of Katsuri led by director Carlitos Siguion Reyna and translator Bibeth Orteza.

Siguion Reyna accepted the directorial assignment because he likes to think the play resonates well with what’s going on today politically and on a more personal level. “Yet there emerged a more humane story of outcasts whose deep connections with each other stood out in contrast to the isolationism of the other characters in this society of farm hands.”

Orteza said that her adaptation was her reaction to the spate of killings in Negros Occidental which she admitted she could no longer ignore.

The death of hapless peasants in the introduction followed by their sympathizers is chilling as it is ominous.

As it is, Katsuri is virtual art imitating life in this part of Negros island.

The poignant guitar passage from the Visayan folksong made it even more resonate with truth.

Katsuri runs at the CCP Huseng Batute Theater on weekends at 8 and 3 p.m. until October 27