UPDATE: PETA’s FnL will be shown at SM North Skydome from February 3-6, 2015, 10am and 3pm.
Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) continues its sterling 47th season with FnL. FnL is derived from Florante at Laura, the masterpiece of Francisco Baltazar (also known as Balagtas) that talks about enduring love for another and for country and gives emphasis on the beauty of the Filipino language.
Before the play starts, two of the FnL cast teach us how to do the FnL move. You have to watch the play to find out what I am talking about.
FnL opens with Florante at Laura’s immortal scene in the thick forest of Albania where Florante is tied to a tree facing imminent death (two hungry lions ready to shred him to smithereens) but has the moment to wax poetic about his love for Laura. Florante is very cute. I am sure that a lot of teenagers will turn giddy if they see him up close. And CUT!
Having read Florante at Laura and not knowing what to expect with FnL, I am a bit disoriented when the next scene shows a guy with kayumangging kaligatan (brown) skin in what seems like an uncomfortable get-up. The guy is Lance (Eko Baquial), a Filipino-American (Fil-Am) who sounds and acts very American but looks as Filipino as adobo. His parents (SC Ceasico and Bong Cabrera) have decided to return to the Philippines with Lance as they have lost almost all of their belongings yet they still owe several people huge amounts of money. His parents think that Lance’s American accent and the fact that he has lived in California will help pave the way to showbiz superstardom in the Philippines. Much to the dismay of his parents, Lance inexplicably croaks deep Filipino words like linggatong. They think that speaking Filipino words or the mere fact that he knows Filipino words will pose peril to his showbiz image.
In order to alleviate his parents’ financial burden, Lance joins a rap contest that offers a cash prize worth $2000. His Fil-Am friends support him all the way, but they are also shocked when he mutters Filipino words in the middle of his rap number.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Flor (superbly played by Divine Aucina) a GGSS (gandang-gandang sa sarili/someone who thinks highly of her physical beauty) excellent call center agent is having the time of her life. She is successful at work, has an attractive gay best friend in Beki (the gorgeous Gio Gahol) and has an ardent pursuer in Butch (Yeyin dela Cruz). Beki represents the gay lingo speakers while (in my opinion) Butch represents the English-speaking elite who do not understand what they are talking about. Butch’s lifeless delivery of romantic poetry for Flor is exceptionally ironic. Butch speaks the English words as if they belonged to an elegy.
The call center agents start taking calls, and it is obvious that Flor is the star of the work place. She switches from one accent to another without batting an eyelash. Unfortunately, as the day (or night) progresses, Flor experiences Lance’s affliction. Her superior fires Flor for speaking Filipino words in an English-only zone.
Lance and his parents arrive in the Philippines. Like any other balikbayan (a Filipino returning to his country), the mom expects a lot of fanfare, but only Lance’s cousin, Jologs (Norbs Portales) shows up to pick them up. Jologs is the epitome of those who lack finesse and are vulgar in their thoughts, words and actions. Distant relatives and long-lost friends come out of the woodwork to ask money from the couple. Since they want to save face, they pretend to be solvent and give away money they do not have. When the money runs out, relatives and friends disappear.
With Jologs’ help, Lance auditions for local TV shows, but his American tongue and Filipino skin defy the stereotypical Fil-Am who looks like Sam Milby. Lance cannot be the campus hottie with his Filipino skin, yet he cannot be a believable farmer with his twang.
Lance’s family’s financial woes compounded when his dad borrows money from a loan shark. Lance is forced to work for the loan shark who lends money to call center agents. This is where Lance and Flor meet. They flirt a little, and find out that they have something in common—the rambling of Filipino words. With love-struck expression on his face, Lance decides to forget about Flor’s payable.
Butch in her signature lethargic delivery asks papa for help. Butch’s father turns out to be the loan shark that hired Lance, and he wants to teach Lance a lesson for his treachery.
Lance, Flor, Jologs and Beki run for their lives and plan to seek refuge in Cebu, Flor’s home province. Listening to them is delightful when they talk simultaneously or argue. Lance and Flor use proper English while Jologs and Beki use derivations of Filipino and English words. Their discussions are spirited and funny. The first act ends with the group boarding a plane.
Act II opens at Flor’s house. Flor’s mother, Blanquita (Kiki Baento), is a high school Filipino teacher. She has high hopes for Flor and wants her daughter to work abroad. She is aghast to hear Jologs and Beki speak bastardized Filipino and English words and does not want Flor to associate with them.
Jologs and Beki have developed respect for each other’s language. I like the part when Beki teaches Jologs how to conjugate common words and make them sound beki. Jologs teaches Beki how to name Philippine bills the jologs way.
Blanquita praises Lance and his perfect American accent. She is distressed when she discovers that Flor and Lance have the Filipino malady. She wants to exorcise the evil in them, so they can speak English only and find high-paying jobs.
As time passes, Blanquita realizes that the words Lance and Flor speak sound familiar. As a high school teacher, she has read and heard them countless times. She confirms her suspicion by looking for her copy of Balagtas’ Florante at Laura.
A discussion about the pros and cons of learning Filipino ensues. When Flor tells her mom that she wants to be a Filipino teacher like her, Blanquita replies that learning Filipino is useless. With the institution of CHED Memo #20 Series 2013, even the government thinks that Filipino is not an essential subject. It states that by 2016, Filipino will not be part of the tertiary level general education curriculum. The memo is in accordance with the K-12 curriculum.
The loan shark finally catches up to the group. In order to save their own skin, they leave Blanquita’s house and try to camouflage themselves among the merrymakers of Cebu’s Sinulog Festival. Beki decides that Cebu is not safe for them anymore, so they have to fly to Ilocos to evade the loan shark.
The play ends with a song that talks about the richness of the Filipino language.
FnL does not have the star power (and Robert Seña) of Rak of Aegis, but it is entertaining in its own way. It does not make fun of the Jologs or the Bekimons rather it shows the diversification of the languages in the Philippines through the growth of their lingos. It shows that Filipino is far from being a dead language as it continues to grow, evolve and give birth to fairly-new lingos.
As Butch has illustrated, we can memorize all the English poems and songs as much as we like, but they can never tug at our heartstrings as much as an Aegis song can. We can learn as many jokes as we can, but nothing will surpass the Filipino (green) jokes we hear over the radio or from the manong in the kanto. And often only with the use of our native tongue can we fully express ourselves. A simple word such as kilig can fall short once it is expressed in English. I think learning English and/or other foreign languages is not bad as long as it is not to the disservice of Filipino. If we can raise generations of kids who can switch from English to Filipino to Ilonggo to Cebuano to (insert any language here) with ease, I think it will be better for us. I can give a thousand reasons why the Philippines is in the quagmire it is now (some of them are facing the wrath of the Ombudsman) but learning or speaking Filipino is not one of them.
FnL is directed by Ian Segarra and written by the triumvirate composed of Rody Vera, Maynard Manansala and the chic Anj Heruela, production design by the talented Leeroy New, musical direction by Jeff Hernandez, choreography by Delphine Buencamino and lighting design by Joseph Matheu.
Regular run of the show will start on January 30, 2015 and end on February 8, 2015.
Thank you, Anj Heruela for accommodating us. Work the hair, girl!
For more information, please visit petatheater.com.