IN A perfect world, the two opposing notions of “childhood” and “despair” would never have an opportunity to meet, let alone walk hand-in-hand like it was nothing to be concerned about. It is indeed sad that for a lot of poor children in broken homes, this world is anything but perfect.
It is one thing to write about this sordid subject, it is another to make a short film on it. But for the Xavier Stage (TXS), Xavier University's resident repertory theater company, the challenge was this: how to make this sad paradox of childhood misery come alive on stage? And with just two child actors, to boot?
“I actually asked Tat [Soriano, director of the play Ang Bata sa Drum] to undergo a lot of reading and writing... There were four exercises for him to understand the text, and for him to really translate his understanding into vision and into more palpable aspect of the play which you have now seen,” says TXS artistic director Hobart Savior, who reworked the script into full Cebuano from the original Cebuano-Tagalog opus by playwright Dominique La Victoria.
“We really have to decode the play, we have to understand its values, its theme, and me as the director, how I would react to these themes and values,” says Soriano, adding that a lot of research and contemplation went into the work of bringing life, meaning, and poignancy to the play.
The story is this: Roro (Gabriel Bacungan), the titular boy in the drum, had just received a harsh beating for filching just a tiny bit of his deadbeat dad's beer money and is now doing time inside an empty oil drum as part of his punishment. His doting older sister, Krisel (Jhopany Daug), hopes to talk him into stepping out of the drum even just for a moment to help her out with the chickens. The thing is, Roro's been scared senseless by his father's abuses, so much so that he'd rather spend some more time in the drum he now sees as a safe space. While he's in the drum, Roro surmises, he can rest assured that he won't get hit by his father – at least for now. Whether it be the promise of a better life in the city with their mother or a pack of biscuits, nothing Krisel can come up with can change her brother's mind.
The witty banter flies fast between the two children; though a few chuckles were had, the gravity of siblings' depressing reality remains a lurking presence. Then again, perhaps there is hope, after all; perhaps Roro could escape with his sister, it's just that he can't see that as a possibility anymore. Life with his father may be painful, but it's the only life he's ever known, and at least he can find some strange comfort in that – if nothing else.