LAST week, about plot points. Next week, a guest writer takes off from there.
This week, to the theatre, mother discipline of film, of which plot points are significant elements.
And to theatre icon Tony Mabesa, who died the other week. It was himself who indoctrinated his wards into calling him Tony because, in his own words, in the Theatre, everyone is called by their first names. And so he is to this writer, Tony. As Behn Cervantes was Behn, and Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero was Freddie.
I am of a gang of theatre people who grew up with Tony as a mentor. Each of us has tons of stories to tell about him, all valuable, all memorable. Let me share here a couple of those stories, one of them being a Baguio story itself.
Tony cast me in the second play ever of Dulaang UP, which he founded. The play was Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” done in Pilipino, what Tony then labeled formal Tagalog. He gave me the Ingenue part. I had one line, but it was the line that brought the house down; Tony saw to that.
That Ingenue part was that of the dumb blonde. In a literal interpretation of it, I was costumed with a blonde pageboy wig, a hot yellow—still blonde, if you will—flapper dress (the play is set in the 1920s) pointy patent “shoeses” (a word invented by the also late Tonton Santos, who was also in the cast) with kitten heels, and a very, very green feather boa.
Tony blocked me to deliver half of the one line, walk from downstage left to downstage center, pause, deliver the rest of the line, wait for the resulting laughter to go on descend mode, not wait for it to die down completely, and proceed to downstage right. A little later, from downstage right I would then be lifted and twirled as the ensemble exited.
At company call after opening, Tony gave us his notes. He told me to play with the boa and everyone to embroider on their performances. So I experimented by twirling the boa while walking to downstage center. It worked; the audience just ate it up. I tried twirling the boa while walking from downstage center. It still worked.
Speaking of twirls, one night, as I was twirled... that blonde wig—it flew off and fell. The laughter backstage was louder than the audience’s. I think it was one Consuelo Nuguid who had the sense to embroider on her cleaning lady role and adlib sweeping the wig out back to me.
As things turned out, Tony and my mother knew each other. Also, she was a Sigma Deltan, of the sister sorority of Tony’s Upsilon Sigma Phi, also the fraternity of father mine. They were all in college in the 1950s.
At this point, I could fill an entire book with Tony stories, but let us cut to the Baguio story.
I was in my last year of college at UP Diliman, a Speech and Drama major, when Tony told me he wanted to spend summer in Baguio directing a play. Thus, I broached the idea to then UP College Baguio Dean Sophie Catbagan, must have been sometime during the Christmas break of 1977. The paperwork got done, and Tony did spend the following summer in UPCB directing a play. Title and author escape me at the moment, though.
I stage managed. An old childhood friend, Joseph Nacion, bagged the lead. Wife role went to Sally Santiago, whom I would meet again in PMA later that year, as co-teachers (by then, she was Sally Anolin).
One evening after rehearsals, Tony and I walked down that sidewalk of UPB that leads to the main road. We were at those stairs, and waiting for a cab. One passed by coming from the old Pines Hotel. I waved to flag it. Tony, in a full stage boom, yelled commandingly, “Taxi!” with volume enough to be heard in John Hay. Naturally, the cab hightailed it to where we stood.
Tony was mentor, friend, and Theatre wiseman-elder. I will always remember him with great fondness, much gratitude, much love.
Another of the old gang, Henry Strakowlski, so aptly saw fit to quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet on learning of Tony’s death:
“Now cracks a noble heart.
Goodnight, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”