Not merely for art’s sake
It was almost midnight when I stepped out of the Cultural Center of the Philippines last Sept. 30 after watching “Ang Pag-uusig,” Jerry Respeto’s take on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” The rain was falling nonstop but it did not wash away the impact of the highly provocative play on me.
Under the direction of Dennis Marasigan, the cast from Tanghalang Pilipino Actors’ Company delivered a powerful performance that haunts the imagination. Set in colonial Massachusetts during the 1690s, the play revolves around the Salem witch trials that resulted in the execution of 20 people accused of witchcraft. Interestingly, it uses simple sentence structure and vocabulary while maintaining a modern tone, which makes it easier to understand especially among millennials. But most importantly, the play effectively conveyed its message to the audience: Stop the killings! Never again to martial law!
With the increasing death toll in the government’s war on drugs, I can’t help but compare President Duterte to Deputy General Thomas Danforth, as depicted in the play, who insisted that the hanging of the alleged witches must continue despite its absurdity for the sake of consistency and imposition of authority—even if it takes killing thousands. Similarly, Mr. Duterte has been using the bloody drug war not just to cement his power and influence, but also to preserve the ruling system that only serves the interests of his foreign masters and the local elite.
If Miller’s original play was an allegory for McCarthyism or the witch hunting of suspected communists during 1950s in the United States, where he himself was questioned and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify those present at the meetings he had attended, “Ang Pag-uusig” is a reflection of state fascism in the Philippines that targets mainly the poor and the critics of the Duterte administration.
“There is no such thing as art for art’s sake,” as the Great Helmsman pointed out. And in these dangerous times, what we need is art that will stir the people’s conscience and expose the real demons in our society.
(“Ang Pag-uusig” runs until Oct. 22 at the CCP Tanghalang Huseng Batute.)
DANIEL ALOC, firstname.lastname@example.org
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