What is essential
While the election-related threats and counterthreats, Christmas traffic rush, climate change debates, another typhoon and other aggravating happenings were unsettling our everyday lives, I headed to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to watch Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Prinsipe Munti.”
On its last morning show last Sunday, “Prinsipe” was staged at CCP’s Tanghalang Huseng Batute (not at CCP’s Little Theater), a smaller venue that gave the audience a more intimate feel of the play.
I did not go to watch as a critic, but as part of an audience that consisted mostly of kindergarten-size children (I counted about 100 kids squeezed neatly on one side of the theater), who outnumbered the adults. How they sat it out for one and a half hours with little jostling and shoving amazed me. I wondered what they brought home in their hearts and minds after watching.
“Prinsipe” was written in Filipino by Layeta Bucoy and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio. Teta Tulay and Karilyo provided the shadow puppetry projected on screen. It was an adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, “The Little Prince,” the program said.
Or perhaps one can call it an innovation, an improvisation. As with a jazz improvisation when a listener sometimes finds it difficult to follow the original tune in order to enjoy its many twists and turns, the piece just has to be enjoyed as it is.
I think this is what I seemed to be doing while I was watching. Still, I could not help thinking of “The Little Prince” as it was written and first published in 1945, and later translated from French into English and other languages. I could not help remembering the famous lines and the illustrations by the author himself.
In fact, before leaving the house and going to the theater, I looked for my old copy. It tumbled down from the book shelf along with the one beside it, one of my all-time favorites, “Wind, Sand and Stars,” also by Saint-Exupéry.
I leave the reviews to theater experts. Inquirer Lifestyle contributor Carlo Rivera IV has written about it (“Prinsipe Munti—ethereal and innovative but also simplistic”). He took it apart, layer by layer, character after character.
He wrote: “There’s a lot of talent and potential here but the play needs to be as ambitious philosophically as it is visually. A play should not be afraid to go off-book but neither should it forget the source material’s central message. ‘The Little Prince’ isn’t a romance. It’s a story about cutting through the illusions of life—as its most famous line says—to see with the heart what is truly essential, what is invisible to the eye.”
I had watched a movie version (not the animation) on the big screen many years ago. Though the characters sang, it stuck to the letter of the book. Just now I revisited the movie on YouTube and there was Gene Wilder as the tamed fox leaving a secret to the Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Immortal words, those.
In the book, the narrator is the pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara desert. There he meets the Little Prince, an intrastellar boy who reveals much about himself and the planet from which he came. In “Prinsipe” the narrator is Prinsipe Munti. The characters revolve around him, or even seem to overpower him.
Years ago, I wrote a column piece after the remains of the plane piloted by Saint-Exupéry was found almost 60 years after his disappearance. The mystery had been solved, but more than that, there was closure in the fascinating life of this remarkable Frenchman, wartime pilot, aristocrat, romantic, adventurer, writer. Saint-Ex’s life ended when he was only 44. Ah, but he lives on.
Unlike “The Little Prince” which is often described as a book for adults disguised as a children’s book, “Wind, Sand and Stars” is Saint-Ex in his own voice. It is a symphony, a meditation on life, spiced with true-to-life stories which are not of the chicken-soup variety. Saint-Ex writes about his flights and travels to fascinating places in the sky, and on land as well.
The sky is not simply a vast and empty space; it is a place where things happen to oneself and within oneself. The deserts and the fields aren’t simply there below to be viewed from the air; they are, many times for Saint-Ex, there to crash-land on, and there meet danger and beauty alone and know for the first time strange and wonderful people.
After reading “Wind, Sand and Stars,” I understood the depth and beauty of “The Little Prince” even more. Why a pilot who crash-lands in the desert listens to a little boy’s story about his tiny planet, his volcanoes and a rose for which he was responsible.
“But by the grace of the aeroplane I have known a more extraordinary experience than this,” Saint-Ex wrote, “and have been made to ponder with even more bewilderment the fact that this earth that is our home is yet in truth a wandering star… I lingered there, startled by this silence that never had been broken. The first star began to shine, and I said to myself, that this pure surface had laid here thousands of years in sight only of the stars.”
Despite his posthumous fame, Saint-Ex’s fate remained unknown for a long time, until 2000 when a professional French diver found the remains of a P38 plane off Marseille. Two years earlier, a fisherman found in that area a bracelet with the words “Saint-Ex” inscribed on it.
We are all stardust, Saint-Ex seemed to say. “Only the Spirit, if it breathe upon the clay, can create Man,” he wrote. With sweet longing he ended “The Little Prince” with the pilot asking: “Send me word that he has come back.”
He comes, and comes back all the time. May your Advent waiting bring surprises.
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