Thursday, April 10, 2014

San Vicente IS Series: Hilarion Riotoc Lazo - the last actor-playwright of Ilocano Zarzuela

San Vicente IS Series: Hilarion Riotoc Lazo - the last actor-playwright of Ilocano Zarzuela 
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio 738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday 

Laring R Lazo and cast in one of the last zarzuela presentations. 

When I started to write about Laring, as he is fondly called on or off the stage, I thought of an all time famous line of Shakespeare.  

“All the world’s a stage, and all the people merely players…” 

It is true, all of us are actors in our own rights, and may I say, playwrights too, because we cannot truly be ourselves without the script we make from our own thoughts and ideas, our imaginations and experiences. And from our interactions with people and society.

But there are those whose talent brings to stage the drama people look up to, drama that makes us laugh and cry, enlightens us of our burden, rekindles hope, encourages us to meet the challenges of life.  Or merely keeps our faith alive and respects our personal values.  But the most important qualification a playwright has, I believe, is his ability to unite us as one humanity. 

Manong Laring (address as courtesy to one who is older) is a natural player on stage - actor, director, musician, setup artist, and all that a play needs on stage, that thinking loud of these many requirements would send an ordinary person to simply be part of the audience.  

He knew well the amphitheater of the Greeks which the Romans modified into public forum, and later simplified as entablado - a plaza stage which was brought to the Philippines during the Spanish conquest. 

Here on the entablado generations of Filipinos witnessed many and varied presentations from official functions of government to public entertainment. Two forms of stage drama became institutions during the 400-year of Spanish rule - extending to post American era.  They remained all-time favorites during fiestas: the zarzuela and the comedia (moro-moro).

I grew up near the entablado, a stone's throw from our house. Adjacent to it is the 17th century church, the municipio the seat of local government, and the palengke (Aztec term for market). The plaza was a wide open space for games like sipa, kite flying, procession and parade..

The entablado was integrated into the system and culture. It was designed for governance, through people's participation. Thus the zarzuela is a drama of, for and by the people. Themes like romance, triumph and tragedy, comical and musical, became part of people's lives so that even those from far flung barrios would come on foot or cart pulled by bullock not only to watch the plays but to celebrate with the occasion. It could be the Cenaculo or Passion of Christ, it could be comedia, a regular presentation on the feast day of San Vicente de Ferrer, the town's patron saint. The comedia reinforces Christianity (though not conducive to ecumenism). The theme of the musical farce revolves on the victory (always) of the Holy Crusade over the Moors during the Dark Ages in Europe. 

Manong Laring and I belong to the generation that still carried the influence of Renaissance Europe in spite of the 50-year American Commonwealth rule that followed, and four years of Japanese Occupation. The Philippines now independent, was as young as our generation. It was fragile. While fledgling as a new nation, the world entered into the so-called Cold War, polarizing nations into two opposing ideologies, we on the American side while China and other Asian neighbors joined communist USSR.  The war was to last until 1989, after nearly 45 years. .   

Whatever happened to the entablado at the crossroad of change?

Rapid change followed, steered by breakthroughs in science and technology with man landing on the moon, the arrival of computer age, and the breaking of the code of life?

We can only imagine what drama would be most appropriate to show on stage. The shrinking of the world, so to speak, became conducive to exodus to cities and migration from underdeveloped to industrialized countries. On the other hand, inequity of wealth distribution has created extreme economic conditions particularly on the grassroots.  

I am presenting these historical events in the light of the rise and fall of the zarzuela and other forms of art - and all fields of human endeavor, for that matter. A social scientist once said that periodicity is a phenomenon humanity has no control of time, space, and events. Change is gaining accelerated momentum. We are now living in postmodernism, literally living tomorrow today.

Manong Laring now lives in New York with his family. In his recent visit I requested for an interview and permission to play on my radio program one of his zarzuela recordings - Perlas II (photo). 

It is nostalgic to reminisce the good old days of the zarzuela, in its entire splendor on the last Tuesday of April, the town fiesta of San Vicente.  Maestro Selmo Pelayre would be conducting the orchestra, with Laring as the principal character on stage. Fredelito Lazo, a classmate of mine and a prominent Ilocano writer, would be on the assist, as well.  So with a host of local talents.  I am reminded of the young playwright Pierre Gringore of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who tried to bring dignity to the art; and Severino Reyes' (Lola Basyang) Walang Sugat  designed to outwit American propaganda during the Commonwealth era.  So with Nick Joaquin's Portrait of the Filipino, with its nationalistic fervor. 

I did some research why the zarzuela is among the most loved and enduring forms of art, we classify today as performing art. All over the world the zarzuela and its variants dominated the stage for centuries.  Europe is the progenitor of the play, it raised it to the highest level of art, developing new movements with the opera, concert, dance and other choreographic presentations. Stage play was used as well in propaganda and campaign. The theater in America gave rise to Hollywood. Rural development through extension, adopts stage play as tool of extension. Laedza Batanini of Botswana is a world model in rural development.       

Singular indeed is the whole cast's greatest hour. There is a bit of Euripides, pioneer playwright of ancient Greco-Roman times' tales and legends, counterpart of Homer's epics - Iliad and the Odessey. There is a bit of Shakespeare the classicist and most influential dramatist, as much a myth as a man. His characters are timeless archetypes that influence us all to this day - Romeo, Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello are among his greatest works. His plays have become a part of the world’s collective consciousness.

There is a bit of the Russian Anton Chekhov, who epitomized the stream-of-consciousness style that inspired James Joyce and other modernists in the literary arts like Elia Kazan, and Ernest Hemingway. There is a bit of Eugene O'Neill, whose sense of despair could be likened to that of Edgar Allan Poe. There is a bit of Arthur Miler dubbed the last great practitioner of the American Stage, a carryover of American colonialism. 

And contemporarily, there is a bit of Tennessee Williams dramatizing his life and family, in relating tragic relationships, dysfunctional families, and brought us a world so real that reflects modern society. And there's a bit of Bertolt Brecht. When you see his play or movie, you leave the place wanting to change your life.

The essence of the zarzuela is very much alive. Today it lives on the screen, more than on stage. It has found the home a stage through the television and computer. The essence of traditional drama is preserved in documentaries, and made popular through telenobela, and brought down to young audiences through cartoon characters and animations. 

And with today's social media, “All the world’s a stage, and all the people merely players…” gives everyone the chance and opportunity to play his or her best.  But the world continues to search for an actor-playwright like Manong Laring, whose drama doesn't only make Shakespeare smile, but the whole humanity proud. ~

Stage scenes of zarzuela performed in different places and of different genres. 

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