UP Playwright’s Theatre presents “The Female Heart”, written by Filipino-American playwright Linda Faigo-Hall, and directed by UP Diliman Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts professor Banaue Miclat-Janssen. It is a story of a family who lives in the slums and whose only way of living is collecting garbage from the Smokey Mountains. In a desperate attempt help their family rise from poverty and save her brother from a life-threatening disease, Adelfa volunteers herself as a mail-order bride to an American man.
It not only presents the realistic problems that the people who live in the Smokey Mountains face everyday, but also shows different perspectives about their way of living. The director and the actors of the play went so far as to go to the Smokey Mountains themselves just to experience what it was like to be in their shoes.
In the play, we have Adelfa’s brother, Anghel, who wanted to continue living in that mountain of garbage because he is content with the fact that they’ll never run out of garbage, and therefore never run out of things to sell. We also have Adelfa’s mother, Rosario, who represents a majority of the poor in the Philippines who believe that working abroad will make their lives better. Then we have Adelfa, who pursued getting a high education so as to lift her family from poverty.
The idea of a mail-order bride opens up a relevant social issue – online dating. Both mail-ordering a bride and online dating with a stranger involve communicating with someone you find attractive, even though you have never met before. Through Adelfa and Roger’s relationship, it is significantly shown how one may not truly know the person they are with. For example, Roger only opened up about his ex-wife a year after their marriage, and did not tell her immediately about his anger management issues.
The story of Adelfa and Roger opened up various issues regarding relationships in today’s time. Despite the fact that Adelfa gets paid to be Roger’s wife, real life problems of intercultural marriage is presented in the play. Not only does it show that one person believes all the stereotypes of the other, it also shows what stereotypes each think about their own country. Roger believes that Filipino women make the best wives because they don’t ask for too much, subtly implying that Roger believes that American women are spoiled and selfish. Another significant issue here is rape and abuse. Most people believe that when a man has sex with his wife, it will never be considered raped, even if his wife does not consent to it.
Meanwhile, Rosario is the epitome of colonial mentality. She believed that selling her daughter away to a rich American man will raise them from poverty and bring them happiness. Although the former was true, the latter was not. Rosario was engulfed into the world of consumerism, and thought that the more things she could buy, the happier she will be. This is a prevalent behavior in our time. People of all ages in this generation can never stop asking for more, and, like Rosario, will only snap out of such materialistic greed once they have lost what was truly important to them – family.
One downside is that Roger is, once again, left on his own in the end. This might send a negative message to members of the audience who may also have anger management issues, or other mental health problems. It remains clear, however, that people who are in a problematic relationship should never stay for too long.
The play is filled with symbolisms. The play went a full circle, beginning with a pile of garbage from the Smokey Mountains, and ending with a pile of garbage from all the unnecessary things Adelfa and Rosario have bought. There were many parallelisms during the flashback scene. As young Anghel says that white clothing does not fit in the Smokey Mountains because it’s easier to get it dirty, Adelfa was center stage, wearing a fancy white dress. Young Adelfa shouted to young Angel that “hindi ako magiging pokpok! (I will never be a prostitute!)”, showing the bitter irony that comes with growing up and forgetting one’s childhood.
In a very pleasing plot twist, Anghel, in the end, turns out to be the one with the female heart. It is pleasing because it contrasts with Roger’s thoughts on women, both American and Filipino alike. In the flashback, young Anghel tells young Adelfa that she has a female heart – a heart full of affection for the people she loves, a heart that will sacrifice everything for them. The idea that a man has the heart of a woman has always been an insult, meaning that a man is ‘weak, frail, and emotional’. The play empowers feminism, showing that when one is called to have a female heart, it meant that one had a heart that will weather any storm just to bring the people they love to safety.
The parallelism between Adelfa and Anghel as they grew up, and the unconditional sibling love that they had for each other, binded the whole play together, making it one of the most unique plays so far.