The Female Heart: A Critique

 

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.

The Female Heart: A Critique

So what’s it like being a theater arts student?

You see, theater is like an arranged marriage. From the perspective of someone who chose Theater Arts without much knowledge of the said art form, of someone who’s never done a play back in high school, of someone who was never in a mile close to being in theater before college, of someone who has never watched theater plays and musicals in her free time (except Hollywood’s Les Miserable), I was kind of forced to love theater.

Last year, when people heard the words “theater arts” stumble upon my lips, and they replied with “Are you sure?”, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why the others were so afraid of our “theater practicum” class. But now, I do.

You see, there’s a reason why we have the phrase “break a leg”. A theater play is like one big magic trick, wherein the magician is willing to break his own wrists every time just to please the audience with every show. Just like a newly-wed couple that is still adjusting to the domestic life of cleaning houses and paying bills, being in theater makes you wonder: is this worth it? Is the audience really worth all the tears we have shed, all the money we have spent, all the effort we have given? Is s/he worth all my sacrifices, all my patience, all my love?

The theater is selfish. Well, people would retort that every course in college is selfish. But I disagree. Theater is even more so.  And like with an arranged marriage, it doesn’t always work out. There are moments when you wonder what you have done to upset God so much to pair you with such a demanding bitch. Why can’t Fate pair you with someone kinder, someone more gentle?

It’s at this point that we forget that we, too, are becoming selfish. Arranged marriages are used as a peace treaty or as a way to strengthen business between two families. Being in the theater is a selfless act of forgetting yourself – your physical health, your money, your alone time, your academics, your social life – all in exchange of pleasing others.

It’s difficult at first. Why put so much effort into people when you’re not sure they would even appreciate it? The injustice will weigh you down. You’ll think that you deserve so much better. You’ll get mad at your high school friends and family relatives who won’t be able to  watch what you’ve worked so hard for. You’ll look at the loud guests with distaste. You’ll see the theater as a hell that you have to put up with every goddamn day. Every action you make becomes a live performance that you have to fake.

And how can you not look at it in such a bad image? When you see the people you’re working with sacrificing so much, and receiving so little in return, how can you not hate the people they’re sacrificing so much for?

There will come a time when you will be so close to filing a divorce case with the course you have married; a time when you will feel that you’re better off somewhere else – free of obligations and commitment, where you will worry about achieving your own happiness, where you will think about nothing but yourself.

When I was at this point, at this terrifying edge of my figurative cliff, teetering between staying and leaving, I did the bravest thing I could ever have done so far – I waited. I waited for a miracle. Something that can make me genuinely love what I was doing. I waited for the storm to pass. I waited for the sun to rise. I waited for the smoke to fade. I used whatever I had as a shield against the temptation of an easier life.

And then… it came.

The sound of genuine laughter after a line that I’ve heard of a thousand times reached the ears of virgin minds. The high squeaks of fear from high school students as we shocked them with the magic tricks we’ve all lost slept for to perfect. The tear-strained cheeks of children and adults alike. The buzz of wonder as they walked out of the theater, discussing their ephemeral experience before it fades from their memory forever.

It’s the little things that make you stay in a marriage. The little things that turn duty into dedication.

From then on, every sweep of the floor was accompanied with a wave of fondness. Every step I took along the aisle of the audience seats reminded me of why I haven’t left, of why I shouldn’t.

So what’s it like being a theater arts student?

It’s faking a smile, and receiving a genuine one. It’s repeatedly saying “thank you for watching”, with the hopes that someone will reply with a “Congrats!”. It’s about living for the little things. It’s about living for others. It’s knowing that if you want to witness a beautiful sunrise, then first you have to go through the blackest night.

It’s offering your limbs to ideals, people, stories, places – content with the fact that, from nothingness you were born, and from nothingness you shall return. That does not mean however, that your life was worth nothing. Your worth is seen through the people you have influenced. And as a theater arts student? You will influence a lot.

So what’s it like being a theater arts student?