FEAR IS an ancient instinct that has been untouched by the nuances of modern civilization. In humans, perhaps one purpose of fear is to promote survival because without it, people would be walking into oncoming traffic, mindlessly triggering guns at pedestrians, and hanging out with patients who have tuberculosis. Fear is a thread which trails around the ribs, crawls across the spine, and weaves a prison of flesh until it shapes into being.
Antipara Collective and Theater House Of Black attempts to portray fear in Si Edgar, Si Allan, at si Art, a collection of adapted plays from tales written by literary horror masters Arthur Miller, Edgar Allan Poe, Jean-Paul Sartre, and William Golding. Divided into three episodes, it features stories that are altered and localized to exhibit the border of surreal and supernatural. The play has encapsulated the condition of fear, and its theatrical form is used as a filter for the individual anxieties of the audience.
The play opens with a woman, introduced as Sinag, eerily singing a wordless incantation growing louder almost as if she is releasing a sound of grief. She was joined by three other women who were praying, laughing, and inaudibly reciting chants. The room is filled with the unsettling echoes of their hymns preparing the audience for the first episode titled KUBA-O!: Ang Kuwento Ng Sinaunang Bruha. It depicts a family that performs occult practices similar to voodoo in the southern part of the Philippines.
The mother, Banak, is a famous folk healer who can relieve patients who are possessed by engkantos. While Sinag uncloaks a gift from their god Apo, his lover gets involved with a she-devil. The play of lights contributes to the tragedy of the cursed humpback woman named Josefina. This episode sets up the initial premise of discomfort in preparation for a tense and genuinely frightening ride from start to finish.
Walang-hiyang Tibok is a Filipino adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Tell-Tale Heart and is the shortest episode among the three. It centers on a character named Boy who lives as a house caretaker and, at the same time, works as an assistant to a film editor named Eric. After the former’s unproductive and distracted day at work, he comes home to a wrecked sala—books are scattered and stools are misplaced. As Boy leans, a visitor arrives and begins to interrogate him about the absence of his employer, an old aristocrat.
Boy’s genuine sense of dread, his struggle with the truth, and his illusions feel real and tangible. Again, the interplay of lights, and the elaborate sounds carry the audience to become one with the character, to feel intimate with the him, to feel what he feels. Walang-hiyang Tibok crackles with an electricity and anxiety that is visually blended with reality and extract a dramatic mess out of mundanity.
Finally, the last episode titled Yanggaw is dedicated to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit. Yanggaw is an Ilonggo word which means “infection.” Specifically in this play, the title refers to an eerie affliction that can transform normal human beings into unpleasant monsters.
The episode starts with seven unconscious people—a nurse, a convict, a newly-wed couple, a pregnant woman, and Eric with his sister Sarah—waking up caged in a dark room. Just taking a moment to sit with these characters creates enough empathy as they ramp up tension when they are fighting to survive. After a moment, an alarm goes off, causing a blackout. A gun fires, and a man bathing in his own blood appears dead on the floor. The story amplifies into greater heights when they slowly decode the mystery of their imprisonment. Towards the end, one will discover how they were all test subjects of a virus experiment.
The episodic play is comprised of a well-rounded and versatile ensemble. Evident in all three acts, director Harry David is truly adept in his genre. The production staged the three theater shorts Si Edgar, Si Allan at si Art at the Bonifacio Global City Arts Center, Taguig and ran from March 2 to 4. F ANDREA JAMAICA H. JACINTO