MANILA, MARCH 17, 2008 (STAR) By Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio - In 1985, some 23 years ago, I wrote a passion play which I titled “Papet Pasyon,” the first passion play in puppetry in the Philippines and perhaps the world. National Artist Lucrecia Kasilag, then president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, suggested the Little Theater, now the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, as the venue for its premiere. I was grateful for the offer, but I was also apprehensive because the play challenges orthodoxy, starting from the Filipino face, quite far from the tall noses and fair skin.

What I did not know then was how enthusiastic the reception would be to the changes. A German director commented, “I don’t know why you want to see the Passion Play at Oberammergau, when you have puppets like these. Just look at that face (referring to the Virgin Mary puppet)!”

At the time when the suggestion was made for a CCP premiere, my lyrics were already set to beautiful music by the late Professor Rodolfo de Leon accompanied by the classical guitarist Lester Demetillo, both from the U.P. College of Music. Another U.P. College of Music professor, the late Professor Elmo Makil, lent his powerful voice as did the beautiful soprano Professor Elena Mirano of the College of Arts and Letters. The other singers were from the U.P. Cherubims & Seraphims – Isa Agbayani, Roanne Cabrera, Marsha Dungog, Eiona P. Ho, Denise R. Mirano and Kalayaan Vea.

Matching the superior music were the speaking voices of well-known actors like Tonton Santos, Tony Mabesa, Cristina Gosalvez, Edgardo Crisol, Fe Corazon Ramos, Jorge Hernandez, Monette Alfon, Caesar Corpuz, Suzzette Querubin, etc. that were on tape. And to blend all these were the Mulat puppeteers who just then were beginning to get used to the voices and were matching the movements of their puppets under Ben Ramos who was assisting in the hectic rehearsals.

The Filipino faces which I wanted were designed by Bernadette Solina and Maurice Carvajal and carved in Paete, Laguna. So all I had to do was to put the puppet parts together with the help of an old carpenter. That took some doing but the old carpenter who helped transfer the design on paper which I made for the first Filipino puppet was very eager to start and in a matter of weeks, several puppets were ready – Jesus (there were three Jesus puppets), Mary (there were two Mary puppets), John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Judas, a crippled boy who was the narrator, etc. I worked nights painting the faces and hands, sewing the costumes and fitting the wigs and experiencing the joy of seeing the puppets come to life.

One of those in the first audience of Papet Pasyon was the playwright Paul Dumol. After the play, he asked me why the crucifixion was only a symbolic presentation (three crosses in shadow). I told him it was a show intended for children and that I find the crucifixion rather violent. But come to think of it, all these many years, it must be the crucifixion that moved me to write the passion play in puppetry – the animation done in churches, the Kristo’s head moving and falling on its chest toward the end of the Seven Last Words that fascinated me since I was a child.

I remember Paul saying, “But the passion is all about the crucifixion.” And of course, the following year we created the fourth Christ, the suffering Christ on the cross. It is the most written about, most talked about, and therefore, although it is 23 years late, Thanks, Paul!

There were three others clearly etched in my memory. There was the late Atty. Pepe Fernandez who whispered with a chuckle as he got up from his seat, “Now we must find a way to put on record the New Testament according to Lapeña-Bonifacio!”

There was Julie Ann A. Hallazgo of The STAR who ignored my greeting as she rushed out of the theater. Days later when her two-part rave review came out in the newspaper, she told me she was in a hurry to get out because Papet Pasyon made her cry and she was afraid to make a scene.

And then there was a mother who said I created a problem for her and several other mothers whose children refused to leave the theatre and they had to stay for the second showing because the children would like to bid the Christ-puppet being elevated in the Resurrection, “Bye-bye, Hesus! Magbalik ka, ha (Bye-bye, Jesus! Come back again)!”

Last year, two jeeploads of school children came directly after the Palm Sunday mass with their palaspas. They were seated on the first two rows and when the Entry to Jerusalem episode came on, they waved their palaspas while the puppets waved theirs on stage. It was a beautiful sight that I will remember through the remaining years of my life. This year, I am inviting the children to bring their palaspas so they can also welcome the Jesus-puppet.

Papet Pasyon has been staged in many places, twice in the U.P. Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in Diliman and also the Church of the Miraculous Medal. It has also traveled to Bulacan and was staged at the open-air patio of the Church of Saint Francis de Asissi. Under the Department of Tourism, it was staged several times in Intramuros, also at the Glorieta, and other locations. Thousands of school children have come to watch our Kalikasan (Nature) puppets which were part of the Komedya Festival for the U.P. Centennial celebrations.

In 2005, it found its place in what was formerly called TACT (Tia Amel Children’s Theater) now renamed Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio Teatro Papet Museo.

The new theater is a three-story building with a 250-seater theater, memorabilia hall and storytelling room on the first floor and a museum for puppets, dolls and miniature toys on the second floor. The third floor is closed because it is unfinished. Its construction was made possible by a PAGCOR grant.

To bring them cheer, every Christmas, we perform for the nuns of the Mt. Carmel monastery in Quezon City. I believe it is their prayers that have kept us blessed and safe in our many performances in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and 28 international festivals so far, from Asia to Europe.

This year, the Papet Pasyon is joining the U.P. Centennial celebration and will be performed today, Palm Sunday, at 3 and 5 p.m. with support from the friendly neighborhood RCBC bank and some caring relatives. Address is 64 Mapagkawanggawa Street, Teachers Village West. Admission is free. Call 921-9773/0918-9032040 or e-mail mulat puppets77@yahoo.com.

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The author is U.P. Professor Emeritus and artistic director of Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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