People Power is a play that packs a lot of politics, passion and prose into its tiny frame. And by tiny I’m not referring to the stature of the actors, nor the scope of this historical narrative – but rather the apparatus of the play, including the set, costumes, props, sound, lighting, etc. Teesri Duniya Theatre is used to doing a lot with a little, though, and as an independent social political arts group mainly showcasing English-language productions in the heart of Montreal, it is impressive what they manage to accomplish, all toward their goal of “changing the world, one play at a time.”
Supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Quebec Arts Council and the Montreal Arts Council, Teesri Duniya Theatre has tackled the war on terror, Asian identity, the Bhopal disaster, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. People Power, created/written by the Carlos Bulosan Theatre collective (led by Nadine Villasin) and directed by Nina Lee Aquino, adds the Philippine revolution to that list of controversial and political topics – political and cultural stories all too often left out of the realm of theatre.
The play focuses on divergent personal stories that ultimately co-mingle around the site of the People Power Revolution in 1986 Philippines. The peaceful civil movement ultimately helped to take down the US-supported brutal and corrupt Marcos dictatorship. Actors portray various classes of Filipino society, from the overworked and extremely poor taxi-driving father to grassroots activists in the US to two wealthy Filipino débutantes discussing pedicures and shoes while civil unrest continues around them to young girls begging for money in the streets of Manila. Through these performances, People Power makes the political personal.
The play succeeds in transforming a tumultuous and complex historical moment into understandable personal and political threads that weave together to form the larger narrative of resistance and revolution. The small cast of five fill up mostly empty space on a starkly lit stage by moving about constantly, even running into the audience at occasion to seek help in hiding ballot boxes from corrupt Marcos officials, or to hand out pro-Cory (Maria Corazon “Cory” Sumulong Cojuangco-Aquino) pins and flyers. Historical photography is creatively deployed throughout the performance as actors progressively fill the space above the stage by hanging large photographs from the period on drooping cables that span the performance area.
The writing and acting only dips into cliché or the unbelievable twice, during more personal sequences that are “interior” moments – in character’s homes and familial settings. For the rest of this 75 minute production, the writing is snappy, emotionally complex, deeply affected and politically sharp. The talented cast (Leon Aureus, Aura Carcueva, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia, Christine Mangosing, and Nadine Villasin), working with only a few props, articulate the chaos and turmoil of those historic moments with conviction and grace. Garcia gives a particular riveting performance as a taxi driver beaten down by three jobs, no respect, and an ailing wife. Complete with political speeches from Marcos, Aquino, and Cory, as well as soliloquies from a news photographer and anti-Marcos organizers, People Power gives shape to one of the most important moments in the history of resistance and revolution.
As the liner notes say: “It was an extraordinary display of courage and compassion, and a testament to the spirit and strength of the Filipino people.” Thanks to Teesri Duniya Theatre and Carlos Bulosan Theatre it is a testament that will be remembered as vividly expressed and politically committed by all who have the pleasure to sit in the audience. I look forward to the next production from this daring political theatre troupe.
Photo credits: People Power, original Toronto production.