I woke up today feeling extraordinarily thankful. Yesterday, I was able to meet up with, and heard from, a few dear friends. And provisions came last Friday which would ensure my survival for the next seven days, atleast, and which would even allow me to enjoy some little pleasures. Like to keep going to the free filmfest over at Shang. And to buy the ticket for Agnes Of God the play.
So, after a quick breakfast (wooohooo! finally! breakfast!), I ran up to the fourth floor of SM Manila to see the last staging of the play, which I have always loved in its film version.
Perhaps I loved the Norman Jewison film too much that it is quite difficult for me to appreciate how it has been presented and interpreted by Se7enth Stage Production House and the director Mel Magno, who also wrote the adaptation.
The strength of Agnes Of God as a text is its debates. Faith versus reason. Faith versus betrayals (through abuse or apathy). Faith versus lies, or as Jane Fonda put it in the film, versus lots of dirty little secrets, versus the things we would rather forget.
Norman Jewison’s film was able to bring out that strength by employing two actresses (Fonda and Bancroft)who exuded conviction, and were therefore able to interchangeably represent ‘faith’, depending on what ‘faith’ is up against. The nun Agnes, whose innocence and purity is put in question, and whose vulnerability and fragility are the only things we can really be sure of, is the trigger of those debates, and the ‘lamb’ that the opposing Mother Miriam Ruth and Dr. Martha Livingston are fighting for.
What has Mel Magno’s players captured on stage, or what were they able to project, given the tough material at hand? Paw Diaz was fragile, yes. Dimples Romana as Dr. Livingston was eloquent. Lui Manansala as Mother Miriam Ruth was dignified. Basic requirements of characters met.
But I don’t think an angel should have been there. It is the most solid proof that this local adaptation might have gone off at a tangent and may have taken liberties that are a bit too much. Faith’s struggle against all the things that oppose it was not dwelt upon, because as it appears, this local adaptation wanted to highlight the miracle. As a result, the viewer is taken away from questioning, and is made to take an easy relief through a vision. So, as much as I wanted to be engaged in that struggle of faith as supposed to be represented by the mother superior and the psychiatrist, I just could not suspend my disbelief anymore as that angel appeared on stage, distracting me away from the play.
As admitted by the director on the play’s souvenir program, through his inclusion of an angel character, it may be noted that he and John Pielmeier have different opinions. Surely, John Pielmeier knew his play and the heart of the matter.
Nevertheless, this is a play. And ultimately, the play is the director’s. The playwright may have conceived it, but it is the director’s baby.
If I may borrow from Sister Agnes, should I believe in this baby?
I believe in the struggle. And now I understand how the film chose not to share to us viewers what Sister Agnes might have seen (because as a kid seeing the film for the first time years ago, I did wonder if it was an angel who’s the culprit, and I wanted to be comforted by being shown one in the film, and I used to gripe about seeing only flashes of coloured lights and falling feathers and blood). We don’t need to see because it is not about seeing. One need not see to believe afterall, I believe, cliched that may be.
Now off to Shangriland. For more films. Visions, right. God sure knows how to cheer me up.