Saturday, October 12, 2019

Himala Isang Musikal (9 Works Theatrical)


The rural town of Cupang has seen better days. With drought, poverty, and sickness plaguing the villages, everyone is looking for a miracle. They find that miracle in Elsa (Aicelle Santos). Heading back home one afternoon, the barrio lass is blinded by a white light and claims to have witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who she claims tells her to become an instrument of healing. Soon, Elsa becomes a faith healer and is now the talk of the town, with tourists and sick people all over the country coming to her shrine to see her in hopes of being cured. Her mother Saling (Bituin Escalante) is reluctant, but the women of the town are persuasive. With the help of her best friend turned disciple Chayong (Neomi Gonzales), she becomes the town’s messiah, but not everyone is happy with such turn of events.

The thing about the Power MAC Center is it’s not really a theater to begin with. It’s more like a function room furnished with elevated benches on all sides, with the “stage” itself being nothing more than an empty square space at the center. This is why the venue is perfect for those talker plays that do not involve much movement or action. As long as your actors enunciate properly, then it’s all good. For Himala, they have to maximize the space and be creative for it to work.

At first I thought it was just because we were seated close to the piano. Most of the actors were singing but you don’t necessarily hear what they are singing about. But then again when Escalante sings, her singing is always loud and clear. Perhaps it’s a combination of vocal intensity issues and the seating arrangement? When the chorus sings it also feels like surround sound quality, maybe because they are strategically placed all around the venue. For solos, though, it’s 50-50.

Talking about the piano accompaniment, kudos to the pianist. This musical does not rely on a full orchestra, but that solitary piano does its job in effectively setting the mood for each scene. As mentioned, though, some of the singers are drowned by it. There are some memorable songs, particularly that one where Nimia (Kakki Teodoro) sings about how she is also the Virgin Mary in a totally different way. The rest seem ordinary, like no difference would’ve been made had they been spoken instead.

As for the story, I didn’t really have any idea as to what the material is all about. I never saw the film version and my knowledge about it is limited to that iconic line from Nora Aunor with her distinct intonation telling everyone that there are no miracles. That’s like a Philippine pop culture staple, though. The 70’s setting is retained and watching all these superstitious rural folk borders on absurd because, hello, it’s 2019. And then you realize that the times might have changed, but they are still here.

To me, Elsa seems to be that holier than thou Facebook friend of yours, the bible thumper whose sole purpose in life is to shove her religious beliefs down your throat. I guess that’s the biggest change as far as timelines are concerned. They don’t go to shrines nowadays anymore, because you just find then on Facebook and Instagram. You might be able to replace the wooden roofs with skyscrapers, but the small-town blind follower mentality still reigns supreme nowadays.

As such, Himala might be too annoying for you to watch if you don’t mix well with that bigoted crowd, but the narrative is a good case study on blind fanaticism. How are demagogues made? What aspect of life do they exploit to wield influence over their followers? Who are the rent-seeking individuals around them and how do they use one another for the other’s benefit? On the surface, the storyline is old, but dig a little bit deeper and you’ll realize that such phenomenon never goes out of style. Instead, it just adapts to current trends and norms.

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