THEATER REVIEW: Delphine Buencamino gives an androgynous touch to Apolinario Mabini in Mabining Mandirigma

Mabining Mandirigma is being staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines until July 19, 2015.



Though the surname "Buencamino" has been in the news recently due to tragic news, Delphine Buencamino headlines Mabining Mandirigma with much emotion, mostly, passion; or maybe more so because of it.

Staged by Tanghalang Pilipino, Mabining Mandirigma is a contemporary musical highlighting the intellectual heroism of Apolinario Mabini in the second phase of Philippine revolution.

As the titular character, many will find it disconcerting at first to see a woman play the male hero.

Delphine, who is the daughter of Shamaine and Nonie Buencamino, has an androgynous persona onstage that suits this gender-bending play.

The role is taxing for the young actress. Just because Apolinario Mabini, dubbed the Sublime Paralytic, was practically stuck in a hammock or a wheelchair for much of his life does not mean that all Buencamino had to do was learn to sing and modulate from a seated position.

Even that is difficult, delivering emotional lines with a wide range; but also, in some fantasy sequences, she has to get on her feet and dance--without dropping character.

What Mabini lacked in physical prowess, he made up for in bravado and passion. In fact, this was one of his frustrations, as expressed in a poignant duet with Carol Bello as Mabini's mother.

Buencamino as Mabini reflects a very wide range of emotions: from hope to desperation, from anger to hopelessness and desperation and exasperation. Buencamino holds her own, relegated as she is to a chair, opposite Arman Ferrer, who plays Emilio Aguinaldo with such power.

But what Buencamino lacks in size and physical position, she makes up for in strength of emotion. Even later, when friends are forced to choose different corners, they become each other's foil.

The strength of the play also lies in the beautiful harmony of the elements that hold the audience's attention for a full two hours.

Under the direction of Chris Millado, Dr. Nicanor Tiongson's depiction of Mabini as the brains of the Philippine revolution and republic becomes less distant from the present. Themes like corruption, compromise, and shifting allegiances, after all, are not foreign to our present-day headlines. So it seems, from the birth of the Philippines as a nation, these have persisted.

Is the musical too long? Hardly! The sentiments voiced and insinuated by the characters give depth and color to our own history as a Filipino race.

Though Mabining Mandirigma is an ensemble piece, Buencamino carries the weight of being a woman playing a national hero well on her young shoulders.

The musical is "steampunked" and so, it does not become unbelievable when elements of the present (like cellphones and selfie sticks) make appearances in this historical depiction.

A combination of European and American elements in music and costumes also make the play more interesting. The postmodern work engages the younger, call them the "Millenials" or "selfie" generation, keeping them in their seats to witness the unfolding of Mabini's life.

Mabining Mandirigma is being staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines until July 19, 2015.

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