Monday, September 9, 2013

A Revelation of the Patron Saint : A Review of Paul Dumol’s Lorenzo by Mark Daniel Chan

Wazzup Pilipinas!

“He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Elliot

Paul Dumol’s Lorenzo is many things – it is smart, funny, not what one initially expects and sometimes borderline sacrilegious. It is also a national treasure and a play that should be seen by every Filipino.

Lorenzo centers around a Filipino OFW named Laurence Ruiz who is incarcerated for murdering his employer in the Middle East who raped him. While in jail, Laurence obsesses about his name sake, Lorenzo Ruiz, who was martyred in 1637 in Japan. Being a student of theater and a former production hand, Laurence composes a play in his head in 3 Acts and dictates it to a female visitor who is allowed to visit him on occasion. Laurence does this because he is forbidden to have any writing instruments in prison.

The play is an exploration of the metaphysical, and just as Shakespeare resorts to in a classic like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, much of the action happens in the play within a play. Laurence’s play is brought to life as the action of 1636 and 1637 is brought to life around the jailed OFW’s presence and consciousness on stage.

Lorenzo is an exploration of themes regarding the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers. Early on in the play, Laurence talks of the different kinds of death that an OFW may experience once he leaves the Philippines to venture off into a foreign land. There is the death of the soul and spirit, something that occurs because of the separation of the OFW from his loved ones and from various spiritual support systems. The events of Lorenzo Ruiz’s life are meant to parallel the challenges that an OFW faces, from his family members yearning for his presence to the struggles of going through trials and tribulations in a foreign culture.

The Balikbayan Box is used as a main prop that is meant to evoke a consideration of a trade-off that takes place. In a very gripping scene towards the end, the “bodies” of the 6 martyrs are stuffed into individual balikbayan boxes, but only after the contents of these are emptied at the stage forefront – chocolates, goodies and all other kinds of pasalubong for the families that are left behind. Just as Lorenzo Ruiz is martyred, in many ways, tens of thousands of OFWs exchange their lives for the benefit of loved ones who have stayed. The play both humanizes the Patron Saint of the OFWs and elevates the OFW just a bit more than we are used to so that their worlds meet and the audience can begin to see the crucial parallels between Laurence and Lorenzo.

The play is also an exploration of Spirituality and the inner journey of faith each of us must take. I included the quote of Jim Eliot in this article, as he was a Christian missionary who was killed in 1956, when he attempted to preach the Gospel to the Huaorani people of Ecuador. I remembered his quote while watching the play because of the many different theological issues that were explored. The torture scenes of Act 3 are meant to draw attention to the heaven and the Christ that the martyrs suffered for but they also explored the primacy and importance of faith as it relates to comfort. Act 1’s journey to Okinawa happens in the midst of a storm, which is one of the many themes the playwright utilizes to show the sovereignty of God in an individual’s life. The subject is openly discussed by Laurence, who explains his spiritual journey in great detail, from the anguish, suffering and anger to the quiet and peaceful “reconversion” process which gives the martyrs courage in the face of death. For all the bodily harm that is done to them, the martyrs have exchanged their lives for the promise of something greater. In this sense, the emptying of the Balikbayan boxes may have also been symbols of the “emptying of one’s self” in a spiritual sense in order to share in the richness of Christ’s suffering.

This all happens in the midst of rock choruses and virtuoso performances by some of the best vocal performers in the country. It is also backed by great choreography and dance, combined with visual tools that render the audience mostly mesmerized throughout. Believe it or not, a giant robotech-style robot manages to make an appearance in the same stage as the first Filipino Saint.

It is perhaps in the juxtaposition of these polarizing elements that the play’s brilliance comes out. Lorenzo is not about the martyr who was free of any and all flaws. It is about an accused criminal who just happened to get on the wrong boat but who managed to redeem himself in a profoundly spiritual way. It is not merely about an OFW who butchered his employer who raped him, it is about the beauty of a poet, a playwright and a free thinker who explores the depths of what believing in God is all about. Lorenzo is the unfamiliar coming to life and the ethereal made just fleshy enough to allow the audience to wrap their minds around it.

Lorenzo is a must see performance for Filipino audiences of all ages. Seeing it may help transform the way we think about ourselves, and our proximity to the saints that serve as examples for us on an everyday basis, even if we are not quite aware of whom they really were.

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