When Dumaguete writer Bobby Flores Villasis passed on last May 2, he left behind a great array of literary works and books that defined a life dedicated to creative writing. He was also a persevering cultural worker, having spent most of his working life as the cultural officer of the Negros Oriental Provincial Tourism Office, but it is his poems and his short stories and his plays—which chronicle the storied lives of Oriental Negrenses from Bayawan to Bais—that would come to be the foundation of his legacy.
In his 1998 book Demigod and Other Selections, Villasis first gathered together a sampling of his oeuvre, anthologizing plays, poems, and short stories that showed his unique worldview, crafted with obvious mentorship from teachers like Edith Tiempo, Edilberto Tiempo, and Albert Faurot. In his 2001 short story collection, Suite Bergamasque, he embarked on an even more ambitious literary project: gathering interlinked short stories that told, as a whole, the dazzling and devastating lives of the denizens of Dumaguete’s Rizal Boulevard, particularly the families of local sugar barons whose mansions—colloquially called the Sugar Houses—line the seafront. The book became Dumaguete’s answer to James Joyce’s Dubliners or Carlos Ojeda Aureus’ Nagueños.
Of particular interest, however, are his plays, for which he won an impressive number of Palanca Awards; seven in all, which include Vigil [first prize for one-act play, 1978], Demigod [second prize for one-act play, 1979], Fiesta [first prize for one-act play, 1987], Salcedo [first prize for one-act play, 1988], Brisbane [second prize for one-act play, 1989], Eidolon [honorable mention for full-length Play, 1990], and Caves [third prize for one-act play, 1994]. They are a mix of historical and domestic dramas, but all of them invariably dramatize the secret lives and public sorrows of privileged Oriental Negrense families. These plays were acclaimed in their time, but they have never been staged, even during Villasis’ lifetime.
For the first time ever, four of these Palanca-winning plays will be performed in Dumaguete City, in an event titled The Secret Lives of Oriental Negrenses: A Festival of Plays by Bobby Flores Villasis, with the first playdate scheduled on November 8. All the plays will be presented at the Woodward Blackbox Theater in Silliman University.
The festival celebrates Villasis’ memory and his works. The plays are directed by senior theatre students of the Speech and Theatre Department of the Silliman University College of Performing and Visual Arts and are produced in cooperation with Artista Sillimaniana, the Silliman University Culture And Arts Council, Youth Advocates Through Theatre Arts, Buglas Writers Guild, and the Dumaguete City Tourism Office. The event is also one of the highlights of the 75th Charter Anniversary of Dumaguete City going into its Diamond Jubilee Year.
The roster of plays includes the following titles:
VIGIL, directed by Andrea Nazareno, on November 8, Wednesday at 7 PM. It is about Manul, an aspiring nun in her mid-twenties who, fresh from a wild storm, returns to her family’s home in order to take care of her paraplegic mother. Upon arriving, it is noted that her estranged father, who left them for another woman years ago, has returned, only to be on his deathbed. Her mother, still harboring strong resentment towards him, criticizes Manul and forbids her from taking care of him. From the beginning, it is clear that Manul and her mother have a very strained and complicated relationship. Manul continues to try and plead with her mother to call for a doctor, but her mother adamantly refuses. Suspicious, Manul begins inquiring her mother about her father, and what their marriage was like. Tensions arise, and just as soon as a fight is about to break out between them, the other woman arrives unannounced. Upon her arrival, all hell breaks loose and long-held family secrets are finally unveiled. Its cast includes Lady Elmido as Manul, Jheco Adrian Ponce as Mother, Rhayanna Marie Dalisay as The Other Woman, and Aaron Lee as the Hired Man.
DEMIGOD, directed by Elouise Zapanta, on November 11, Saturday at 8 PM. In this play, we are transported to Bacong, Negros Oriental in 1898. It has been 300 years since the start of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, and discontent is everywhere. People are starving and guardia civiles are watching. A revolution has started, led by none other than Pantaleon Villegas, a.k.a. Leon Kilat, and no one can catch him. He is quick like lightning. But too much light can blind you. Be careful who you trust. In these trying times, faith will be tested and love will be questioned. The cast includes Patricia Juliet V. Tabaldo as Lilia, Shael Diadem Lofranco as Cristina, Miguelle-Gabrielle D. Bautista as Leon Kilat, Vince Aurellana Arbon as Moldero, Nicole Villarin as Salud, Christian Paul C. Evangelista as Alfonso, and Samuel Marc A. Udarbe as Tabucay, with Shayne Nobleza, Philip Benedict Neri, Nikka June M. Galaura, Merliel N. Putong, Gleedelle Twinkle A. Tajada, Clifford Potalan, Simon Matthew R. Lim, and Sam Rio Robert Filipinas.
SALCEDO, directed by Gillian Inocente, on November 15, Wednesday at 7 PM. The play follows the members of the Salcedo household, Lourding’s family, along with their close friends, the Bouffards, who are mourning the loss of Lourding’s husband, Pedrito. Amidst this period of grief, Lourding grapples with the challenges she encounters in her relationship with her daughters, and the Salcedo retainer leading to a surprising revelation. The cast includes Yashmin N. Elmaco as Lourding Salcedo, Paulina Ruiz as Jade Mary J. Cornelia, Clarissa Chua as Patricia Ruth D. Boone, Ruby Mae B. Dunque as Bea Bouffard, Mitoy Bouffard as Joshua Matthew L. Matula, Nico Angelo G. Privado as Adrian Ruiz, Jefferson M. Balandra as Nenay.
FIESTA, directed by Neve-Rienne Fuentes, on November 18, Saturday at 7 PM. The play takes place during fiesta in Bayawan, which is something everyone looks forward to, except at the Ragada household. For 20 years, Ines Ragada has been a thorn in the side of Corito, Manuel, and Soling. But everything changed with the arrival of Lucia Solon. Dark secrets and big revelations are revealed. The cast includes Nathaley A. Descallar as Ines Ragada, Yağmur Selen G. Aydoğan as Corito, Calvin Castillo as Manuel Baroy, Revgene Marie A. Andicoy as Soling Baroy, and Karen Villanueva as Lucia Solon.
Tickets are available at P100 at the venue before the show starts. (Jameela Mendoza/SU OIP)