Writer’s Recap: Uncovering the “Halimaw” in HTG’s allegorical pop-rap musical

The theatrical group took to the stage once more to tell the tale of a noble commoner turned hero and a nation plagued by greed and power.

Initially conceived in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic halted production, De La Salle University’s Harlequin Theater Guild’s (HTG) Halimaw finally graced the stage last October 4 to 7 at the Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium. The play served as a tribute to playwright and literary artist Dr. Isagani Cruz by retelling his 1971 sarsuwela through a contemporary pop-rap musical. A thought-provoking satirical comedy, Halimaw was an allegorical portrayal of the grim political realities during Dr. Cruz’s time—which disturbingly remained relevant with the present civic circumstances of the country. 

This fantasy adventure play was brought to life by HTG’s homegrown talents, as well as a roster of renowned guest artists: Drag Race Philippines Season 1 contender Viñas Deluxe, Cinemalaya best actor recipient Noel Comia Jr., and Philippine Educational Theater Association member and HTG alumnus Bene Manaois. Throughout the show, one could see the ensemble’s dedication to their craft to highlight the musical’s underlying message that obtaining immense power entails responsibility. If not, such power could risk awakening the halimaw that lies within a person. Associate Director Andrea Mendoza, who also portrayed one of the Marias in the play, expressed, “We’re privileged to use our voices as student artists to embody Halimaw and call out the (current) administration.”

The halimaw among us

Halimaw was set in a monarchical Philippines. Gone were the days of democracy; instead, Bene Manaois’ bloodthirsty Hari ruled over the archipelago. When his three daughters, all aptly named Maria, were abducted, the self-proclaimed “bida ng sarswelang ito” came to the rescue. 

(Hero of this sarswela.)

Noel Comia Jr.’s janitor-servant Alberto faced trials and tribulations to save the tres Marias from their monstrous captors and finally gain the king’s respect. The captured Marias each possessed distinct attributes that set the three apart. The youngest, played by Tricia Villafuerte, was acclaimed for her captivating beauty and youthful charm. She caught the attention of Viñas Deluxe’s Sirena, who represents maniacal anarchy and pleasure-seeking hedonism. Always with a book in her hand, the second Maria, played by Aira Romero, constantly boasted about her intellect and wits. Yet, it seemed as though her knowledge was unable to please Murline Uddin’s Purista, who hypnotized the damsel after she was unable to correctly answer the villain’s bygone riddles and proverbs. Then the eldest Maria, played by Evie Clemente, driven by ambition and wealth, managed to find a sense of “belonging” within Huse Timbungco’s notorious Dragon’s capitalist dystopia.

Guest artists and HTG talents alternated playing the characters for different show schedules. Timbungco, Alexis Hidalgo, and John Custer portrayed the villains Sirena, Purista, and Dragon, respectively. The three Marias were also played by Mendoza, Reina Tejada, and Keanna Encarnacion. EJ Ramos also had his time in the spotlight as the noble, valiant Alberto. 

However, Alberto was not the only hero in the story. He could not have rescued the king’s daughters without the magical items that he supposedly “collected” from several enchanted creatures, as well as the Juans who reliably remained in his aid throughout his long and tedious journey. But before the two villains could be completely subdued, tragedy befell as the Dragon ate the king, which resulted in the monarch’s death as the three-headed beast escaped.

As the nation found itself in a land without a king, the once-oppressive monarchy was effectively abolished. The Juans pleaded for the inauguration of a fair and democratic government, something they clamored for since the start of the king’s tyrannical rule. But the eldest Maria had something else in mind as she presented Alberto with the king’s crown, and suggested that the hero should become the kingdom’s next monarch.

All shall bow

The play treated audiences to a hodgepodge of timeless and contemporary issues delivered in pop-rap spectacle. From the get-go, the thirteen Juanitas—wives of the king—complained about the Philippines’ deterioration since the downfall of the republic. Their chattering silenced as the king appeared, which signified the muzzling of anti-government speech. Characters who would speak out against the injustices toward marginalized and vulnerable groups had their heads chopped off. And, while the three villains aimed to ultimately overthrow the king, they rebelled by establishing enclaves ruled by each’s preferred form of government. 

In the play’s setting, individuality was banned in every sense of the word. Several characters were referred to by the same name—Juans, Marias, Juanitas—which further suggested the death of public free thought. The only exception was through the brilliant songs of Vince Lim, where the characters openly spoke to the audience about their thoughts. Perhaps the best example was found in Joaquin Naguit and Gian Torres’ Juans. It was through the twins’ song and banter, spoken in unison for the most part, that their inner selves shined. 

Alberto’s story stood out from the rest. His hero’s journey was consistently noted by the townsfolk. He might not have been the most intelligent, logical, or trustworthy candidate to wear the cape, but his perseverance and determination got him to the finish line. However, faced with an opportunity to behold such great and absolute power, Alberto succumbed to the blinding prestige emanating from the crown. In a snap of a finger, he became part of the ruling class, those who oppressed and disregarded the lives and voices of the marginalized—a community that he, and the ones he fought alongside with, was once a part of.

Passing the crown

As the play neared its finale, the audiences realized that the common man can be a hero; it’s up to them to decide how they would use their newfound power. In a time when history seems to be repeating itself, HTG was compelled to amplify the rampant abuse of power and corruption in the country. Mendoza described that Halimaw is about “contextualizing this material on today’s generation [and] administration.” Hence, the organization inevitably faced some negative reactions on social media, but they had to stand with the vision of the play, “Natuto talaga kami maging matapang,” she added. 

(We learned how to be courageous.)

Once the curtains have closed and the laughter has diluted in silence, Halimaw will keep you questioning: if more than 50 years later—the same people consumed with greed and power rule the country, deliberately erasing the bloodshed and narrative of those who fought for freedom—will our conscience permit us to let democracy fall into the pits of society’s halimaws?

EDITOR’S NOTE: October 17, 2023
The article has been updated to state that the role of Hari was solely played by Bene Manaois; he did not have an alternate actor.

Magz Chin

By Magz Chin

Crysha Juliana Dela Pena

By Crysha Juliana Dela Pena

Laurence Pontejos

By Laurence Pontejos

Leave a Reply